In an effort to escape the never ending fustercluck that is British politics, I finally got round to watching Macbeth (2015) this weekend, starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. First off I have to say it astounded me; beautiful, atmospheric and experimental, it's everything I want from Shakespeare. The performances were wonderful and it was great hearing the bard's words in not-too-shabby Scottish accents (Cotillard wisely chose to not try too hard). But it did not take me away from the dire situation my country has put itself in. Rather, it only amplified it.
Macbeth is predominantly about what unfettered ambition will do to a person. It explores how an honourable man can be twisted to commit terrible deeds by the words of others. It also shows the cost of greed to those caught in its wake. Like so many Shakespeare stories, it's about the human condition. At no point are we given clean answers on whether people are inherently good and become corrupted, or whether humanity is far more evil than it is good. All of this seems particularly apt at this moment in time.
In the last few months, and particularly the last few weeks, the UK has revealed the depths of people's ambitions and how they allow that to blind them to reality or consequence. For those arguing for Remain there was a complacency and arrogance, unwilling to look hard into the issues being raised by those in long-abandoned areas of England and Wales. On the Leave side we saw half-truths and outright lies become a major part of their campaign, with little to no thought of what all the consequences could be. In the last few weeks we've seen Labour tear itself apart, with short-sighted MPs on one side and an intransigent leader on the other. The Conservatives have at least managed to sort out their leadership contest in record time but have done so in a way that will force many Conservative party members to reconsider their allegiances. For all the claims that we're leaving the EU to get away from an undemocratic system, it's impossible to ignore that we will have a Prime Minister unelected by either the party or the public.
Fiction often gives a better lens through which to examine these things. I'll be seeing Macbeth again at the end of August, live at the Globe Theatre, and look forward to seeing how current events once again slot into its framework. In the play no one really wins - the price paid is too steep to ever make it feel like a victory. It's a strange sort of comfort to know that things don't change that much, even over centuries. They worked it out, one way or another, and so shall we.