The masculinity of 'Macbeth'

by John Moore | Sep 05, 2017

Macbeth. Thaddeus Fitzpatrick. Photo by John Moore.

'You should be women. And yet your beards forbid me to
interpret that you are so.'

By John Moore
Senior Arts Journalist

The words above come out the mouth of Banquo, Macbeth’s power-hungry frenemy. And the first time Director Robert O’Hara came across them, they stuck in his head like courage to a sticking post.

“That line is Banquo telling the witches they don’t look like women because they have beards,” said O’Hara, “And right then I was like, ‘Well maybe they're not women. Maybe they are men'!”

That inherent gender contradiction fueled O’Hara’s vision for the DCPA Theatre Company’s season-opening production of Macbeth, which promises to confront audiences with a sexy, physical vision of Shakespeare the likes of which they likely have never seen before. 

“This is a world where you can roll up on some witches, and it doesn’t send you off running for the hills screaming at the top of your lungs?” O’Hara said. “Not only that, but they tell you you’re going to be king, and you just go right off and start killing folks. That, to me, is crazy. The witches don’t tell Macbeth to go kill Duncan. They just tell Macbeth he will be king someday. But he couldn’t wait a few days to start killing? Who knows, Macbeth? Maybe the king will choke to death on a chicken bone or something.” 

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O’Hara is presenting Macbeth just as Shakespeare did — with an all-male cast. Not that anyone will mistake O’Hara’s staging with anything resembling Shakespeare as it was presented in Jacobean times. 

“The reason Shakespeare did not use women in his plays wasn’t because it was illegal for women to be on stage,” O’Hara said. “He did it because England was a sexist and misogynistic society that devalued the female.” That’s why, O’Hara says, the bloodthirsty Lady Macbeth must be viewed through the male perspective that created her.  

“Can you imagine what women must have felt hearing about all these stories with female characters that were written and performed by men? The very nature of the Jacobean patriarchal society would color how characters like Lady Macbeth came about and were presented on the stage.” 

Masculinity pervades Shakespeare’s text without any help from O’Hara. With the exception of the witches, Lady Macbeth and Lady Macduff are the only significant female characters in the entire story to begin with. “Lady Macbeth says all this stuff about ‘Unsex me,’ and, ‘If you were a man you’d be more of a man’ by killing the king, as she’s egging her husband on,” O’Hara said.

(Story continues after the photo.)

Macbeth Robert O'Hara

O’Hara was interested by what he calls the locker-room mentality, then and now. “I thought, ‘What happens when a bunch of men get together and decide to present this story?' And so O’Hara’s tale takes place in a world where it is warlocks, not witches, who “double, double, toil and trouble.”  

In O’Hara’s world, getting together and performing the story of Macbeth as a kind of passion play is a ritual of these warlocks that has gone on for centuries. 

In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, The Pit of Acheron is a swamp near Macbeth's castle where the witches are ordered to bring Macbeth. In O’Hara’s production, this pit becomes the setting of his entire play.

“As someone living in New York City, it’s interesting to me that millions of people come to pay their respect to the fallen of 9/11 at the World Trade Center. They have built a performance complex right there, and inevitably there will be performances there that deal with 9/11. And that made me think, ‘What if my production in some odd way was the warlocks paying their respect to the fallen in the Macbeth story, which is a real story that took place hundreds of years before?’

“These warlocks are forever linked to their ancestors, and not in a good way. They have been blamed for the actions of Macbeth for centuries. So, what if this is them giving those ancient witches a renewed voice, through this ritual?”

This concept not only gives the audience the opportunity to see women characters played by men just as they were in Shakespeare’s time, but also to consider the inevitable patriarchal consequences. 

What will an all-male Macbeth do to the story?

“I hope it will do exactly what it probably did when it was first performed,” O’Hara said. “I hope it gives some insight into the world we are living in today.”

: Ticket information

Macbeth_seasonlineup_200x200At a glance: Forget what you know about Shakespeare’s brutal tragedy. Director Robert O’Hara breathes new life (and death) into this raw reimagining for the grand reopening of The Space Theatre. To get what he wants, Macbeth will let nothing stand in his way – not the lives of others or his own well-being. As his obsession takes command of his humanity and his sanity, the death toll rises and his suspicions mount. This ambitious reinvention reminds us that no matter what fate is foretold, the man that chooses to kill must suffer the consequences.
  • Presented by the DCPA Theatre Company
  • First performance Sept. 15, through Oct. 29
  • Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex
  • Tickets start at $25
  • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
  • Sales to groups of 10 or more click here
Macbeth: Previous DCPA NewsCenter coverage
Macbeth at a time when everything is shifting
Cast announced for Robert O’Hara’s reimagined Macbeth
Video, photos: Our coverage of the Space Theatre opening

Making of Macbeth: Full photo gallery:

Making of 'Macbeth'

Photos from the making of Robert O'Hara's 'Macbeth' for the DCPA Theatre Company. To see more, hover your cursor over the image above and click the forward arrow that appears. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.


Leave a comment
  1. diane Irvin | Oct 04, 2017

    Incredibly imaginative and risky performance that captivated me every second.  

    Spectacular sets and set-changes, choreography, costuming (and lack thereof), phenomenal music, and more.  

    My only suggestion for improvement in any tattoo-revealing performance -- cover tatoos with make-up. They are distracting and out of character for the characters.  Other than that...

    Bravo!  Bravo! Bravo!

  2. Robin Fulton | Oct 03, 2017

     Being a fashion photographer here in Denver, I have seen the extremes. I was absolutely smitten with this production. 

     The acting was exquisite and the costuming extremely clever. My concern was that its unconventional nature made be misinterpreted by those with less exposure to modern culture.

     Having grown up in England, and seen Macbeth performed in Stratford, by the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, I have already shaken my stuffy former self free from pre-conceived biases on traditional Shakespeare dogma. Frankly this was action-packed, riveting, minimalist yet expressive, avant-garde  theater. 

     If you’re looking for traditional Shakespeare, this one’s not for you. If you’re ready for an erudite assault on your senses, by all means buy a ticket before they sell out. 

  3. Loretta Perry | Sep 18, 2017

    Witches or Warlocks matters not to me.  I am not homophobic, at least I never thought so, but I have rarely been exposed to PDA (public display of affection) especially in so many numbers so continuously, with so much flesh exposed.  I left after the first act not wanting to see anymore.  That is all on the negative side. 

    On the positive side.  As usual the staging was spectacular.  Costuming, though skimpy, was ingenious.  Acting was fine. All entertaining.

    It would have been equally disturbing had there been women in the play. 

    Leave a comment

    John Moore
    John Moore
    Award-winning arts journalist John Moore has recently taken a groundbreaking new position as the DCPA’s Senior Arts Journalist. With The Denver Post, he was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the US by American Theatre Magazine. He is the founder of the Denver Actors Fund, a nonprofit that raises money for local artists in medical need. John is a native of Arvada and attended Regis Jesuit High School and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Follow him on Twitter @moorejohn.

    DCPA is the nation’s largest not-for-profit theatre organization dedicated to creating unforgettable shared experiences through beloved Broadway musicals, world-class plays, educational programs and inspired events. We think of theatre as a spark of life — a special occasion that’s exciting, powerful and fun. Join us today and we promise an experience you won't soon forget.