REVIEW
Bartholomeusz, Dennis. Macbeth and the Players.
London: Cambridge UP, 1969.

Preliminary Note: This is not the place to find information on the "curse" which is supposed to haunt performances of Macbeth.

Thesis: Bartholomeusz states his purpose very cleary: "I have tried in this book to test the proposition that players achieve special insights into a text, insights not normally available to critics and scholars" (xi).

Evaluation: The book never quite lives up to its promise. It is an interesting history of famous British actors who have played Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, but it only hints at "special insights" that those actors may have had.

Bartholomeusz offers up many bits of theatrical lore about Macbeth. We learn that in the very first performance it's likely that Macbeth and Banquo made their initial entrance mounted on horses. We also learn that for at least 343 years (from Burbage's performance in 1611 to Olivier's in 1954) the cup has fallen from Macbeth's hand when he sees the ghost of Banquo for the second time. And we learn that Mrs. Siddons (1755-1831) prepared for Lady Macbeth's sleepwalking scene by observing an actual somnambulist.

On the other hand, we learn little about the "special insights" of any of the performers, even Mrs. Siddons. Of all the actors and actresses mentioned in the book, Mrs. Siddons receives Bartholomeusz's highest praise, particularly because she saw Lady Macbeth's character "not in terms of a static principle of evil . . . but it terms of growth and development" (101). Here is Bartholomeusz's account of one moment in her performance:

Mrs Siddons contrived to change her expression solely from within. When Macbeth confesses that he has changed his mind:
We will proceed no further in this business
He hath honour'd me of late; and I have bought
Golden opinions from all sorts of people . . .  (I.vii.31-3)
her expression appears to have altered in this way. Bell [Professor John Bell, who saw Mrs. Siddons perform] was of the opinion that the silent transition 'from animated hope and surprise to disappointment, depression, contempt, and rekindling resentment' was 'beyond any powers but hers'.
It may be beyond the powers of any performer to convey all of these varied emotions, but it's not beyond the power of readers -- even first-time readers -- to discern these emotions. And what reader of the play can't see that Lady Macbeth's character develops during the course of the play? It's pretty obvious that she loses her supreme self-confidence before she commits suicide. Mrs. Siddons was undoubtedly a very great actress, but Bartholomeusz's description of her performance doesn't provide us with any "special insights."

Bottom Line: A good, solid history of the performance of the parts of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.