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  • Dane Bundy

What the Violence Teaches us: Macbeth in Pictures and Lessons

Editor's Note: I first presented a form of this material at chapel to the middle school students at Regents School of Austin as well as on the Fine Arts Instagram account.


I've always enjoyed when ideas are visually explained for me. I share that trait with young restless boys, I've learned.

One of my favorite plays is Shakespeare's Macbeth. If you haven't read it, don't feel bad, I didn't read it until I was an adult. It's a powerful story. Let me illustrate some key scenes for you with spoilers and the Story of Redemption in mind.

In the beginning of the play, Macbeth stumbles upon witches. In turn, they make declarations about him. Two of them are prophecies -- visions of what he could be. The most important prophecy is that Macbeth would be the King of Scotland. At this point in the story, he was only a military hero. But notice, the temptation was offered. Would he bite?

Macbeth goes home and shares with his wife, Lady Macbeth, what the witches had prophesied. Eager, dark, ambitious, Lady Macbeth bites the apple and convinces Macbeth to do the same. When the King of Scotland is a guest in his home, Macbeth murders him, eventually positioning himself to be King.

But like so many stories of dictators, including Herod the Great, suspicions start slithering in . . . casting doubts on who is faithful to him and who is not. So, again, Macbeth resorts to violence.

If we let the play unfold, we see that paranoia grabs hold of Macbeth as he's desperate to keep his crown. His choice to kill the King in his home was like pushing a boulder off of a cliff into a lake: waves build and then rush to the shore. It's simple cause and effect.

We might think: How can a Christian justify studying a violent story like this? Here's one way to answer: we ask, Why did so many people die from Macbeth's action?

Shakespeare has not only given us an incredibly well-told crime thriller, he's given us a cautionary tale. Reading Macbeth reminds me of the Proverbs.

Our choices have consequences. Violence breeds more violence. If you're called to lead, learn from Macbeth.

Stories with moral clarity like this are so important, especially when so many of the stories being today communicate that right and wrong, good and beautiful, are concepts that society makes up and agrees upon. They are not realities outside of our whims and opinions. Many of our stories are bent, which can be defined as when good is portrayed as evil and evil as good.

One example is the movie Joker (2019). There are some interesting questions that the film asks, but overall, it's disturbing how the movie subtly encourages you to sympathize and root for a villainous psychopath. The production quality of the film is superb, but the worldview is bankrupt.

Disney has applied the same formula to their movie Cruella (2021). As a friend of mine might say: It's the same ol' story. The film gives the backstory of 101 Dalmations from Cruella DeVil's perspective. The film is very well-acted and filmed but it's deceptive.

If we could summarize one takeaway from the film, it'd be this:

One way to put this into perspective is to envision if Shakespeare had made Macbeth a bent story.

The witches tempt him.

He bites the apple and kills the King.

He takes the crown.

He kills everyone not loyal to him.

He and Lady Macbeth live out the rest of their days in peace and adventure.

Happy ever after.

The end.

Who knows . . . Macbeth is in the public domain, so maybe we'll get a rendition of the story like this soon.

With that said, please don't hear me say all movies are sinister and we shouldn't watch them. I am saying the following:

Let's think clearly and biblically about the stories we engage with, and that includes movies. I think more Christians should be watching and discussing plays and movies and novels. And more Christians should be writing plays and movies and novels.

But . . . I think the starting place, especially in a culture that's unclear about what is true, good, and beautiful, is to start with the timeless works: first the Bible, holy and without error, and then the classics, wise and thought-provoking.

So, here's my final charge:


Dane Bundy is President of Stage & Story and Director of Fine Arts at Regents School of Austin, a classical Christian school in Austin, TX.


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