Macbeth and Christ

Monday, July 11, AD 2016




I was watching Orson Welles’ 1948 version of Macbeth.  It is a version of the play steeped in darkness, with the drama taking place on a landscape that looks like a dark and evil lunar surface.  Interestingly Welles adds a character, the Holy Man, a Catholic priest.  At the beginning of the film he chases away the “three weird sisters”, waving the Celtic Cross he carries.  After King Duncan arrives the Priest leads the court, anachronistically, in the rendition of the Saint Michael Prayer, go here to read about it, that would be written by Pope Leo XIII some nine centuries after the events depicted in Macbeth:

Saint Michael, the arch angel, be our safeguard

against the viles and wickedness of the devil.

Do thou, oh prince of the heavenly host,

by the divine power

thrust into hell satan and the other evil spirits,

who wander through the world,

seeking the ruin of souls.


Thus thou renounce Satan?

I renounce him.

And all his works?

I renounce them.

And all his pomps?

I renounce them.


Candles are distributed during the prayer, are lit and are raised by all at the end, Macbeth slower than the rest.

Welles viewed Macbeth as a struggle between the new religion, Christianity, and the old paganism symbolized by the three witches.  The priest throughout the play, until he is murdered by Macbeth, represents the path Macbeth could have taken that would have led to life and salvation, instead of the bloody path he embarked on that only led only to death and damnation.

Welles was raised Catholic but that ended when his parents divorced.  His paternal grandmother was a Satanist according to Welles who had cursed his parent’s marriage and attempted to perform Satanic rituals at his father’s funeral.  Welles never had a good word to say about her.   ( It should be noted that his grandmother denied this and said she was a devout Christian Scientist.  Welles throughout his life did not view truth as the greatest of virtues, so, who knows.)

Perhaps this family turmoil over religion gave Welles the insight that he showed in his bleak version of Macbeth:  God is ever at out side, even in the deepest evil, and it is our choice to either accept His grace or to reject it.



One Response to Macbeth and Christ

  • Thank you for posting. Was not aware of Welles’ Macbeth. Very interesting interpretation of Shakespeare as there is supposition that the Bard may have been Roman Catholic.