April 1st

William Davenant’s revision of Macbeth, Shakespeare’s tragedy of ambition, was not provided with a drastically happier ending of the sort that concluded Nahum Tate’s version of King Lear.

But even as the Scottish thane suffers his tragic fate, he is given, in Davenant’s version, a fanfare and theatrical exuberance verging on the operatic; the haunting songs of the original edition proliferate in this 1674 edition of the play, which is additionally complemented by numerous dances, special effects, and other musical numbers. The “weird sisters” even fly, at one point, from the wings of the stage, an addition that highlights the play’s emphasis on the spectacular and the sensational.

For Samuel Pepys, the seventeenth century Parliamentarian, naval administrator, and diarist, Davenant’s more musical version of the tragedy was “one of the best plays for a stage, and variety of dancing and music, that ever I saw.” Pepys was writing of a performance of the play from 1667, but a manuscript of the tragedy, pictured here, documents a later effort to adapt Davenant’s version to a 1674 production.

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