Overview:

Denzel Washington deserves to win the Academy Award for his role as Macbeth in Joel Cohen's 'The Tragedy of Macbeth.'

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Denzel Washington should win the Academy Award for best male lead actor in the 2021 offering of Joel Cohen’s “Tragedy of Macbeth.” 

I have admired numerous players in this role over many years, but I have been waiting decades for someone to credibly and creditably deliver Macbeth’s lines in an American voice. We have seen the overwrought diction and flailing gestures of numerous great British actors. What I had been waiting for is a tamed tongue, tutored by years of domestic use in these, our, American British colonies.

Shakespeare is the source of many familiar phrases. Here’s a very short list:

A laughing stock * A sorry sight * As dead as a doornail * Eaten out of house and home * Fair play * Wear my heart on my sleeve * In a pickle * In stitches * In the twinkling of an eye * Mum’s the word * Neither here not there * Send him packing * Set your teeth on edge* Too much of a good thing * Vanish into thin air * More in sorrow than in anger * Budge an inch * Played fast and loose * Knitted your brows * Made a virtue of necessity * More in sorrow than in anger * Green-eyed jealousy * A tower of strength * Slept not one wink * Stood on ceremony * Cold comfort * A foregone conclusion * The game is up * The coast is clear * The long and short of it * One fell swoop * Without rhyme or reason

Some of Shakespeare’s original phrases sound American in origin. And when Denzel delivers these, the effect is familiar and electric.

Consider these American-sounding lines:

As Macbeth muses that fate might make him king, as the Weird sisters had predicted, Denzel/Macbeth says simply to himself: “Come what come may”—a line uttered annually by anyone living in the thousand miles between Topeka and Spokane.

When Scottish nobleman Lennox arrives at Inverness and at the Macbeths’ castle on the morning after Macbeth killed King Duncan, Lennox remarks how wild the previous night had been, where chimneys were blown down and strange screams of death were heard ‘with accents terrible’ and the earth shook—Denzel/Macbeth replies calmly with the kind of small talk you’d overhear American suburbanites say on their morning lawns: “It was a rough night.”

When a murderer informs Macbeth that Banquo has been killed on Macbeth’s command, Denzel/Macbeth answers Tony-Soprano like: “Thanks for that.”

When late in the play Macbeth espies his imminent demise and is weighted under a heavy conscience and begins to surrender to his depression, Denzel/Macbeth concedes: “I have lived long enough”—as any Alabama grandma might admit.

Add to this Denzel’s ability to bring the height of 400-year old Elizabethan poetry to street-level understanding for twenty-first-century sixteen-year-olds. My daughter and her friends got the meaning of Denzel/Macbeth in these famous lines: “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day to the last syllable of recorded time.” They got it!

There was much more to Denzel’s acting than his mastery of lines. His facial expressions were a story unto themselves and propelled the meaning with every twitch and narrowed eye. The movie would work as a silent film with (or without) captions, because the whole of its meaning is proffered in the face of Denzel Washington. Lady Macbeth says to Denzel/Macbeth: “Your face, my thane, is a book where men may read strange matters.”

Yes, we did read strange matters in that face. It was the face of an actor at the top of his skill.  Denzel should win.

He really should.

J. H. McKenna (Ph.D.) has taught the history of religion since 1999 at the University of California, where he has won teaching awards. He has published in academic journals and the LA Times, Huffington...