Note: The following column discusses plot points of “Macbeth,” which is a play written over 400 years ago, so they’re not spoilers.

I spent four years as a high school English teacher; like nearly 50 percent of teachers, I left before the fifth. I had to — if I hadn’t, I would have killed a parent for explaining to me yet again why their kid who hadn’t done a shred of work should still pass. In those four years, I taught a ton of Shakespeare: “Hamlet,” “King Lear,” “Othello,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Macbeth.” Most of them I taught multiple times. So I’m awfully familiar with “Macbeth,” which was why I was so pleased that the imperfect yet lovely film version that’s out Friday gave me a new way of thinking about an old text.

It’s not a surprise that Macbeth and his wife have lost a child — she says “I have given suck, and know/How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me,” but there’s no sign of their child anywhere in Shakespeare’s play. This version, from Australian director Justin Kurzel, starts with their baby’s funeral; moreover, it’s more than strongly implied that the Macbeths lose a teenage son in the movie’s first battle. On top of that, the three witches all represent stages of motherhood: One is pregnant, one has an infant and one has a girl who looks to be about 7. In one scene, Lady Macbeth (played by Marion Cotillard) is draped in a blue cloth and framed in such a way that she looks like the Virgin Mary — the ultimate Western icon of a mother who has lost her son.

Macbeth’s ambition is often attributed to his wife — even Shakespeare knew about the “b—- set me up” defense, which Marion Barry coined but has been common since Eve and the apple. In this “Macbeth,” though, the couple’s drive comes from a mixture of grief — not just over the loss of their children, but also the loss of their legacy, as it’s hinted that Lady Macbeth cannot conceive again. They’re parents who will never be grandparents; Macbeth is a king who will never have a prince.

Mourning makes you do weird things, though killing a bunch of people so you can become and stay the king of Scotland is a bit extreme (and makes the tattoo I got after my dad died look pretty mild to everyone but my mother). As played by Michael Fassbender, this Macbeth isn’t defined by ambition, by what he wants, but by what he’s lost — the death of his children is the spark that sets him on his bloody path, and grief is the fuel that keeps him burning.

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