Historical Context in Macbeth
Macbeth as Tribute to the King: Shakespeare wrote a number of historical plays about royal characters. Macbeth was largely written in tribute to King James I. Prior to serving as King of England, James I had served as King of Scotland. He took the throne in 1603 when Queen Elizabeth I died without an heir. Though James I was widely accepted as the new king, he was not as charismatic or endearing as the beloved queen. As the son of the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots, a woman who had been beheaded when she tried to overthrow Elizabeth’s Protestant throne, James suffered more political insecurity than his predecessor.
In Macbeth, the witches predict that Banquo will have a long line of successors to the throne was included to flatter the king. The Stewart kings, such as James I, claimed to be descendents of Banquo, even though it is inconclusive whether or not Banquo was a real person.
In the Holinshed Chronicles, from which Shakespeare got his source material, Banquo was a ruthless collaborator who helped Macbeth kill Duncan and take the throne. However, as a tribute to King James I, Shakespeare changed the character to be wise, noble, and morally righteous. This move would have endeared Shakespeare with his new king.
The Real Macbeth: Macbeth’s character refers to the 11th King of Scotland, named Mac Bethad mac Findláich. He ruled Scotland from 1040 to 1057 after murdering King Duncan. However, the real Duncan was a weak man about the same age as Macbeth. He was not popular or widely respected like the king in the play. Murdering for power was also not uncommon in Scotland in those times. Of the fourteen kings who ruled over Scotland between 943 and 1097, ten were killed in attempts to seize power. Shakespeare’s themes and characterizations within this play can then be read as a reflection of his own time and political instabilities rather than a historically accurate account of Scottish history.
Historical Context Examples in Macbeth:
Act I - Scene I🔒
Act I - Scene IV🔒
Act I - Scene VII🔒
Act II - Scene I🔒
Act II - Scene II🔒
Act II - Scene III🔒
Act III - Scene I🔒
Act III - Scene II🔒
Act III - Scene III🔒
Act III - Scene V🔒
Act III - Scene VI🔒
Act IV - Scene I🔒
"What, will the line stretch out to the crack of doom?..." See in text (Act IV - Scene I)
Act IV - Scene III🔒
"where violent sorrow seems A modern ecstasy...." See in text (Act IV - Scene III)