I feel it is right to begin by introducing myself; I’m professor Archibold Macleod. Analysing Macbeth has been a project which i have wanted to do for sometime. Macbeth was set in my homeland of Scotland, consequently this play has always had a special place in my heart. Macbeth features a number of themes which were topical when the play was written in Elizabethan / Jacobean times. Elizabethan / Jacobean times have always fascinated me, because of the interesting beliefs people of the time had; which i have explored in this piece.
It is likely that Shakespeare was commissioned to write Macbeth by king James. There are a number of facts, which suggest this. Firstly Macbeth was almost certainly first performed in 1606 at Hampton Court to celebrate the visit of King James’ bother in law King Christian IV of Denmark. King James was art of the Stuart dynasty. King James succeeded Queen Elizabeth I to the English throne in 1603, he was already experienced at holding this position, as he was King of Scotland. King James, like I always retained a deep affection for Scotland, so would have appreciated a play set in his homeland like Macbeth was.
Elizabethan’s strongly believed in the idea of framework; everything in the universe had a place in the universe. Kings had a divine nature; they were considered the highest authority on Earth as they had been appointed by God. God was at the top of the hierarchy; people believed he controlled everything. If anything happened which changed the order of society, it was said the balance of the university had been disturbed and this would cause strange events to occur. In Macbeth Banquo who is the King is killed by Macbeth who is then appointed King. This disturbed the universe balance and strange events are mentioned in the text after the King’s murder for example “A falcon towering in her pride of place.Was by mousing owl hawked at and killed”. Also “Duncan’s horses … turned wild …tis said they eat each other”.
King James would have approved of Shakespeare showing that if Kings were not appointed by God, things begin to go wrong. He would have felt like this, not only because it put emphasis on the great and goodness of Kings but also because he had survived an attempted assassination. The events that occurred in Macbeth after the Kings’s murder would have demonstrated to King James’ subjects, that to attempt to overthrow a King was an insult to God and therefore act as a deterrent to plotting to kill King James.
in 1605 people had conspired to hill the King, in what is known as the Gunpowder plot. The line in Macbeth “Look like the innocent flower. But be the a serpent under it” references the Gunpowder plot as to commemorate the King’s lucky escape a coin which made, which had a snake concealed by flowers. This was appropriate as Edward Digby who had been a favourite of the king was involved in the conspiracy. This is an example of how good can hide evil, which is a theme that occurs throughout the play.
In Macbeth one of the witches talk about causing a ship to be wrecked “O’th tiger, but in sieve I’ll thither sail”. This references a shipwreck that occurred whilst Shakespeare was writing a play as mention of a current event helped to engage the public with the pay. in what was a modern up to date play for its time it is appropriate that witches were included as this reflected the public’s interest in witches and the supernatural. During Elizabethan / Jacobean times all over Europe thousands of women were accused of witchcraft. Commonly it was elderly women who was accused of causing events such as bad weather, crop failure and bringing disease and death to communities. These women were punished until they confessed, when they confessed they were punished by being executed. Most women confessed to end the suffering inflicted by torture.
The public’s interest in the supernatural was partly influenced by King James’ interest in the subject. King James was actively involved in the fight against witches. In 1657 King James book entitled Demonology (which is the study of the supernatural) was published. in 1591 King James publically spoke out about witches when he was in Edinburgh. He spoke about how being a witch was a sin which should be punishable by death. In 1604 which was during his second year as King of England he passed strict laws including:
“If ay person shall use invocation or conjunction of any evil or cursed spirit; or shall consult, covenant with, entertain, employ, feed or reward any evil or cursed spirit to or for any intent or purpose every such person being convicted should suffer death”.
A lot of rime was spent searching for witches. individuals were employed as witch finders., their role was to search the bodies of those suspected of being witches for the devil’s mark. The devils mark was considered to be the mark left after the devil had sucked drops of blood of a person to make them his. Lady Macbeth saying “Out that damned spot” would have resonated with an Elizabethan / Jacobean audience; they would have taken it to be a sign that she was possessed by the devil.
In the play there are several scenes featuring the witches, these appear to be extremely imaginative. However, Shakespeare himself will not have completely created the witches himself. He will have been inspired by some of the many writings about whitches and the contents of their cauldron which were in circulation at the time. For example, he may have had the idea for the conversation about the shipwreck from a book which told the story of Agnes Sampson who was accused of being a witch in 1592 for example this extract “She revealed also that whitches had used incarnations to raise a storm to wreck Queen Anne’s ship on its way to Scotland”.
IN my opinion based on my extensive study Shakespeare was commissioned to write Macbeth by King James and consequently he used the text of Macbeth to flatter king James. The appearance of 8 kings before Banquo in Act 4 Scene 1 links him to King James; although some of my colleagues would disagree I consider King James to be a descent of Banquo. Shakespeare’s use of Banquo; mentioning him at the same time as the 8 kings which symbolise King James’ heritage of Kingship shows he agreed with me and believed Banquo was the source of Stuart royalty.
Some historical sources which i have studied, imply that Banquo was involved in the murder of Duncan. This further supports my theory that Shakespeare was commissioned to write Macbeth by king James as the king would have been grateful for this alteration as he would not have wanted to be such events that could damage his reputation. Ed 2017 if I was writing this now I could have mention King James was grateful of this alternative truth. James was very wary of anything which could threaten his monarchy, this is not surprising after the Gunpowder plot.
in conclusion, I would like to say Macbeth is a very useful source about Elizabethan / Jacobean times. It is a useful source because it gives you an insight to many issues that affected what life was like at the time for example, belief in the power of the supernatural and the order of good society, But if you want an accurate account of what life was like in Elizabethan times it was sensible to consult other sources as well as Macbeth was properly written for King James, it is liable to be biased in favour of the King rather than an accurate historical account.
Ed 2017 Typing this it seems I made the same point over and over again; if you bore with it to the end you have incredible patience. Or maybe I did it on purpose to be in the character of Archebold – what was I thinking?! Perhaps it would have been better to do for and against arguments for whether it was a good source for information about Elizabethan / Jacobean times.
One thought on “GCSE English Coursework from many moons ago: Macbeth Historian’s analysis”