MACBETH (/məkˈbɛθ/ ; full title THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH) is a
William Shakespeare ; it is thought to have been first
performed in 1606 . It dramatises the damaging physical and
psychological effects of political ambition on those who seek power
for its own sake. Of all the plays that
Shakespeare wrote during the
reign of James I , who was patron of Shakespeare's acting company ,
Macbeth most clearly reflects the playwright's relationship with his
sovereign. It was first published in the Folio of 1623 , possibly
from a prompt book , and is Shakespeare's shortest tragedy.
A brave Scottish general named
Macbeth receives a prophecy from a
trio of witches that one day he will become
King of Scotland
King of Scotland .
Consumed by ambition and spurred to action by his wife, Macbeth
King Duncan and takes the Scottish throne for himself. He is
then wracked with guilt and paranoia. Forced to commit more and more
murders to protect himself from enmity and suspicion, he soon becomes
a tyrannical ruler. The bloodbath and consequent civil war swiftly
Lady Macbeth into the realms of madness and death.
Shakespeare's source for the story is the account of Macbeth, King of
Scotland ; Macduff ; and Duncan in Holinshed\'s Chronicles (1587), a
history of England, Scotland, and Ireland familiar to
his contemporaries, although the events in the play differ extensively
from the history of the real Macbeth. The events of the tragedy are
usually associated with the execution of
Henry Garnet for complicity
Gunpowder Plot of 1605.
In the backstage world of theatre, some believe that the play is
cursed, and will not mention its title aloud, referring to it instead
The Scottish Play ". Over the course of many centuries, the play
has attracted some of the most renowned actors to the roles of Macbeth
and Lady Macbeth. It has been adapted to film, television, opera ,
novels, comics, and other media.
* 1 Characters
* 2 Plot
* 2.1 Act I
* 2.2 Act II
* 2.3 Act III
* 2.4 Act IV
* 2.5 Act V
* 3 Sources
* 4 Date and text
* 5 Pronunciations
* 6 Themes and motifs
* 6.1 As a tragedy of character
* 6.2 As a tragedy of moral order
* 6.3 As a poetic tragedy
* 6.4 Witchcraft and evil
* 7 Superstition and "The Scottish Play"
* 8 Legacy
* 8.1 Performance history
* 8.1.1 Shakespeare\'s day to the Interregnum
* 8.1.2 Restoration and eighteenth century
* 8.1.3 Nineteenth century
* 8.1.4 20th century to present
* 9 See also
* 10 Notes
* 10.1 Citations
* 10.2 References
* 11 External links
* Duncan –
King of Scotland
King of Scotland
* Malcolm – Duncan's elder son
* Donalbain – Duncan's younger son
Macbeth – a general in the army of King Duncan; originally
Glamis , then Thane of
Cawdor , and later King of Scotland
Lady Macbeth – Macbeth's wife, and later Queen of Scotland
Banquo – Macbeth's friend and a general in the army of King
Fleance – Banquo's son
* Macduff – Thane of
Lady Macduff – Macduff's wife
* Macduff\'s son
* Ross, Lennox, Angus, Menteith, Caithness – Scottish Thanes
* Siward – general of the English forces
Young Siward – Siward's son
* Seyton – Macbeth's armourer
Hecate – Queen of the witches
* Captain – in the Scottish army
* Three Murderers – employed by
* Two Murderers – attack Lady Macduff
* Porter – gatekeeper at Macbeth's home
* Doctor – Lady Macbeth's doctor
* Doctor – at the English court
* Gentlewoman – Lady Macbeth's caretaker
* Lord – opposed to Macbeth
* First Apparition – armed head
* Second Apparition – bloody child
* Third Apparition – crowned child
* Attendants, Messengers, Servants, Soldiers
Banquo encounter the witches for the first time
The play opens amidst thunder and lightning, and the Three Witches
decide that their next meeting shall be with Macbeth. In the following
scene, a wounded sergeant reports to
King Duncan of
Scotland that his
generals—Macbeth, who is the Thane of Glamis, and Banquo—have just
defeated the allied forces of Norway and Ireland, who were led by the
traitorous Macdonwald, the Thane of
Cawdor . Macbeth, the King's
kinsman, is praised for his bravery and fighting prowess.
In the following scene,
Banquo discuss the weather and
their victory. As they wander onto a heath, the
Three Witches enter
and greet them with prophecies. Though
Banquo challenges them first,
they address Macbeth, hailing him as "Thane of Glamis," "Thane of
Cawdor," and that he shall "be King hereafter."
Macbeth appears to be
stunned to silence. When
Banquo asks of his own fortunes, the witches
respond paradoxically, saying that he will be less than Macbeth, yet
happier, less successful, yet more. He will father a line of kings
though he himself will not be one. While the two men wonder at these
pronouncements, the witches vanish, and another thane, Ross , arrives
Macbeth of his newly bestowed title: Thane of Cawdor. The
first prophecy is thus fulfilled, and Macbeth, previously skeptical,
immediately begins to harbour ambitions of becoming king.
King Duncan welcomes and praises
Macbeth and Banquo, and declares
that he will spend the night at Macbeth's castle at
Inverness ; he
also names his son Malcolm as his heir.
Macbeth sends a message ahead
to his wife, Lady Macbeth, telling her about the witches' prophecies.
Lady Macbeth suffers none of her husband's uncertainty and wishes him
to murder Duncan in order to obtain kingship. When
Macbeth arrives at
Inverness, she overrides all of her husband's objections by
challenging his manhood and successfully persuades him to kill the
king that very night. He and
Lady Macbeth plan to get Duncan's two
chamberlains drunk so that they will black out; the next morning they
will blame the chamberlains for the murder. They will be defenseless
as they will remember nothing.
While Duncan is asleep,
Macbeth stabs him, despite his doubts and a
number of supernatural portents, including a hallucination of a bloody
dagger. He is so shaken that
Lady Macbeth has to take charge. In
accordance with her plan, she frames Duncan's sleeping servants for
the murder by placing bloody daggers on them. Early the next morning,
Lennox, a Scottish nobleman, and Macduff, the loyal Thane of
arrive. A porter opens the gate and
Macbeth leads them to the king's
chamber, where Macduff discovers Duncan's body.
Macbeth murders the
guards to prevent them from professing their innocence, but claims he
did so in a fit of anger over their misdeeds. Duncan's sons Malcolm
and Donalbain flee to England and Ireland, respectively, fearing that
whoever killed Duncan desires their demise as well. The rightful
heirs' flight makes them suspects and
Macbeth assumes the throne as
King of Scotland
King of Scotland as a kinsman of the dead king.
this to the audience, and while sceptical of the new King Macbeth, he
remembers the witches' prophecy about how his own descendants would
inherit the throne; this makes him suspicious of Macbeth.
Théodore Chassériau (1819–1856),
Macbeth seeing the Ghost of
Despite his success, Macbeth, also aware of this part of the
prophecy, remains uneasy.
Banquo to a royal banquet ,
where he discovers that
Banquo and his young son, Fleance, will be
riding out that night. Fearing Banquo's suspicions,
to have him murdered, by hiring two men to kill them, later sending a
Third Murderer . The assassins succeed in killing Banquo, but Fleance
Macbeth becomes furious: he fears that his power remains
insecure as long as an heir of
Banquo remains alive.
At a banquet,
Macbeth invites his lords and
Lady Macbeth to a night
of drinking and merriment. Banquo's ghost enters and sits in Macbeth's
Macbeth raves fearfully, startling his guests, as the ghost is
only visible to himself. The others panic at the sight of Macbeth
raging at an empty chair, until a desperate
Lady Macbeth tells them
that her husband is merely afflicted with a familiar and harmless
malady. The ghost departs and returns once more, causing the same
riotous anger and fear in Macbeth. This time,
Lady Macbeth tells the
lords to leave, and they do so.
Macbeth consulting the Vision of
the Armed Head by Johann Heinrich Füssli
Macbeth, disturbed, visits the three witches once more and asks them
to reveal the truth of their prophecies to him. To answer his
questions, they summon horrible apparitions, each of which offers
predictions and further prophecies to put Macbeth's fears at rest.
First, they conjure an armoured head, which tells him to beware of
Macduff (IV.i.72). Second, a bloody child tells him that no one born
of a woman shall be able to harm him. Thirdly, a crowned child holding
a tree states that
Macbeth will be safe until Great Birnam Wood comes
Dunsinane Hill .
Macbeth is relieved and feels secure because he
knows that all men are born of women and forests cannot move. Macbeth
also asks whether Banquo's sons will ever reign in Scotland: the
witches conjure a procession of eight crowned kings, all similar in
appearance to Banquo, and the last carrying a mirror that reflects
even more kings.
Macbeth realises that these are all Banquo's
descendants having acquired kingship in numerous countries. After the
witches perform a mad dance and leave, Lennox enters and tells Macbeth
that Macduff has fled to England.
Macbeth orders Macduff's castle be
seized, and, most cruelly, sends murderers to slaughter Macduff, as
well as Macduff's wife and children. Although Macduff is no longer in
the castle, everyone in Macduff's castle is put to death, including
Lady Macduff and their young son .
Lady Macbeth sleepwalking by
Johann Heinrich Füssli
Lady Macbeth becomes racked with guilt from the crimes she
and her husband have committed. At night, in the king's palace at
Dunsinane, a doctor and a gentlewoman discuss Lady Macbeth's strange
habit of sleepwalking. Suddenly,
Lady Macbeth enters in a trance with
a candle in her hand. Bemoaning the murders of Duncan, Lady Macduff,
and Banquo, she tries to wash off imaginary bloodstains from her
hands, all the while speaking of the terrible things she knows she
pressed her husband to do. She leaves, and the doctor and gentlewoman
marvel at her descent into madness. Her belief that nothing can wash
away the blood on her hands is an ironic reversal of her earlier claim
Macbeth that " little water clears us of this deed" (II.ii.66).
In England, Macduff is informed by Ross that his "castle is
surprised; wife and babes / Savagely slaughter'd" (IV.iii.204–05).
When this news of his family's execution reaches him, Macduff is
stricken with grief and vows revenge. Prince Malcolm, Duncan's son,
has succeeded in raising an army in England, and Macduff joins him as
he rides to
Scotland to challenge Macbeth's forces. The invasion has
the support of the Scottish nobles, who are appalled and frightened by
Macbeth's tyrannical and murderous behaviour. Malcolm leads an army,
along with Macduff and Englishmen Siward (the Elder), the Earl of
Northumberland , against Dunsinane Castle. While encamped in Birnam
Wood, the soldiers are ordered to cut down and carry tree limbs to
camouflage their numbers.
Before Macbeth's opponents arrive, he receives news that Lady Macbeth
has killed herself, causing him to sink into a deep and pessimistic
despair and deliver his "
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow "
soliloquy (V.v.17–28). Though he reflects on the brevity and
meaninglessness of life, he nevertheless awaits the English and
fortifies Dunsinane. He is certain that the witches' prophecies
guarantee his invincibility, but is struck with fear when he learns
that the English army is advancing on Dunsinane shielded with boughs
cut from Birnam Wood, in apparent fulfillment of one of the
A battle culminates in Macduff's confrontation with Macbeth, who
Young Siward in combat. The English forces overwhelm his army
Macbeth boasts that he has no reason to fear Macduff, for
he cannot be killed by any man born of woman. Macduff declares that he
was "from his mother's womb / Untimely ripp'd" (V.8.15–16), (i.e.,
Caesarean section ) and is not "of woman born" (an example of
a literary quibble ), fulfilling the second prophecy.
too late that he has misinterpreted the witches' words. Though he
realises that he is doomed, he continues to fight. Macduff kills and
beheads him, thus fulfilling the remaining prophecy.
Macduff carries Macbeth's head onstage and Malcolm discusses how
order has been restored. His last reference to Lady Macbeth, however,
reveals "'tis thought, by self and violent hands / Took off her life"
(V.ix.71–72), but the method of her suicide is undisclosed. Malcolm,
now the King of Scotland, declares his benevolent intentions for the
country and invites all to see him crowned at Scone .
Although Malcolm, and not Fleance, is placed on the throne, the
witches' prophecy concerning
Banquo ("Thou shalt get kings") was known
to the audience of Shakespeare's time to be true: James VI of Scotland
(later also James I of England ) was supposedly a descendant of
Title page of a 1603 reprinting of
first edition of
Raphael Holinshed 's Chronicles of England,
Scotlande, and Irelande, printed in 1577. "
Macbeth and Banquo
encountering the witches" from Holinshed\'s Chronicles (1577)
A principal source comes from the
Daemonologie of King James
published in 1597 which included a news pamphlet titled Newes from
Scotland that detailed the famous North Berwick
Witch Trials of 1590.
The publication of
Daemonologie came just a few years before the
Macbeth with the themes and setting in a direct and
comparative contrast with King James' personal experiences with
witchcraft. Not only had this trial taken place in Scotland, the
witches involved were recorded to have also conducted rituals with the
same mannerisms as the three witches. One of the evidenced passages is
referenced when the witches involved in the trial confessed to attempt
the use of witchcraft to raise a tempest and sabotage the very boat
King James and his queen were on board during their return trip from
Denmark . This was significant as one ship sailing with King James'
fleet actually sank in the storm. The following quote from
one such reference:
"purposely to be cassin into the sea to raise winds for destruction
of ships." – Macbeth, I. iii. 15–25.
Macbeth has been compared to Shakespeare's
Antony and Cleopatra .
Both Antony and
Macbeth as characters seek a new world, even at the
cost of the old one. Both are fighting for a throne and have a
'nemesis' to face to achieve that throne. For Antony, the nemesis is
Octavius; for Macbeth, it is Banquo. At one point
compares himself to Antony, saying "under
Banquo / My Genius is
rebuk'd, as it is said / Mark Antony's was by Caesar." Lastly, both
plays contain powerful and manipulative female figures: Cleopatra and
Shakespeare borrowed the story from several tales in Holinshed\'s
Chronicles , a popular history of the British Isles well known to
Shakespeare and his contemporaries. In Chronicles, a man named Donwald
finds several of his family put to death by his king, King Duff , for
dealing with witches. After being pressured by his wife, he and four
of his servants kill the King in his own house. In Chronicles, Macbeth
is portrayed as struggling to support the kingdom in the face of King
Duncan's ineptitude. He and
Banquo meet the three witches, who make
exactly the same prophecies as in Shakespeare's version.
Banquo then together plot the murder of Duncan, at Lady Macbeth's
Macbeth has a long, ten-year reign before eventually being
overthrown by Macduff and Malcolm. The parallels between the two
versions are clear. However, some scholars think that George Buchanan
's Rerum Scoticarum Historia matches Shakespeare's version more
closely. Buchanan's work was available in Latin in Shakespeare's day.
No other version of the story has
Macbeth kill the king in Macbeth's
own castle. Scholars have seen this change of Shakespeare's as adding
to the darkness of Macbeth's crime as the worst violation of
hospitality. Versions of the story that were common at the time had
Duncan being killed in an ambush at
Inverness , not in a castle.
Shakespeare conflated the story of Donwald and King Duff in what was a
significant change to the story.
Shakespeare made another important change. In Chronicles,
an accomplice in Macbeth's murder of King Duncan, and plays an
important part in ensuring that Macbeth, not Malcolm, takes the throne
in the coup that follows. In Shakespeare's day,
Banquo was thought to
be an ancestor of the Stuart King James I. (In the 19th century it
was established that
Banquo is an unhistorical character, the Stuarts
are actually descended from a Breton family which migrated to Scotland
slightly later than Macbeth's time.) The
Banquo portrayed in earlier
sources is significantly different from the
Banquo created by
Shakespeare. Critics have proposed several reasons for this change.
First, to portray the king's ancestor as a murderer would have been
risky. Other authors of the time who wrote about Banquo, such as Jean
de Schelandre in his Stuartide, also changed history by portraying
Banquo as a noble man, not a murderer, probably for the same reasons.
Shakespeare may have altered Banquo's character simply because
there was no dramatic need for another accomplice to the murder; there
was, however, a need to give a dramatic contrast to Macbeth—a role
which many scholars argue is filled by Banquo.
Other scholars maintain that a strong argument can be made for
associating the tragedy with the
Gunpowder Plot of 1605. As presented
Harold Bloom in 2008: "cholars cite the existence of several
topical references in
Macbeth to the events of that year, namely the
execution of the Rev. Henry Garnett for his alleged complicity in the
Gunpowder Plot of 1605, as referenced in the porter's scene."
DATE AND TEXT
Macbeth cannot be dated precisely but it is usually dated as
contemporaneous to the other canonical tragedies (King Lear, Hamlet,
and Othello). Some scholars have placed the original writing of the
play as early as 1599. As the play is widely seen to celebrate King
James' ancestors and the Stuart accession to the throne in 1603 (James
believed himself to be descended from
Banquo ), most scholars believe
that the play is unlikely to have been composed earlier than 1603 and
suggest that the parade of eight kings—which the witches show
Macbeth in a vision in Act IV—is a compliment to King James. Many
scholars think the play was written in 1606 in the aftermath of the
Gunpowder Plot because of possible internal allusions to the 1605 plot
and its ensuing trials. In fact, there are a great deal of allusions
and possible pieces of evidence alluding to the Plot, and, for this
reason, a great number of critics agree that
Macbeth was written in
the year 1606. Lady Macbeth's instructions to her husband, "Look
like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under't" (1.5.74–75),
may be an allusion to a medal that was struck in 1605 to commemorate
King James' escape that depicted a serpent hiding among lilies and
Particularly, the Porter's speech (2.3.1–21) in which he welcomes
an "equivocator", a farmer, and a tailor to hell (2.3.8–13), has
been argued to be an allusion to the 28 March 1606 trial and execution
on 3 May 1606 of the Jesuit
Henry Garnet , who used the alias
"Farmer", with "equivocator" referring to Garnet's defence of
"equivocation" . The porter says that the equivocator "committed
treason enough for God's sake" (2.3.9–10), which specifically
connects equivocation and treason and ties it to the Jesuit belief
that equivocation was only lawful when used "for God's sake",
strengthening the allusion to Garnet. The porter goes on to say that
the equivocator "yet could not equivocate to heaven" (2.3.10–11),
echoing grim jokes that were current on the eve of Garnet's execution:
i.e. that Garnet would be "hanged without equivocation" and at his
execution he was asked "not to equivocate with his last breath." The
"English tailor" the porter admits to hell (2.3.13), has been seen as
an allusion to Hugh Griffin, a tailor who was questioned by the
Archbishop of Canterbury on 27 November and 3 December 1607 for the
part he played in Garnet's "miraculous straw", an infamous head of
straw that was stained with Garnet's blood that had congealed into a
form resembling Garnet's portrait, which was hailed by Catholics as a
miracle. The tailor Griffin became notorious and the subject of verses
published with his portrait on the title page.
When James became king of England, a feeling of uncertainty settled
over the nation. James was a Scottish king and the son of Mary, Queen
of Scots , a staunch Catholic and English traitor. In the words of
critic Jonathan Gil Harris, "
Macbeth was a play for a post-Elizabethan
England facing up to what it might mean to have a Scottish king.
England seems comparatively benign while its northern neighbour is
mired in a bloody, monarch-killing past...
Macbeth may have been set in
medieval Scotland, but it was filled with material of interest to
England and England's ruler." Critics argue that the content of the
play is clearly a message to James, the new Scottish King of England.
Garry Wills provides further evidence that
Macbeth is a Gunpowder Play
(a type of play that emerged immediately following the events of the
Gunpowder Plot). He points out that every Gunpowder Play contains "a
necromancy scene, regicide attempted or completed, references to
equivocation, scenes that test loyalty by use of deceptive language,
and a character who sees through plots—along with a vocabulary
similar to the Plot in its immediate aftermath (words like train,
blow, vault) and an ironic recoil of the Plot upon the Plotters (who
fall into the pit they dug)."
The play utilizes a few key words that the audience at the time would
recognize as allusions to the Plot. In one sermon in 1605, Lancelot
Andrewes stated, regarding the failure of the Plotters on God's day,
"Be they fair or foul, glad or sad (as the poet calleth Him) the great
Diespiter, 'the Father of days' hath made them both." Shakespeare
begins the play by using the words "fair" and "foul" in the first
speeches of the witches and Macbeth. In the words of Jonathan Gil
Harris, the play expresses the "horror unleashed by a supposedly loyal
subject who seeks to kill a king and the treasonous role of
equivocation. The play even echoes certain keywords from the scandal
– the 'vault' beneath the House of Parliament in which Guy Fawkes
stored thirty kegs of gunpowder and the 'blow' about which one of the
conspirators had secretly warned a relative who planned to attend the
House of Parliament on 5 November...Even though the Plot is never
alluded to directly, its presence is everywhere in the play, like a
pervasive odor." Further, the play could not have been written after
this time, due to references to it seen in other works, notably
Francis Beaumont 's
Knight of the Burning Pestle , which was written
in 1607–1608. Lines 21–30 are a clear allusion to the scene in
which Banquo's ghost visits and haunts
Macbeth at the dinner table:
In any place, but I will visit thee
With ghastly looks, and put into thy mind
The great offences which thou didst to me:
When thou art at thy table with thy friends,
Merry in heart, and filled with swelling wine,
I'll come in midst of all thy pride and mirth,
Invisible to all men but thyself,
And whisper such a sad tale in thine ear
Shall make thee let the cup fall from thy hand,
And stand as mute and pale as death itself. The first page of
Macbeth, printed in the
Second Folio of 1632
Scholars also cite an entertainment seen by King James at
the summer of 1605 that featured three "sibyls " like the weird
sisters; Kermode surmises that
Shakespeare could have heard about this
and alluded to it with the weird sisters. However, A. R. Braunmuller
in the New Cambridge edition finds the 1605–06 arguments
inconclusive, and argues only for an earliest date of 1603. The play
is not considered to have been written any later than 1607, since, as
Kermode notes, there are "fairly clear allusions to the play in 1607."
In addition, one suggested allusion supporting a date in late 1606 is
the first witch's dialogue about a sailor's wife: "'Aroint thee,
witch!' the rump-fed ronyon cries./Her husband's to Aleppo gone,
master o' the Tiger" (1.6–7). This has been thought to allude to the
Tiger, a ship that returned to England 27 June 1606 after a disastrous
voyage in which many of the crew were killed by pirates. A few lines
later the witch speaks of the sailor, "He shall live a man
forbid:/Weary se'nnights nine times nine" (1.21–22). The real ship
was at sea 567 days, the product of 7x9x9, which has been taken as a
confirmation of the allusion, which if correct, confirms that the
witch scenes were either written or amended later than July 1606.
Macbeth was first printed in the
First Folio of 1623 and the Folio is
the only source for the text. Some scholars contend that the Folio
text was abridged and rearranged from an earlier manuscript or prompt
book. Often cited as interpolation are stage cues for two songs,
whose lyrics are not included in the Folio but are included in Thomas
Middleton 's play The
Witch , which was written between the accepted
Macbeth (1606) and the printing of the Folio. Many scholars
believe these songs were editorially inserted into the Folio, though
whether they were Middleton's songs or preexisting songs is not
certain. It is also widely believed that the character of
Hecate , as
well as some lines of the First
Witch (4.1 124–31), were not part of
Shakespeare's original play but were added by the Folio editors and
possibly written by Middleton, though "there is no completely
objective proof" of such interpolation.
The 'reconstructive movement' was concerned with the recreation of
Elizabethan acting conditions, and would eventually lead to the
creation of Shakespeare\'s Globe and similar replicas. One of the
movement's offshoots was in the reconstruction of Elizabethan
pronunciation: for example
Bernard Miles ' 1951 Macbeth, for which
University College London
University College London were employed to create a
transcript of the play in Elizabethan English, then an audio recording
of that transcription, from which the actors, in turn, learned their
The pronunciation of many words evolves over time. In Shakespeare's
day, for example, "heath" was pronounced as "heth" ("or a slightly
elongated 'e' as in the modern 'get'" ), so it rhymed with "Macbeth"
in the sentences by the Witches at the beginning of the play:
SECOND WITCH: Upon the heath.
THIRD WITCH: There to meet with Macbeth.
A scholar of antique pronunciation writes, "Heath would have made a
close (if not exact) rhyme with the "-eth" of Macbeth, which was
pronounced with a short 'i' as in 'it'."
In the theatre programme notes, "much was made of how OP performance
reintroduces lost rhymes such as the final couplet: 'So thanks to all
at once, and each to one, / Whom we invite to see us crowned at
Scone'" (5.11.40–41) where 'one' sounds like 'own'. The Witches, the
play's great purveyors of rhyme, benefited most in this regard. So,
'babe' (4.1.30) sounded like 'bab' and rhymed with 'drab' (4.1.31)..."
Eoin Price wrote, "I found the OP rendition of Banquo's brilliant
question 'Or have we eaten on the insane root / That takes the raison
prisoner?' unduly amusing"; and he adds,
:... 'fear' had two pronunciations: the standard modern pronunciation
being one, and 'fair' being the other. Mostly, the actors seemed to
pronounce it in a way which accords with the modern standard, but
during one speech,
Macbeth said 'fair'. This seems especially
significant in a play determined to complicate the relationship
between 'fair' and 'foul'. I wonder, then, if the punning could be
extended throughout the production. Would Banquo's lines, 'Good sir,
why do you start and seem to fear / Things that do sound so fair?'
(1.3.49–50) be fascinatingly illuminated, or merely muddled, by this
punning? Perhaps this is a possibility the cast already experimented
with and chose to discard, but, for sure, an awareness of the
possibility of a 'fair/fear' pun can have interesting ramifications
for the play.
THEMES AND MOTIFS
The Prince of Cumberland ! That is a step
On which I must fall down, or else o'erleap,
For in my way it lies. Stars, hide your fires;
Let not light see my black and deep desires.
The eye wink at the hand; yet let that be
Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see." —Macbeth, Act I,
Macbeth is an anomaly among Shakespeare's tragedies in certain
critical ways. It is short: more than a thousand lines shorter than
King Lear , and only slightly more than half as long as
Hamlet . This brevity has suggested to many critics that the received
version is based on a heavily cut source, perhaps a prompt-book for a
particular performance. That brevity has also been connected to other
unusual features: the fast pace of the first act, which has seemed to
be "stripped for action"; the comparative flatness of the characters
other than Macbeth; and the oddness of
Macbeth himself compared with
other Shakespearean tragic heroes.
AS A TRAGEDY OF CHARACTER
At least since the days of
Alexander Pope and
Samuel Johnson ,
analysis of the play has centred on the question of Macbeth's
ambition, commonly seen as so dominant a trait that it defines the
character. Johnson asserted that Macbeth, though esteemed for his
military bravery, is wholly reviled. This opinion recurs in critical
literature, and, according to Caroline Spurgeon, is supported by
Shakespeare himself, who apparently intended to degrade his hero by
vesting him with clothes unsuited to him and to make
ridiculous by several nimisms he applies: His garments seem either too
big or too small for him – as his ambition is too big and his
character too small for his new and unrightful role as king. When he
feels as if "dressed in borrowed robes", after his new title as Thane
of Cawdor, prophesied by the witches, has been confirmed by Ross (I,
3, ll. 108–09),
Banquo comments: "New honours come upon him, / Like
our strange garments, cleave not to their mould, / But with the aid of
use" (I, 3, ll. 145–46). And, at the end, when the tyrant is at bay
at Dunsinane, Caithness sees him as a man trying in vain to fasten a
large garment on him with too small a belt: "He cannot buckle his
distemper'd cause / Within the belt of rule" (V, 2, ll. 14–15),
while Angus, in a similar nimism, sums up what everybody thinks ever
since Macbeth's accession to power: "now does he feel his title / Hang
loose about him, like a giant's robe / upon a dwarfish thief" (V, 2,
Like Richard III , but without that character's perversely appealing
Macbeth wades through blood until his inevitable fall. As
Kenneth Muir writes, "
Macbeth has not a predisposition to murder; he
has merely an inordinate ambition that makes murder itself seem to be
a lesser evil than failure to achieve the crown." Some critics, such
as E. E. Stoll, explain this characterisation as a holdover from
Senecan or medieval tradition. Shakespeare's audience, in this view,
expected villains to be wholly bad, and Senecan style, far from
prohibiting a villainous protagonist, all but demanded it.
Yet for other critics, it has not been so easy to resolve the
question of Macbeth's motivation.
Robert Bridges , for instance,
perceived a paradox: a character able to express such convincing
horror before Duncan's murder would likely be incapable of committing
the crime. For many critics, Macbeth's motivations in the first act
appear vague and insufficient.
John Dover Wilson hypothesised that
Shakespeare's original text had an extra scene or scenes where husband
and wife discussed their plans. This interpretation is not fully
provable; however, the motivating role of ambition for
universally recognised. The evil actions motivated by his ambition
seem to trap him in a cycle of increasing evil, as
recognises: "I am in blood/Stepp'd in so far that, should I wade no
more,/Returning were as tedious as go o'er."
While working on Russian translations of Shakespeare's works, Boris
Raskolnikov , the protagonist of Crime
and Punishment by
Fyodor Dostoevsky . Pasternak argues that "neither
Raskolnikov is a born criminal or a villain by nature. They
are turned into criminals by faulty rationalizations, by deductions
from false premises." He goes on to argue that
Lady Macbeth is
"feminine ... one of those active, insistent wives" who becomes her
husband's "executive, more resolute and consistent than he is
himself." According to Pasternak, she is only helping
out his own wishes, to her own detriment.
AS A TRAGEDY OF MORAL ORDER
The disastrous consequences of Macbeth's ambition are not limited to
him. Almost from the moment of the murder, the play depicts Scotland
as a land shaken by inversions of the natural order.
have intended a reference to the great chain of being , although the
play's images of disorder are mostly not specific enough to support
detailed intellectual readings. He may also have intended an elaborate
compliment to James's belief in the divine right of kings , although
this hypothesis, outlined at greatest length by Henry N. Paul, is not
universally accepted. As in Julius Caesar , though, perturbations in
the political sphere are echoed and even amplified by events in the
material world. Among the most often depicted of the inversions of the
natural order is sleep. Macbeth's announcement that he has "murdered
sleep" is figuratively mirrored in Lady Macbeth's sleepwalking.
Macbeth's generally accepted indebtedness to medieval tragedy is
often seen as significant in the play's treatment of moral order.
Glynne Wickham connects the play, through the Porter, to a mystery
play on the harrowing of hell . Howard Felperin argues that the play
has a more complex attitude toward "orthodox Christian tragedy" than
is often admitted; he sees a kinship between the play and the tyrant
plays within the medieval liturgical drama.
The theme of androgyny is often seen as a special aspect of the theme
of disorder. Inversion of normative gender roles is most famously
associated with the witches and with
Lady Macbeth as she appears in
the first act. Whatever Shakespeare's degree of sympathy with such
inversions, the play ends with a thorough return to normative gender
values. Some feminist psychoanalytic critics, such as Janet Adelman,
have connected the play's treatment of gender roles to its larger
theme of inverted natural order. In this light,
Macbeth is punished
for his violation of the moral order by being removed from the cycles
of nature (which are figured as female); nature itself (as embodied in
the movement of Birnam Wood) is part of the restoration of moral
AS A POETIC TRAGEDY
Critics in the early twentieth century reacted against what they saw
as an excessive dependence on the study of character in criticism of
the play. This dependence, though most closely associated with Andrew
Cecil Bradley , is clear as early as the time of
Mary Cowden Clarke ,
who offered precise, if fanciful, accounts of the predramatic lives of
Shakespeare's female leads. She suggested, for instance, that the
Lady Macbeth refers to in the first act died during a foolish
WITCHCRAFT AND EVIL
Banquo with the Witches by
In the play, the
Three Witches represent darkness, chaos, and
conflict, while their role is as agents and witnesses. Their presence
communicates treason and impending doom. During Shakespeare's day,
witches were seen as worse than rebels, "the most notorious traytor
and rebell that can be." They were not only political traitors, but
spiritual traitors as well. Much of the confusion that springs from
them comes from their ability to straddle the play's borders between
reality and the supernatural. They are so deeply entrenched in both
worlds that it is unclear whether they control fate, or whether they
are merely its agents. They defy logic, not being subject to the rules
of the real world. The witches' lines in the first act: "Fair is
foul, and foul is fair: Hover through the fog and filthy air" are
often said to set the tone for the rest of the play by establishing a
sense of confusion. Indeed, the play is filled with situations where
evil is depicted as good, while good is rendered evil. The line
"Double, double toil and trouble," communicates the witches' intent
clearly: they seek only trouble for the mortals around them. The
witches' spells are remarkably similar to the spells of the witch
Medusa in Anthony Munday's play
Fidele and Fortunio published in 1584,
Shakespeare may have been influenced by these.
While the witches do not tell
Macbeth directly to kill King Duncan,
they use a subtle form of temptation when they tell
Macbeth that he is
destined to be king. By placing this thought in his mind, they
effectively guide him on the path to his own destruction. This follows
the pattern of temptation used at the time of Shakespeare. First, they
argued, a thought is put in a man's mind, then the person may either
indulge in the thought or reject it.
Macbeth indulges in it, while
According to J. A. Bryant Jr.,
Macbeth also makes use of Biblical
parallels, notably between King Duncan's murder and the murder of
No matter how one looks at it, whether as history or as tragedy,
Macbeth is distinctively Christian. One may simply count the Biblical
allusions as Richmond Noble has done; one may go further and study the
parallels between Shakespeare's story and the Old Testament stories of
Jezebel as Miss Jane H. Jack has done; or one may examine
with W. C. Curry the progressive degeneration of
Macbeth from the
point of view of medieval theology.
SUPERSTITION AND "THE SCOTTISH PLAY"
The Scottish Play
While many today would say that any misfortune surrounding a
production is mere coincidence, actors and other theatre people often
consider it bad luck to mention
Macbeth by name while inside a
theatre, and sometimes refer to it indirectly, for example as "the
Scottish play ", or "MacBee", or when referring to the character and
not the play, "Mr. and Mrs. M", or "The Scottish King".
This is because
Shakespeare (or the play's revisers) are said to have
used the spells of real witches in his text, purportedly angering the
witches and causing them to curse the play. Thus, to say the name of
the play inside a theatre is believed to doom the production to
failure, and perhaps cause physical injury or death to cast members.
There are stories of accidents, misfortunes and even deaths taking
place during runs of Macbeth.
According to the actor Sir
Donald Sinden , in his
Sky Arts TV series
Great West End Theatres ,
contrary to popular myth, Shakespeare's tragedy
Macbeth is not the
unluckiest play as superstition likes to portray it. Exactly the
opposite! The origin of the unfortunate moniker dates back to
repertory theatre days when each town and village had at least one
theatre to entertain the public. If a play was not doing well, it
would invariably get 'pulled' and replaced with a sure-fire audience
Macbeth guaranteed full-houses. So when the weekly theatre
The Stage was published, listing what was on in each
theatre in the country, it was instantly noticed what shows had NOT
worked the previous week, as they had been replaced by a definite
crowd-pleaser. More actors have died during performances of Hamlet
than in the "Scottish play" as the profession still calls it. It is
forbidden to quote from it backstage as this could cause the current
play to collapse and have to be replaced, causing possible
One particular incident that lent itself to the superstition was the
Astor Place Riot . The cause of the riots was based on a conflict over
two performances of Macbeth, and is usually ascribed to the curse.
Several methods exist to dispel the curse, depending on the actor.
One, attributed to Michael York , is to immediately leave the building
the stage is in with the person who uttered the name, walk around it
three times, spit over their left shoulders, say an obscenity then
wait to be invited back into the building. A related practice is to
spin around three times as fast as possible on the spot, sometimes
accompanied by spitting over their shoulder, and uttering an
obscenity. Another popular "ritual" is to leave the room, knock three
times, be invited in, and then quote a line from
Hamlet . Yet another
is to recite lines from
The Merchant of Venice , thought to be a lucky
play. Other sources cite A Midsummer Night\'s Dream as being a
similarly lucky play.
Shakespeare\'s Day To The Interregnum
The only eyewitness account of
Macbeth in Shakespeare's lifetime was
Simon Forman , who saw a performance at the Globe in 1611.
Scholars have noted discrepancies between Forman's account and the
play as it appears in the Folio. For example, he makes no mention of
the apparition scene, or of Hecate, of the man not of woman born, or
of Birnam Wood. However, Clark observes that Forman's accounts were
often inaccurate and incomplete (for instance omitting the statue
scene from The Winter\'s Tale ) and his interest did not seem to be in
"giving full accounts of the productions."
As mentioned above, the Folio text is thought by some to be an
alteration of the original play. This has led to the theory that the
play as we know it from the Folio was an adaptation for indoor
performance at the
Blackfriars Theatre (which was operated by the
King's Men from 1608) – and even speculation that it represents a
specific performance before King James. The play contains more
musical cues than any other play in the canon as well as a significant
use of sound effects .
Restoration And Eighteenth Century
"The chill of the grave seemed about you when you looked on her;
there was the hush and damp of the charnel house at midnight ... your
flesh crept and your breathing became uneasy ... the scent of blood
became palpable to you." —Sheridan Knowles on
Sarah Siddons '
All theatres were closed down by the
Puritan government on 6
September 1642. Upon the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, two
patent companies (the King\'s Company and the Duke\'s Company ) were
established, and the existing theatrical repertoire divided between
William Davenant , founder of the Duke's Company, adapted
Shakespeare's play to the tastes of the new era, and his version would
dominate on stage for around eighty years. Among the changes he made
were the expansion of the role of the witches, introducing new songs,
dances and 'flying', and the expansion of the role of
Lady Macduff as
a foil to Lady Macbeth. There were, however, performances outside the
patent companies: among the evasions of the Duke's Company's monopoly
was a puppet version of Macbeth.
Macbeth was a favourite of the seventeenth-century diarist Samuel
Pepys , who saw the play on 5 November 1664 ("admirably acted"), 28
December 1666 ("most excellently acted"), ten days later on 7 January
1667 ("though I saw it lately, yet appears a most excellent play in
all respects"), on 19 April 1667 ("one of the best plays for a stage
... that ever I saw"), again on 16 October 1667 ("was vexed to see
Young, who is but a bad actor at best, act
Macbeth in the room of
Betterton , who, poor man! is sick"), and again three weeks later on 6
November 1667 (" Macbeth, which we still like mightily"), yet again on
12 August 1668 ("saw Macbeth, to our great content"), and finally on
21 December 1668, on which date the king and court were also present
in the audience.
The first professional performances of
Macbeth in North America were
probably those of The Hallam Company .
David Garrick revived the play, abandoning Davenant's
version and instead advertising it "as written by Shakespeare". In
fact this claim was largely false: he retained much of Davenant's more
popular business for the witches, and himself wrote a lengthy death
speech for Macbeth. And he cut more than 10% of Shakespeare's play,
including the drunken porter, the murder of Lady Macduff's son, and
Malcolm's testing of Macduff.
Hannah Pritchard was his greatest stage
partner, having her premiere as his
Lady Macbeth in 1747. He would
later drop the play from his repertoire upon her retirement from the
stage. Mrs. Pritchard was the first actress to achieve acclaim in the
Lady Macbeth – at least partly due to the removal of
Davenant's material, which made irrelevant moral contrasts with Lady
Macduff. Garrick's portrayal focused on the inner life of the
character, endowing him with an innocence vacillating between good and
evil, and betrayed by outside influences. He portrayed a man capable
of observing himself, as if a part of him remained untouched by what
he had done, the play moulding him into a man of sensibility, rather
than him descending into a tyrant.
John Philip Kemble
John Philip Kemble first played
Macbeth in 1778. Although usually
regarded as the antithesis of Garrick, Kemble nevertheless refined
aspects of Garrick's portrayal into his own. However it was the
"towering and majestic"
Sarah Siddons (Kemble's sister) who became a
legend in the role of Lady Macbeth. In contrast to Hannah Pritchard's
savage, demonic portrayal, Siddons' Lady Macbeth, while terrifying,
was nevertheless – in the scenes in which she expresses her regret
and remorse – tenderly human. And in portraying her actions as done
out of love for her husband, Siddons deflected from him some of the
moral responsibility for the play's carnage. Audiences seem to have
found the sleepwalking scene particularly mesmerising: Hazlitt said of
it that "all her gestures were involuntary and mechanical ... She
glided on and off the stage almost like an apparition."
In 1794, Kemble dispensed with the ghost of
allowing the audience to see Macbeth's reaction as his wife and guests
see it, and relying upon the fact that the play was so well known that
his audience would already be aware that a ghost enters at that point.
Ferdinand Fleck , notable as the first German actor to present
Shakespeare's tragic roles in their fullness, played
Macbeth at the
Berlin National Theatre from 1787. Unlike his English counterparts, he
portrayed the character as achieving his stature after the murder of
Duncan, growing in presence and confidence: thereby enabling stark
contrasts, such as in the banquet scene, which he ended babbling like
"Everyone seems to think Mrs McB is a Monstrousness & I can only
see she's a woman – a mistaken woman – text-align: left;">—Ellen
Performances outside the patent theatres were instrumental in
bringing the monopoly to an end. Robert Elliston , for example,
produced a popular adaptation of
Macbeth in 1809 at the Royal Circus
described in its publicity as "this matchless piece of pantomimic and
choral performance", which circumvented the illegality of speaking
Shakespeare's words through mimed action, singing, and doggerel verse
written by J. C. Cross.
Ellen Kean and
Charles Kean as the
Macbeths, in historically accurate costumes
In 1809, in an unsuccessful attempt to take Covent Garden upmarket,
Kemble installed private boxes, increasing admission prices to pay for
the improvements. The inaugural run at the newly renovated theatre was
Macbeth, which was disrupted for over two months with cries of "Old
prices!" and "No private boxes!" until Kemble capitulated to the
Edmund Kean at Drury Lane gave a psychological portrayal of the
central character, with a common touch, but was ultimately
unsuccessful in the role. However he did pave the way for the most
acclaimed performance of the nineteenth century, that of William
Charles Macready . Macready played the role over a 30-year period,
firstly at Covent Garden in 1820 and finally in his retirement
performance. Although his playing evolved over the years, it was noted
throughout for the tension between the idealistic aspects and the
weaker, venal aspects of Macbeth's character. His staging was full of
spectacle, including several elaborate royal processions. A
William Charles Macready
William Charles Macready playing Macbeth, from a mid-19th
In 1843 the Theatres Regulation Act finally brought the patent
companies' monopoly to an end. From that time until the end of the
Victorian era , London theatre was dominated by the actor-managers ,
and the style of presentation was "pictorial" – proscenium stages
filled with spectacular stage-pictures, often featuring complex
scenery, large casts in elaborate costumes, and frequent use of
tableaux vivant .
Charles Kean (son of Edmund), at London's
Princess\'s Theatre from 1850 to 1859, took an antiquarian view of
Shakespeare performance, setting his
Macbeth in a historically
accurate eleventh-century Scotland. His leading lady, Ellen Tree ,
created a sense of the character's inner life:
The Times ' critic
saying "The countenance which she assumed ... when luring on Macbeth
in his course of crime, was actually appalling in intensity, as if it
denoted a hunger after guilt." At the same time, special effects were
becoming popular: for example in
Samuel Phelps '
Macbeth the witches
performed behind green gauze , enabling them to appear and disappear
using stage lighting.
In 1849, rival performances of the play sparked the Astor Place Riot
Manhattan . The popular American actor
Edwin Forrest , whose
Macbeth was said to be like "the ferocious chief of a barbarous tribe"
played the central role at the Broadway Theatre to popular acclaim,
while the "cerebral and patrician" English actor Macready , playing
the same role at the Astor Place Opera House , suffered constant
heckling. The existing enmity between the two men (Forrest had openly
hissed Macready at a recent performance of
Hamlet in Britain) was
taken up by Forrest's supporters – formed from the working class and
lower middle class and anti-British agitators, keen to attack the
upper-class pro-British patrons of the Opera House and the
colonially-minded Macready. Nevertheless, Macready performed the role
again three days later to a packed house while an angry mob gathered
outside. The militia tasked with controlling the situation fired into
the mob. In total, 31 rioters were killed and over 100 injured.
Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth, an 1888 production
Charlotte Cushman is unique among nineteenth century interpreters of
Shakespeare in achieving stardom in roles of both genders. Her New
York debut was as
Lady Macbeth in 1836, and she would later be admired
in London in the same role in the mid-1840s. Helen Faucit was
considered the embodiment of early-Victorian notions of femininity.
But for this reason she largely failed when she eventually played Lady
Macbeth in 1864: her serious attempt to embody the coarser aspects of
Lady Macbeth's character jarred harshly with her public image.
Adelaide Ristori , the great Italian actress, brought her Lady Macbeth
to London in 1863 in Italian, and again in 1873 in an English
translation cut in such a way as to be, in effect, Lady Macbeth's
Henry Irving was the most successful of the late-Victorian
actor-managers , but his
Macbeth failed to curry favour with
audiences. His desire for psychological credibility reduced certain
aspects of the role: He described
Macbeth as a brave soldier but a
moral coward, and played him untroubled by conscience – clearly
already contemplating the murder of Duncan before his encounter with
the witches. (Similar criticisms were made of Friedrich Mitterwurzer
in Germany, whose performances of
Macbeth had many unintentional
parallels with Irving's. ) Irving's leading lady was
Ellen Terry , but
Lady Macbeth was unsuccessful with the public, for whom a century
of performances influenced by
Sarah Siddons had created expectations
at odds with Terry's conception of the role.
Late nineteenth-century European Macbeths aimed for heroic stature,
but at the expense of subtlety:
Tommaso Salvini in Italy and Adalbert
Matkowsky in Germany were said to inspire awe, but elicited little
20th Century To Present
Lady Macbeth says 'He that's coming / Must be provided
for.' It's an amazing line. She's going to play hostess to Duncan at
Dunsinane, and 'provide' is what gracious hostesses always do. It's a
wonder of a line to play because the reverberations do the acting for
you, make the audience go 'Aaaagh!'" —
Two developments changed the nature of
Macbeth performance in the
20th century: first, developments in the craft of acting itself,
especially the ideas of Stanislavski and Brecht ; and second, the rise
of the dictator as a political icon. The latter has not always
assisted the performance: it is difficult to sympathise with a Macbeth
based on Hitler, Stalin, or Idi Amin.
Barry Jackson , at the
Birmingham Repertory Theatre
Birmingham Repertory Theatre in 1923, was the
first of the 20th-century directors to costume
Macbeth in modern dress
. Jack Carter and Edna Thomas in the Federal Theatre Project
production that came to be known as the
Voodoo Macbeth (1936)
In 1936, a decade before his film adaptation of the play, Orson
Macbeth for the Negro Theatre Unit of the Federal
Theatre Project at the Lafayette Theatre in Harlem, using black actors
and setting the action in Haiti: with drums and Voodoo rituals to
establish the Witches scenes. The production, dubbed The Voodoo
Macbeth , proved inflammatory in the aftermath of the Harlem riots ,
accused of making fun of black culture and as "a campaign to burlesque
negroes" until Welles persuaded crowds that his use of black actors
and voodoo made important cultural statements. Fort St.
Catherine's, Bermuda, the site of a 1953 outdoor production
A performance which is frequently referenced as an example of the
play's curse was the outdoor production directed by Burgess Meredith
in 1953 in the British colony of
Bermuda , starring
Charlton Heston .
Using the imposing spectacle of
Fort St. Catherine as a key element of
the set, the production was plagued by a host of mishaps, including
Charlton Heston being burned when his tights caught fire.
The critical consensus is that there have been three great Macbeths
on the English-speaking stage in the 20th century, all of them
Laurence Olivier in 1955, Ian
McKellen in 1976 and
Antony Sher in 1999. Olivier's portrayal
Glen Byam Shaw
Glen Byam Shaw , with
Vivien Leigh as Lady Macbeth) was
immediately hailed as a masterpiece.
Kenneth Tynan expressed the view
that it succeeded because Olivier built the role to a climax at the
end of the play, whereas most actors spend all they have in the first
The play caused grave difficulties for the Royal
, especially at the (then)
Shakespeare Memorial Theatre . Peter Hall
's 1967 production was (in Michael Billington's words) "an
acknowledged disaster" with the use of real leaves from Birnham Wood
getting unsolicited first-night laughs, and
Trevor Nunn 's 1974
production was (Billington again) "an over-elaborate religious
spectacle". But Nunn achieved success for the RSC in his 1976
production at the intimate Other Place , with
Ian McKellen and Judi
Dench in the central roles. A small cast worked within a simple
circle, and McKellen's
Macbeth had nothing noble or likeable about
him, being a manipulator in a world of manipulative characters. They
were a young couple, physically passionate, "not monsters but
recognisable human beings", but their relationship atrophied as the
In Soviet-controlled Prague in 1977, faced with the illegality of
working in theatres,
Pavel Kohout adapted
Macbeth into a 75-minute
abridgement for five actors, suitable for "bringing a show in a
suitcase to people's homes".
Spectacle was unfashionable in Western theatre throughout the 20th
century. In East Asia, however, spectacular productions have achieved
great success, including
Yukio Ninagawa 's 1980 production with Masane
Tsukayama as Macbeth, set in the 16th century Japanese Civil War .
The same director's tour of London in 1987 was widely praised by
critics, even though (like most of their audience) they were unable to
understand the significance of Macbeth's gestures, the huge Buddhist
altar dominating the set, or the petals falling from the cherry trees.
Xu Xiaozhong 's 1980
Central Academy of Drama production in Beijing
made every effort to be unpolitical (necessary in the aftermath of the
Cultural Revolution ): yet audiences still perceived correspondences
between the central character (whom the director had actually modelled
on Louis Napoleon ) and
Mao Zedong .
Shakespeare has often been
adapted to indigenous theatre traditions, for example the Kunju
Huang Zuolin performed at the inaugural Chinese Shakespeare
Festival of 1986. Similarly,
B. V. Karanth 's Barnam Vana of 1979 had
Macbeth to the
Yakshagana tradition of
Karnataka , India. In
1997, Lokendra Arambam created Stage of Blood, merging a range of
martial arts, dance and gymnastic styles from
Manipur , performed in
Imphal and in England. The stage was literally a raft on a lake.
The RSC again achieved critical success in
Gregory Doran 's 1999
production at The Swan , with
Antony Sher and
Harriet Walter in the
central roles, once again demonstrating the suitability of the play
for smaller venues. Doran's witches spoke their lines to a theatre in
absolute darkness, and the opening visual image was the entrance of
Banquo in the berets and fatigues of modern warfare,
carried on the shoulders of triumphant troops. In contrast to Nunn,
Doran presented a world in which king Duncan and his soldiers were
ultimately benign and honest, heightening the deviance of
seems genuinely surprised by the witches' prophesies) and Lady Macbeth
in plotting to kill the king. The play said little about politics,
instead powerfully presenting its central characters' psychological
The play has been translated and performed in various languages in
different parts of the world, and Media Artists was the first to stage
its Punjabi adaptation in
India . The adaptation by Balram and the
play directed by
Samuel John have been universally acknowledged as a
milestone in Punjabi theatre. The unique attempt involved trained
theatre experts and the actors taken from a rural background in Punjab
. Punjabi folk music imbued the play with the native ethos as the
English setting of the Shakespeare's play was transposed into a
Macbeth in popular culture
Unless otherwise specified, all citations of
Macbeth refer to Muir
(1984), and of other works of
Shakespeare refer to Wells and Taylor
* ^ For the first performance in 1606, see Gurr (1992, 238),
Thomson (1992, 64), and Wickham (1969, 231); for the date of
composition, see Brooke (1990, 1) and Clark and Mason (2015, 13).
* ^ Wickham (1969, 231).
* ^ Clark (2015, 1)
* ^ A B C D Bloom (2008, 41).
* ^ Muir, Kenneth, ed. (1984) Macbeth. The Arden Shakespeare,
Second Series, 11th ed., p. xxxvi.
* ^ Orgel (2002, 33)
* ^ Warren, Brett. The Annotated Daemonology of King James. A
Critical Edition. In Modern English. 2016. p. 107. ISBN 1-5329-6891-4
. Moreover she confessed that at the time when his Majesty was in
Denmark, she being accompanied with the parties before specially
named, took a Cat and christened it, and afterward bound to each part
of that Cat, the cheefest parts of a dead man, and several joints of
his body, and that in the night following the said Cat was conveyed
into the midst of the sea by all these witches sailing in their
riddles or Cues as aforesaid, and so left the said Cat right before
the Town of Leith in Scotland: this done, there did arise such a
tempest in the Sea, as a greater has not been seen: which tempest was
the cause of the perishing of a Boat or vessel coming over from the
town of Brunt Island to the town of Leith, of which was many Jewels
and rich gifts, which should have been presented to the current Queen
of Scotland, at her Majesty’s coming to Leith. Again it is
confessed, that the said christened Cat was the cause that the King
Majesty’s Ship at his coming forth of Denmark, had a contrary wind
to the rest of his Ships, then being in his company, which thing was
most strange and true, as the King’s Majesty acknowledges –
Daemonologie, Newes from Scotland... If this sounds familiar,
Shakespeare took inspiration from this very passage and applied the
same methods of witchcraft to his play
Macbeth just a few years after
the publication of Dæmonologie. All of the inhabitants of England and
Scotland would have been familiar with this case and as the play of
Macbeth is also set in Scotland, many quotes from King James'
dissertation are taken as inspiration. The three witches of the play
thus cast their spells in the same manor.
* ^ Coursen (1997, 11–13)
* ^ Coursen (1997, 15–21)
* ^ Coursen (1997, 17)
* ^ A B Nagarajan, S. (1956). "A Note on Banquo". Shakespeare
Quarterly. 7 (4): 371–76.
JSTOR 2866356 . doi :10.2307/2866356 .
* ^ Palmer, J. Foster (1886). "The Celt in Power: Tudor and
Cromwell". Transactions of the Royal Historical Society. 3: 343–70.
doi :10.2307/3677851 .
* ^ Maskell, D. W. (1971). "The Transformation of History into
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* ^ Williams (2002, 132–34); Gay (2002, 169)
* ^ Holland (2007, 40) and see also
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