Macbeth: History of Scotland from an English Perspective

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Macbeth is a play about tragedy. It tells the tale of one man’s evil rise to becoming king and his tragic downfall that led to his death. Nevertheless, it is also a play about the political history surrounding that king. Shakespeare took the story of Macbeth from Raphael Holinshed’s Scottish Chronicle in 1570 and even more from the second edition, Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland in 1587. From these books he was able to take bits and pieces of history, combine events, omit others, create his own tale of King Macbeth and make it appealing to the King and people of his time. At the time Shakespeare wrote Macbeth, it was the beginning of the seventeenth century. The reign of Macbeth was actually during the mid-eleventh century. He became king in 1040 after killing King Duncan who according to Fisher “was an ineffectual king” (Fisher, 43). Macbeth would then rule for the next 17 years, having appeared “to have been a good king, active and conscientious, if not always able to hold on to the whole of the territory he had gained through the murder of Duncan” (Fisher, 44). Quite the opposite in the play, Shakespeare portrays Macbeth as an evil and cruel king during the whole time of his reign. Glover points out this untruth, “Macbeth’s character has suffered unjustly at the hands of Shakespeare, as he ruled Scotland well for some seventeen years, and there is evidence that the country enjoyed some prosperity during his reign” (Glover, 39). Yet Macbeth’s reign did end in 1057 when he was killed by Malcolm, Duncan’s son, in the battle of Lumphanan. However, it wasn’t until after Macbeth’s step-son Lulach ruled for about a year, that Malcolm became king after killing him in 1058. This is where Shakespeare ends the play wit... ... middle of paper ... ... each other. This helps in understanding why Malcolm was able to flee to England with no trouble. Shakespeare’s Macbeth, is an attempt on the authors part to incorporate underlying tones of Scottish political history to impress King James who united England and Scotland. Works Cited Cantor, Paul A. “Macbeth and the Gospelling of Scotland.” Shakespeare as Political Thinker. Alvis, John E., and Thomas G. West, eds. Delaware: ISI Books, 2000.315 – 351. Fisher, Andrew. A Traveller’s History of Scotland. 3rd ed. New York: Interlink Books,1997. Glover, Janet R. The Story of Scotland. London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1960. Nostbakken, Faith. Understanding Macbeth: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1997. Rae, T.I. Scotland in the Time of Shakespeare. New York: Cornell University Press,1965.
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