One has to admit, Macbeth has it all: Witchcraft, dying monarchs, ghosts that just don’t quit and murderous blue bloods, truly a gamut of goodies. However, these wonderful surface theatrics serve only as vehicles to the true story of the play itself.
Let’s delve into four very interesting pieces of Macbeth history!
The Scottish Play
In 1606, when our dear Shakespeare wrote this drama, there was a fascination in Scotland as England welcomed its new king, James 1 of England or James VI of Scotland. As English history does, it get s a little busy in the family tree scenario, but this is the gist:
- The Virgin Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603
- She was succeeded by James
- Jame was the son of Elizabeth’s second cousin, Mary Queen of Scots
Capitalizing on the news of the day and the distaste for their northern neighbours, Shakespeare added to the fact that James was bringing with him a bevy of Scottish courtiers and with it, a culture the English could no longer ignore.
The News of the Day!
Shakespeare wasn’t afraid to borrow his themes from current events. His only concern being his need to do so with care due to the heavy censorship placed on the Elizabethan theater for portrayals of reigning monarch.
In 1604, a theater troop called The King’s Men had attempted to circumvent this ban with a play called The Tragedy of Gowrie. This particular play depicted the attempted assassination of King James by the Scottish nobleman the Earl of Gowrie in 1600. (This moment in history is also known as the Gowrie Conspiracy and is a fascinating read).
Unfortunately, the play hit fairly close to home and was subsequently banned by the court. The manuscript has since been lost and its author remains unknown, however, shortly after, Shakespeare created Macbeth as we know it and similarities between the two plays can now be seen.
So how did Shakespeare get around the ban? He set the events of Macbeth in the distant past.
Lucky for us, James I had some peculiar interests, such as Witchcraft. Participating in the questioning of those accused of witchcraft even went so far as writing a treatise called Daemonologie in 1597. In Daemonologie, he states that the trye aim of witches far and wide is to overthrow the king of the realm.
This makes the inclusion of Macbeth’s three witches a little more than just a literary device, it now becomes a method that captures the attention of the most important member of the audience, the king himself.
Why a Curse?
As we well know, Macbeth is considered cursed, but why? There are many ‘reasons’ that have passed on, however, here are some of the more intriguing ones.
- It is said that Shakespeare stole actual spells from a coven of witches
- In the first ever production of the play, a real knife was used in lieu of a fake one, resulting in death.
- Throughout the play’s history, tragedy has plagued it (We’ve written an entire article about, so stay tuned)
As with most superstitions, there are ways to redeem yourself if you so utter the name of this play.
- Say Hamlet’s line,”Angels and ministers of grace defend us,”
- Leave the room
- Spin around 3x while swearing
- Spit over your left shoulder
- Knock on the door and wait for an answer before entering
There you have it, a unique background to a most unique play. We hope you get the opportunity to attend our rendition, details are below!
The Shakespeare Company presents
By William Shakespeare Adapted by Anna Cummer
Directed by Craig Hall
May 12 – 27
EVENINGS AT 7:00PM
ADDITIONAL 2:30PM MATINEE’S ON MAY 13, 14, 20, 21, & 27
ALL PERFORMANCES IN THE STUDIO AT VERTIGO THEATRE
Inspiration respectfully drawn from Elizabeth Lunday’s, Behind the Scenes of Macbeth