Friday, 6 July 2012

5 Interesting Facts About Shakespeare’s Macbeth

Fun facts about Macbeth - Shakespeare's
Scottish Play
In terms of the frequency of its performance, Macbeth is Shakespeare’s most popular play. There are several reasons for this, one of which may be that it is Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy. 

Staging Hamlet, conversely, is something of an epic, which often means that it is cut, or the audience members leave with very numb buttocks.

Penned between 1603 and 1607, Macbeth was one of the first plays Shakespeare produced under the reign of the new king, James I. 


Despite its longevity, the play is very much a product of its time, with many nudges and winks to England’s new king as well as references to the political unease of the era.

Here are just a few interesting facts about Shakespeare’s Macbeth and the playwright’s motives in writing it.


1. Macbeth was a real king of Scotland. How did the actual Macbeth compare with Shakespeare’s fictionalised version? Well, the real Macbeth was a comparatively successful ruler (kings tended not to reign for long periods, as they were inevitably betrayed by ambitious men close to them).

From what we know, although the real Macbeth did usurp his predecessor Duncan, he was not a tyrant. Click here for more on the real Macbeth.

So, why would Shakespeare twist history? Well, partly, because he knew that a play about a man who killed a king and then successfully ruled would probably not appeal to the recently crowned James, especially given contemporary events (more on that later). 


Therefore, he had to ensure that Macbeth became a monster and, more importantly, that he was punished for usurping the rightly appointed king.


James I had a well-documented fascination with witches
2. The witches were almost certainly included to please King James. James, who had been the king of Scotland before ascending the English throne, had something of an obsession with witches.

He instigated a mass witch hunt in Scotland, and even wrote a book on the subject of witches and witchcraft entitled Daemonologie.

This fascination seemed to stem from a paranoia about witches, several of whom he believed had instigated an assassination attempt.

3. The witches prediction that Banquo will ‘get’ kings is both historically accurate and is another unashamed nod to James, because James is, in fact, a descendant of Banquo.

4. The play was written in the period just before, during and following The Gunpowder Plot. In November, 1605, Robert Catesby and a group of fellow disgruntled English Catholics (Catholicism had been outlawed under the reign of Elizabeth I and continued to be so under Protestant King James) planned to blow up the House of Lords, along with James himself inside. 


The plan was foiled and those involved were tortured and murdered.

However, it sent shockwaves through the court and London. And it unquestionably influenced Shakespeare when writing Macbeth. Not only was the play a great piece of entertainment, but Macbeth’s bloody end also served as a warning to anyone else, who may have been pondering an attack on the king’s life.

5. It is rumoured that the boy playing Lady Macbeth (no women were allowed to act during this period, so all female characters were played by young men) died shortly before the first performance. It is reckoned that, unable to find anyone to fill the part on such short notice, Shakespeare leapt into the deceased actor’s shoes.

Unfortunately, there is no evidence to support this version of events. So, the story is likely to be mythical, but it’s a good one nonetheless!


If you'd like to learn more interesting facts about Macbeth, check out the What's It All About, Shakespeare? A Guide to Macbeth.

64 comments:

  1. not helpfull at all

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    1. I'm sorry you feel that way. What information would be helpful?

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    2. Don't listen to him, I found this very interesting and helpful. It will look impressive on my homework! Thank you so much for compiling this list:)

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    3. Appreciate that, thanks. Glad you found it of use for your homework.

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    4. this also was for my homework but some of it was useful but other parts not so much . I have never seen Macbeth I have just heard the title a few times I was hoping that there would be something about the actual story something really useful , the only "facts" were nothing about what happens in the play . this is helpful for someone who is more advanced in stuff like this but I am only in the second year of secondary school and his is a bit too advanced for me . it wasn't useful to me but it could be to someone else thank you anyway

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    5. Hello there, Anon. Yes, you're right, these are facts surrounding the play rather than about the plot of the play itself. If you need help in regard to what actually occurs in Macbeth, and its characters, I wrote this ebook for exactly that purpose: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Whats-About-Shakespeare-Guide-Macbeth-ebook/dp/B008VDAX96/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1396269888&sr=8-2&keywords=whats+it+all+about+shakespeare It won't break the bank, and might help in your studies.

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    6. I agree ignore him. I have to do a project for a teacher that hates me and this is awesome I am very grateful.

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    7. Thanks, Granger. Good luck with the project! If you've got any questions (Shakespeare-related, I'm no good at physics!), let me know.

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    8. ill have you know im out here getting this $$$$ and copying these fats and that's straight facts this was helpful

      @rjstrachan

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    9. this was helpful and yes it was a helpful page

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    10. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. It was very helpful, ignore that powerless anon

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    1. That's most kind, thanks. I'm glad you found it useful!

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    2. it was very helpful for my home work thank you sooo much :)

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    3. this page was useless

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    4. I'm sorry to hear that. But, naturally, the level of usefulness depends on the 'use' you were hoping it would provide. I'm sure in many ways this would be entirely useless: solving world hunger, for example. If there's something Macbeth-related I can help you with, though, don't hesitate to ask!

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  3. Very interesting but only used 2 for my assignment :(

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    1. Sorry that it wasn't more useful to you, but to paraphrase Meat Loaf, two out of five ain't bad. : )

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  4. need more help on withcraft please

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    1. Be happy to help if I can. What do you need to know - traditions/history/superstitions surrounding 'real' witchcraft or the role of the witches in the play?

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  5. I want to learn more about Witchcraft i want to know how to throw a fireball.

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    1. Righty-o. Well, that's more J. K. Rowling than Shakespeare. Actual fireballs, you can Google. Conjuring fireballs, you'll need to go a little further afield. Good luck with that!

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  6. Thank you! This was very helpful for one of my WCATY Shakespeare assignments! These are some very interesting facts. How is fact #5 rumored over such a long time?

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    1. Hi, there!

      Thanks for the comment. I'm really glad the info above was useful to you.

      I think the idea of Shakespeare playing Lady Macbeth has floated around because it's reasonably plausible. It seems a bit odd to us, but that's because we're not used to men playing women. For a long time, audiences didn't know anything different. And Shakespeare WAS an actor, that's how he arrived on the London theatre scene. So, the idea of him filling in at the last minute is not an outrageously ridiculous one.

      And, of course, in an unsanitary big city, it wasn't uncommon for people to drop dead suddenly. So, it is quite possible that the boy playing Lady M died just as the play was about to go on. Incidentally, that boy's rumoured death is one of the reasons the play is deemed 'cursed' by some.

      But, because no records exist, it's impossible to be sure one way or the other...so, who knows?!

      Hope that helps.

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  7. was king James I empress by the play?

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    1. Hi there,

      Yes, I think it's fair to say he was pretty impressed by Macbeth. It's said that James wrote to Shakespeare to commend him on the play. And there's certainly a lot in there that would appeal to him - Shakespeare was very savvy in the way he flattered James and appealed to his tastes.

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  8. Thank's for the info. It was very interesting. By the way, weren't the 3 witches that approached Banquo and Macbeth evil because they influenced Macbeth and his actions to kill the king? I'm just asking, because I'm having a debate with someone, he thinks they are just bypassers and I think otherwise.

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    1. Hey there. Glad you found the information in the post interesting.

      Your question is a great one, and I could spend so long trying to answer it that it has spawned the idea for a new article - will try to get that up in the next day or two. But, to offer a quick response. There are two things to address.

      First, what is 'evil'? Very few human beings are, or have been, truly evil...they do evil things, but they're not evil. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth do something evil, but they're not evil people, for example. The closest you come to evil in Shakespeare, I'd say, is Iago, who has many of the traits of a psychopath. So, I'd hesitate to call the witches 'evil' for that reason alone.

      The second part of the issue is, what do the witches actually do to Macbeth? Do they threaten him, and order him to kill Duncan? No, they just tell him that he's going to be king. They plant the seed; he does the rest on his own. From there, we could get into a debate over whether they KNEW that simple statement: 'thou shalt be king hereafter!' would lead Macbeth to regicide (and maybe they did). But the argument then goes off on a tangent, because it begs the question: so did Macbeth have any control over what he was doing? Fate or self-fulfilling prophecy? Those aren't questions that Shakespeare answers for us, so it's all down to interpretation.

      Personally, I wouldn't call the witches evil. But, you could call them that if you believe they had some sense of where all this was heading right from the start. If that's the case, though, did Macbeth ever have a choice? If he didn't, how is he still a 'tragic' figure?

      Sorry, that rambled on a little longer than I'd intended. Hope it's helpful to you, though!

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    2. If you're interested in reading more, the post is now up: http://whatsitallaboutshakespeare.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/are-witches-in-macbeth-evil.html

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  9. This is incrediably helpful THANK YOU :)

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    1. You're very welcome. Glad you found it so.

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  10. this is soo cool thanks for helping me with my engalish hw :)

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  11. i only used one maybe you could add more so it would be more useful

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    1. Difficult to cater exactly to your needs, as I don't know what info you're looking for. However, you'll find lots more about the play in my guide - click on the link at the bottom of the post or in the sidebar. Thanks.

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  12. Thanks needed it for my homework teacher loved it gave me the highest mark in the class because I had great facts so thanks :)

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    1. Hi there, it's very kind of you to come back and take the time to let me know. I appreciate that. Glad to hear it's been helpful to you, and that you got a good mark!

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  13. Thank you so much , this helped me so much with my English homework , can you post some more facts??? :-)

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    1. Hello, Jenna. Pleased to hear the info above helped with your h/w. What would you like to know more about?

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  14. This helped me so much. Thanks, much appreciated:)

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    1. Pleasure. Thanks for letting me know that it was useful to you.

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  15. These facts are so interesting. It helped me a lot. Thank you :)

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  16. Need facts about he witches please

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    1. Hi there. I've got another couple of posts on the witches, you can find them here:

      http://whatsitallaboutshakespeare.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/what-purpose-do-witches-serve-in-macbeth.html

      http://whatsitallaboutshakespeare.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/are-witches-in-macbeth-evil.html

      Hope those help!

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  17. I am currently doing my GCSE'S and I need to know about the ways that villains are presented in Macbeth. Any help is appreciated.

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    1. Hi there!

      Well, the short answer is, 'ambiguously'. Let me put it another way, who are the villains in Macbeth? Is Macbeth a villain? If he is, can he also be a tragic hero? I've got a post about that here: http://whatsitallaboutshakespeare.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/what-makes-macbeth-tragic-hero.html

      What about the witches? Are they villains? Well, all they really do is offer a prophecy. More on that here: http://whatsitallaboutshakespeare.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/are-witches-in-macbeth-evil.html

      Or how about Lady Macbeth, is she really such an unfeeling bitch? If so, why would guilt drive her crazy? More on her here: http://whatsitallaboutshakespeare.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/is-lady-macbeth-bitch.html

      Hope those help.

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  18. Wow this helped so much thank you!!!

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    1. You're most welcome. Thanks for letting me know that it was useful to you, and I wish you luck in the rest of your Macbeth/Shakespeare studies.

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  19. Thanks man appreciate it :)

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  20. I would be really grateful if you could help me with my school assignment via email. I need to write a suicide letter by Lady Macbeth as part of my task and I need it to be in Shakespearan. Any personal help would be greatly appreciated. :) And also thanks for this amazing thread. :)

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    1. Hi Ryan,

      I'm not going to do your homework for you (for obvious reasons), but I'm happy to offer a few pointers.

      The main things you need to focus on are guilt and regret - not just over the death of Duncan, but all of the horrible things that have happened in the fallout. When she says, "The Thane of Fife had a wife. Where is she now?", for example, she's talking about the slaughter of Macduff's wife (and family).

      No matter how much she may want to take it all back, she can't, hence the hands that cannot be cleaned.

      I'd also be inclined to write about the devastating effect this has all had on her marriage. Bear in mind, at the beginning of the play Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are very happily married (disgustingly so in fact).

      After Banquo's murder, they barely spend any time together, and although we don't see any of it on stage, the suggestion is that they avoid each other, because they both remind the other of what they've done. Macbeth, meanwhile, has become a very different man - not the husband she knew and not the great king she'd imagined him to be when she encouraged him to do away with Duncan.

      Hope that's enough to get you going. As for writing in 'Shakespearean', just read as much as you can to get a feel for it. You might find these helpful, too: Thou Thee Thy and Thine, and What in the William Shakespeare Are They Saying? That might explain some of the words that seem more alien in Shakespeare work.

      Best of luck with the assignment!

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  21. Doing it as homework thanks

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  22. Perhaps you could have included more facts. Ive had to have gone through many websites to collect some good information which is inconvenient, but there are some facts I found useful.

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  23. Thanks a world! sooo interesting! We had read Macbeth in grade 11, and I was surprised by these facts!

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  24. This is a little bit helpful and I need more ideas on Macbeth

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    1. Hi Marcus, sorry I didn't get back to you sooner. What else can I help you with? You can either let me know here, or, if you'd rather, you can contact me at such_stuff_as_dreams@yahoo.com

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  25. Thank you for the info!

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  26. Thank You so much! It's helped me on my homework, keep up the good work :-)

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  27. Thanks for the facts, I needed them for my homework and it was quite useful. :)

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