Uploaded by Adela Cheng

Macbeth Context ALL

Adela Cheng 10AA
Thursday, September 17, 2020
Macbeth Context
- Written in 1606
- The character was based on a king that ruled Scotland from 1040-1057
• He did also kill his predecessor King Duncan I
• Yet this historical basis contrasted with the Macbeth in Shakespeare’s play
since he was regarded by historians as a “fair and law-oriented”
- Shakespeare’s version based upon Raphael Holinshed
- Macbeth was defeated by a unified army of English and Scottish soldiers
• The same way James I was the first to unite England and Scotland
- Witches were believed to have been people who “made a pact” with the Devil in
exchange for supernatural powers
• EG when a cow was ill they would’ve referred to it as being cursed
- Often they had a “familiar”, which was an animal, in Macbeth, the witches referred
to their animal familiars: a Graymalkin (a cat) and a paddock (toad)
- People accused of being witches tended to be old, poor, single women.
- A common way to test for a witch was to use a ducking stool, or just to tie them
up, and duck the accused under water in a pond or river. If she floated, she was a
witch. If she didn’t, she was innocent. She probably drowned. Anyone who
floated was then burnt at the stake. It was legal to kill witches because of the
Witchcraft Act passed in 1563, which set out steps to take against witches who
used spirits to kill people.
- Less than 2 years after James I’s succession and about half a year before
Macbeth was written the Gunpowder Plot occurred
- King James I was a strong opponent of witchcraft
• His book “Daemonologie” or “Demonology” reflected these ideas
• He personally interrogated the ‘witch’ Agnes Sampson. He was astounded
when she privately revealed to him the words he and his wife had spoken in
bed together on the first night of their marriage. James ‘swore by the living God
that he believed all the devils in Hell could not have discovered the same’.
James I’s fascination with – and hatred for - witches was well known, and no
Adela Cheng 10AA
Thursday, September 17, 2020
doubt Shakespeare composed Macbeth in 1605 or 1606 to please his new
- Shakespeare’s main source for Macbeth was from Raphael Holinshed, which
included the meeting of “Makbeth” and “Banquho” with the “three weird sisters”
The Gunpowder Plot
- The Gunpowder Plot was a failed assassination attempt against King James and
blowing up the Parliament on November 5, 1605.
- Disgruntled Catholics planned to blow up the House of Lords.
- Guy Fawkes was discovered guarding their horde of explosives in the basement
of the House of Lords
- The plot was organized by Robert Catesby in an effort to end the persecution of
Roman Catholics by the English government. Catesby and others hoped to
replace the country’s Protestant government with Catholic leadership.
- Catesby and the handful of other plotters rented a cellar that extended under the
House of Lords building, and Fawkes planted the gunpowder there.
- However, as the November 5 opening meeting of Parliament approached, Lord
Monteagle, the brother-in-law of one of the conspirators, received an anonymous
letter warning him not to attend Parliament on November 5.
• Monteagle alerted the government, and hours before the attack was to have
taken place Fawkes and the explosives were found.
- “Remember, remember the 5th of November.” (from an old English folk poem)
- The traitors were sentenced to death, and this day is still celebrated in England
as Guy Fawkes Day.
- It's widely thought that Shakespeare wrote his play Macbeth to remove all
suspicion of his involvement with the Gunpowder Plot. He was close with many of
the conspirators and would’ve been suspected
• Many of Macbeth’s themes resonate with the attempted revolt: it’s a play about
treason, the overthrow of a King, and the downfall of his murderers
• He references the conspiracy directly,
- In it, King Duncan is killed by his army captain Macbeth, who believes he's
destined for the throne.
- Duncan is modeled after James I;
- Banquo, Macbeth's fellow captain, represents Banquho, Thane of
Lochquhaber, James's supposed ancestor.
Adela Cheng 10AA
Thursday, September 17, 2020
- By making these allusions, Shakespeare depicts James's family, the House
of Stuart, as worthy and legitimate rulers, and paints himself as a devoted
and loyal subject.
- Some extra flattery helped: Macbeth describes Duncan as a thoroughly noble
and heroic figure with “silver skin” and “golden blood,” which became
James's favorite part of the play.
The Great Chain of Being
- Elizabethans believed that God set out an order for everything in the universe.
- The idea came from Greek philosophers Aristotle and Plato
- The King or Queen took their place because it was God’s decision
• So it was a sin to disobey the monarch
- By killing the king and taking his place, Macbeth was subverting this natural
order. Disorder in nature reflects the disorder in human affairs (the macrocosm
reflects the microcosm).
- Worst Crimes in Elizabethan England
• Regicide: murder of king (equivalent to killing God)
• Parricide: murder of a parent or family member
- Regicide: Inverting the Great Chain
• Murderers become King/Queen.
• Witches become advisers.
• Earth becomes tied to hell, instead of heaven.
• Thanes kill rather than protect.
• The good become evil.
• The eloquent lose voice.
• Plants, animal kindgoms affected.
- Hierarchy in Macbeth (beginning of play):
1. Duncan
2. Prince of Cumberland (Malcolm)
3. Donaldbain
4. Thanes of Cawdor (traitor)
5. Thane of Glamis (Macbeth)
6. Banquo
Adela Cheng 10AA
Thursday, September 17, 2020
7. Lowest: Witches
8. The Very Lowest: Those who commit Regicide
- The consequences for this are Macbeth’s insanity and hallucination
The Globe Theatre
- Built in 1599, held around 3000 people and made of oak
- All social classes attended
• Groundlings stood in open air in
• Upper classes sat around the
sitting areas
- All female roles were performed by
young boys (theatres were
considered improper for ‘ladies’)
- During each performance, flags were
used to advertise the type of play
being performed
• A white flag depicted comedy
• A black flag was used for tragedies
• A red flag for historical plays
-It was very cheap, only
about 1 penny for a place
amongst the groundlings
-The groundlings were very
close to the action on stage.
•buy food and drink during
the performance
-pippins (apples), oranges,
nuts, gingerbread and ale.
•no toilets
•the floor they stood on was
probably just sand, ash or
covered in nutshells.
- Shakespeare belonged to Lord Chamberlain’s Men, the same company that build
the Globe
Adela Cheng 10AA
Thursday, September 17, 2020
- What about sound effects?
• Cannonballs created thunder sounds
• Firecrackers and wires were used to create lightning
Role of Women
- Women belonged to their fathers (or brothers if the father died) and then to their
- They were expected as housewives and mothers
- Many were highly educated, but only limited to the upper class who could afford a
private tutor
- Society largely limited what they were allowed to do
• Couldn’t work in law, medicine, politics, but they could work in domestic
service as cooks, maids
• Not allowed to vote
• Not allowed to take their father’s titles
• People wanted sons, but they liked their daughters equally as much
- Legal for them to marry at 12 with parents’ consent
- Small children may be betrothed to each other
- In depicting the constant power struggle between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth,
Shakespeare questions not only Macbeth's manliness but the effect that
traditional gender roles can have on a person's mental development.
- Although society expected women to be submissive to their husbands, Lady
Macbeth not only subverts this idea of complete submission, but also decisively
challenges her husband’s masculinity. To attain power, she seeks to subdue her
feminine characteristics in order to become more masculine. In doing so, she
hopes to find the courage to kill the king and so become queen.
Adela Cheng 10AA
Thursday, September 17, 2020