'Macbeth' Context

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  • 'Macbeth' Context
    • William Shakespeare
      • Married a woman 8 years older than him
        • Unusual at the time - deviated from societies norms, similarly to how his plays do
      • Had his first child 6 months after marriage
        • Would have been frowned upon - celibacy was common and normal - shows his rebellions against society
      • Worked for The Kings Men (acting company) - granted patronage from King James I
        • Possible beginning of his interest to appeal to the King
      • Wrote most of his plays in iambic pentameter
        • Covers a wide range of human emotions (guilt, pride, love)
        • Covers a wide range of social issues (gender, relations,  Divine Right, fate vs. free will)
      • 'Macbeth' is his 1st play where the audience are put into the mind of a murderer
        • Can see the tragedy of the situation
          • Unusual approach - different from average playwrights
        • Clever approach to the human mind
    • Historical
      • Time 'Macbeth' was set
        • Loosely based on a real moment in history with real people
          • Macbeth is Mac Bethad - King of the Scots from 1040-1057
            • Violent period in history - 17 year reign was impressive
            • Scotland became stable and prosperous
            • Did kill Duncan but on the battlefield
        • Macbeth given a negative portrayal - King James I is thought to be descended from the real Banquo
          • Witches' prophecy has some truths but still deceiving
          • Might offend the King if Macbeth was portrayed as an honest man
          • Banquo is portrayed as a hero in the play
      • Time 'Macbeth' was written
        • King James VI of Scotland became the rightful heir to the throne of England - became King James I
          • United Scotland and England
            • Previously two distinct and openly hostile nations
          • Had a different set of values to appeal to
        • 'Macbeth' was designed to appeal to King James I and his courts
          • Witches were a central part in the play
            • Taken very seriously in C17th
              • Severe weather, crop failure, opinionated women, or an upset stomach could lead to accusations of witchcraft
              • Very little proof needed to confirm a woman as a witch
              • Witch trials throughout the world - was very real to the contemporary audience
            • King James I had an interest in the supernatural - wrote and published the 'Demonology' (his study of witchcraft)
        • Divine Right of Kings
          • A monarch isn't subjected to earthly authority and have the right to rule directly from the will of God
            • Makes Duncan's murder and Macbeth's rise to power through usurpation extremely shocking to the contemporary audience
              • Appeals to King James I (shows the regression in power due to regicide) - he had survived an assassination attempt
            • Believed that if regicide was committed, the natural order in the world would be lost
        • Gunpowder plot
          • Catholic conspirators planned to blow up the Houses of Parliament and assassinate the King
          • All conspirators were killed similarly to how Macbeth is killed - would've appealed to the King - both show the tragic and miserable downfall of anyone who conspires to commit regicide
            • Would impress the King even more - could serve as a warning to the contemporary audience to not attempt regicide
          • 'Macbeth' was 1st performed in 1606 - 1 year after the Gunpowder plot was foiled (5/11/1605)
          • The Porter alludes to topical events - "hell-gate"


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