Macbeth
Study Guide

Difficulty: Accessible

Length: 2,477 lines

Popularity: Very High

Macbeth Overview

First performed in 1606, Macbeth ranks among Shakespeare’s greatest tragic plays.

Macbeth. A play so wrapped in mystery, mythology, and misapprehensions that its name is scarcely spoken in theatres. Instead, you might hear “The Scottish Play” uttered in echoed whispers backstage. Accidents seem to stalk this play, from the Astor Place Riot during an 1849 performance to Midsommar director Ari Aster having a light explode on set after mocking the superstition.

Sources

The Bard is often accused of pilfering his plotlines, and Macbeth, King Duncan and the three witches all hail from the 1587 tome Chronicles, by Raphael Holinshed. The two volumes of Holinshed’s record detail the travels of one Macbeth, Thane of Cawdor, as he deals with the fallout of a brutal war against Norway.

The depth of Scottish lore and the creeping supernatural threat make Macbeth unique among the Bard’s vast portfolio. Both components can be traced back to Shakespeare’s patron at the time, King James II.

James II, son of the ill-fated Mary Queen of Scots, was a Scotsman and a huge occultist. He even wrote a book, titled Daemonologie, in 1597, and was personally involved in several brutal witch trials just seven years before. Shakespeare used much of James’ writings in Macbeth, so the input from his biggest patron is apparent throughout the text.

Study Macbeth

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Analysis

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Characters

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Themes

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Quotes

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Resources

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