2) Macbeth – Background to the play

Who was Mac Bethad mac Findláich? A Scottish king (1005-1057)
What was life like at the time of Mac Bethad? 1) Life at this time was brutish and Christianity had only recently been established 2) Most people were Pagans
What are Pagans? 1) Polytheists – believe in lots of different gods, e.g. gods in charge of nature, weather, seasons etc2) Studied the behaviours of animals to make different judgements
When was Macbeth first performed? 1606 shortly after James VI of Scotland came to the English throne
How many years was Macbeth written after Mac Bethad? 600
When is the play set? 11th Century Scotland
Where do the main events in Macbeth take place? The Western Isles, Inverness, Forres, Cawdor, Birnam Wood, Glamis, Fife…
What happens at certain points of the play in relation to location? Characters flee to England and Ireland as they are places considered to be safe
What would’ve Scotland been to Shakespeare’s audience? It would’ve been on the edge of their understanding – the bleak wilds of the highlands would’ve only been through word of mouth and writings because there were no pictures
What had England and Scotland been for many years? Enemies (Elizabethan era) but with the succession of king James there was interest to improve relations
Symbols in Paegan Worship 1) Pentagram2) Dagger3) Chalice4) Light and dark5) Runes6) Skulls
Pentagram 5 pointed star which is associated with Pagan worship/ ‘devil worship’
Dagger A short knife used as a weapon to stab
Chalice Believed Pagans would drink the blood of Christian children
Light and dark Used in pagan worship to understand natural phenomenon
Runes Primitive sorts of alphabet used for telling fortunes and making spells
Skulls Believed if you had the skull of a well known person good things would come from it
How would a Jacobean audience have felt about seeing pagan symbols in a play? 1) disgust and terror2) they would have most likely had a friend executed if they discovered they owned these items due to their threatening nature
Why would we imagine some aspects of the play differently today? We have better knowledge of the 11th century than they did when the play was written due to widened historical research
How is the supernatural element of Macbeth treated today? As pure fantasy
How would the supernatural element of Macbeth have been seen to Jacobeans? Contentious and threatening
Why was witchcraft so bad? It subverted (undermined) the natural order by which God was the supreme power
What types of powers did witches have? Diabolical (from the devil) and dangerous powers including but not limited to1) Prophecy (predictions about the future)2) Flying3) Bringing on night in daytime4) Causing fogs and storms5) Killing animals6) Cursing enemies7) Taking demonic possession of people8) Raising evil spirits
Why did the king feel threatened by witches? Because their practices were the antithesis of God’s law and the king was god’s representative on earth, the king would be their natural target to pursue
What had witchcraft been in Scotland in relation to the law throughout the 1500s? A criminal offence
What happened to King James VI on his return from Copenhagen after having married Princess Anne? 1) A group of witches tried to kill James – or so he believed2) They experienced bad storms and James claimed the witches caused the storm and held witch trials
What did one woman say about the storms James VI experienced? 1) She claimed to be a witch only because of the harsh nature of her torture which included the removal of fingernails and being stretched – to end her suffering 2) She claimed she had used toad venom parts of a cat and a dead man’s body to raise a storm to sink the king’s ship
What book did James VI write? Daemonologie
What did Shakespeare use Daemonologie for? As one of the main sources used by William Shakespeare for Macbeth
What did an act of parliament in 1604 decree under James VI’s rule? Anyone found guilty of witchcraft should be executed

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