MACBETH – Historical Notes

How is Macbeth’s interaction with the witches in the play different from the documented historical events? The witches initially told Macbeth that he would meet an unlucky end and that is reign would not end well. However, in the play, the witches leave it more hopeful for Macbeth and their prophecies are more open-ended.
How does the play’s King Duncan differ from the historical King Duncan? In history, there were misgivings/questions about Duncan’s right/ability to rule and was considered an ineffective king. Macbeth killed Duncan in battle at Bothgownan as opposed to killing him in his sleep in the play.
What is the effect of having Macbeth kill Duncan in his own castle? Macbeth’s murdering of King Duncan in his sleep while staying in his castle makes Macbeth seem more villainous and immoral for violating the hospitality and attacking Duncan while he was most vulnerable. These changes have been made to dramatize the tragedy and make the motif of conflict and evil more prevalent throughout the play.
How does the play’s Banquo differ from the historical Banquo? In history, Banquo was directly involved in the plot against Duncan. However, because Banquo was a descendant of King James, Shakespeare made his role a noble character.
How is Macbeth’s rule in the play different from his rule in history? Historically, Macbeth ruled justly for ten years but was always worried about the witches’ warning of his unlucky end, which eventually led him to kill Banquo and others; causing him to spiral into descent. In the play, the events occur in a much shorter time span and Macbeth kills Banquo almost imediately.
What was Lady Macbeth’s motivation to kill Duncan? (historically) Revenge – Duncan’s grandfather had murdered her family
Gunpowder Plot 1605 a plot to blow up Parliament- there was constant conspiracy against the king. The play shows that decision by council for king was not effective and that succession by blood is more balanced.
Witches in historical times In 1590 there was an alleged plot by witches to assassinate King James which was actually taken very seriously – back then, people believed in witches and “spells” were punishable by law
Fortune Is a double-edged sword; often a wheel is used as an image for fortune as it is constantly changing and moving – one person’s fortune may be someone else’s misfortune; reminder that good luck is never permanent.
Connections to Elizabethan era entertainment bear baiting: 5.7 Macbeth: “They have tied me to a stake. I cannot fly / But bearlike I must fight the course”
Power relationship: political power struggle Between Macbeth and King Duncan, Malcolm, and Macduff: Macbeth trying to overcome various obstacles and committing heinous acts to gain political power
Power relationship: matrimony Relationship between male and female characters reflected in relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, and between Macbeth and the witches. The power relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth is evident in the recurring scenes of chastisement and censure from Lady Macbeth in urging her husband to be manlier and bolder. The witches represent a “sexual inversion” in their unnaturalness and “manly” (not stereotypically feminine) characters associated with control and darkness
How is the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 reflected in the play? It parallels Macbeth’s assassination of King Duncan in an effort to ascend tot he Scottish throne.

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