Although MacBeth is classified as a tragedy in Shakespeare’s canon of work, it is also a history play based upon true events in Scotland’s past. Shakespeare’s source of information was Raphael Holinshead’s Chronicles. The playwright was undoubtedly inspired to construct a Scottish plot by the arrival on the English throne of King James I. James was also heir to the throne of Scotland, through his mother Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary had been executed for conspiracy by her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I. Shakespeare probably felt a little flattery of the king might go a long way – King James was a descendant of the real life Banquo. Shakespeare sought to please by celebrating the return of the rightful Scottish king (Malcolm) at the end of the play. MacBeth is referred to as “The Scottish Play” and is considered somewhat unlucky in theatre circles.
Shakespeare used magic devices (such as witches and apparitions) in MacBeth, which begins with three witches planning to meet MacBeth and Banquo, two generals in the army of Scotland’s king, Duncan. The generals, thanks to their ability as military leaders, have prevented an invasion from the north by Norwegians. The witches tell MacBeth that he will rule Scotland. They also tell Banquo that his descendants will also sit on the throne.
This annotated edition includes a biography and critical essay.
A young man from a small provincial town moves to London in the late 1580s and, in a remarkably short time, becomes the greatest playwright not of his age alone but of all time. How is an achievement of this magnitude to be explained? Stephen Greenblatt brings us down to earth to see, hear, and feel how an acutely sensitive and talented boy, surrounded by the rich tapestry of Elizabethan life, could have become the world’s greatest playwright.