Macbeth
William Shakespeare

by

Karim Chandra

Context

William Shakespeare was one of England’s most prolific writers. He was born in 1564 to a middle-class family. Although records indicate that Shakespeare attended grammar school, there is no indication that he continued his studies afterward. In 1582, Shakespeare married Ann Hathaway, a woman who was much older than him. The couple had three children. In 1590, Shakespeare decided to pursue playwriting and acting, so he left his family and moved to London. There, it did not take long before other actors and the public noticed Shakespeare’s talents. He received widespread acclaim.

In time, Shakespeare became one of England’s most recognizable and respected playwrights. Among theater lovers, his performances could not be missed. He co-owned the Globe Theatre, one of the country’s most prominent theaters. Shakespeare’s career spanned from the reign of Elizabeth I to that of James I, and he was a favorite of both rulers. In fact, James I awarded Shakespeare’s theater company the title of “King’s Men,” a rare accolade given for excellence. Throughout his career, Shakespeare achieved and conquered all. He built an impressive reputation and amassed a significant fortune. He retired to Stratford-Upon-Avon, where he died in 1616 at the age of 52. Even after his death, Shakespeare’s reputation was felt throughout England and across Europe. Scholars collected and reproduced his work in new editions. Circulations increased, and schools started incorporating Shakespeare into their syllabi. By the turn of the 18th century, Shakespeare had become England’s most famous poet.

Given Shakespeare’s lasting fame, many people expressed interest in and even investigated his private life. However, there was little information about Shakespeare. His personal life is shrouded in mystery, which has, in turn, fueled his prominence. While appreciating Shakespeare’s writing as superb and extraordinary, many people could not believe a man with such a modest education capable of it. As a result, critics argued a variety of people authored plays in Shakespeare’s name. Some alleged authors included the Earl of Oxford and Francis Bacon. However, after many years of research and careful consideration, this criticism lost its popularity, and many scholars abandoned it.

Today, most people accept that Shakespeare wrote the 37 plays and 150+ sonnets that appear under his name. Given Shakespeare’s limited education, his work’s breadth is impressive. Moreover, his writing has had an impact on cultures and generations of readers. His work helped shape Western culture while, at the same time, influencing literature around the world.

Macbeth is the shortest and bloodiest Shakespearean tragedy. The story revolves around a Scottish general —Macbeth — who receives a prophecy from three witches that he will become king. Despite his ambition to assume power, Macbeth prepares to bide his time and wait for the throne. However, his devilish wife — Lady Macbeth — convinces him to hasten his acquisition of power by killing the current ruler, King Duncan. As a result, Macbeth begins his reign with blood on his hands. Moreover, he becomes paranoid about threats to his authority. He resorts to senseless killings to protect his administration. Ultimately, Macbeth’s runaway ambition, arrogance, and senselessness cause both his and Lady Macbeth’s demise.

While the exact date Shakespeare penned Macbeth is unknown, many scholars estimate that it was written around 1606, during the reign of James I. During his reign, James I was an enthusiastic patron of Shakespeare’s theater company. Since Shakespeare spent time with the king, Macbeth reflects his understanding of the intrigues of leadership. Since Macbeth takes place in Scotland, it centers on the Scottish king’s lineage. In addition, Shakespeare pays homage to King James I in the play when the witches prophesy future rulers coming from Banquo’s family, from whom King James I was believed to have descended.

Admittedly, Macbeth is neither the most powerful nor compelling Shakespearean play. However, that does not take away from its emotional intensity and breathtaking drama. In fact, its brilliance has left Shakespeare’s audience both shocked and fascinated for over 400 years. To this day, theaters continue to produce Macbeth, and students around the world study it.

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