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My Favourite Shakespeare Play, Macbeth

Updated on July 9, 2013

Macbeth Was Shakespere's 4th And Shortest Tragedy.

I first came across the story of Macbeth at school when reading Shakespeare, and his play Macbeth in particular, was a chore that had to be faced! Macbeth essays had to be written and lines learnt. The more conscientious students would copy all of the notes into the margins, feeling that they were dealing with a foreign language. Those of us who were rather less conscientious and had to get up to speed quickly because of looming exams turned to a video or a handy condensed version with the same tired analysis of the themes and plots.

But you really have to get inside the play and identify with the characters, see them as living people before you begin to appreciate the complexities of the plot.

The Macbeth Plot Holds Many Surprises

I think that, more than any of his other works, Shakespeares Macbeth is a living play. Macbeth is chock full of unexpected twists and turns, abounding in different meanings and so alive with fresh possibilities.

I could almost guarantee that if you read the contents of the Macbeth play over and over again you will still see something new each time.

You find hidden layers of emotions as you strive to understand what it is that drives a man like Macbeth. At times you can be unsure as to whether to condemn him as a bloody tyrant and a murderer or even defend him as a hero who is tricked into destroying himself.

Almost every character and every word in this Shakespeare play can be read in a different way.

“Fair is foul and foul is fair”

Macbeth In A Nutshell - A Very Short Summary Of The Play Macbeth

Three Witches prophesise to Macbeth that he will become King of Scotland.

Macbeth, with some encouragement from Lady Macbeth, kills Duncan the present king of Scotland.

Macbeth becomes king and kills those, including his friend Banquo, who could threaten his position as king.

Banquo returns as an apparition, this unnerves Macbeth who goes to the witches again. The witches assure Macbeth that he will not be killed by any man born of woman, or until "Burnham woods comes to Dunsinane".

The guilt is too much for Lady Macbeth who loses her mind and kills herself. Macduff, born by caesarean section, leads an army that cuts down Burnham Wood, and uses it for cover as they march to Dunsinane. Macbeth is then killed by Macduff.

Macduff takes Macbeths severed head to Malcolm who is then proclaimed King.

Watch The Witches Opening Scene From The Roman Polanski Film Macbeth

It Seems That Shakespeare's Macbeth And The Real Macbeth Were Two Very Different Characters.

“The liberal king… was fair, yellow-haired and tall;

Pleasant was the handsome youth to me,

Brimful of food was Alban east and west,

During the reign of the ruddy and brave king.”

-Saint Berchan (mid 11th century)

“…black Macbeth… bloody,

Luxurious, avaricious, false, deceitful,

Sudden, malicious, smacking of every sin

that has a name.”

Malcolm in Shakespeares Macbeth

Early 17th century

Was The Real Macbeth Anything Like The Shakespeare Character Macbeth?

I don’t think the real Macbeth would have recognised his counterpart!

The real Macbeth had a legal claim to the Scottish throne, and was lawfully elected king after his cousin Duncan had died in battle. There is some uncertainty as to whether Macbeth actually killed King Duncan, and such fatal rivalry was common in the 11th century, but Macbeth ruled for 17 years and kept the loyalty of his people throughout.

Macbeth lost the throne because England wanted a King of Scots who would toe the line and so gave Malcolm, Duncans son who had grown up in England, an army with which to topple Macbeth.

But, Shakespeare was a dramatist not an historian, and never pretented to draw an accurate portrayal of the 11th century king.

Shakespeare used Macbeth to show the workings and love, good and evil, crime and punishment. He used what we call poetic license…meaning that he could be forgiven for straying from the facts, provided that he does so to show a general truth.

Was Macbeth A Villain Or A Victim?

One of the complexities of Shakespeare's Macbeth is that he could be perceived either as a villain or a victim. On stage no two Macbeths are portrayed in quite the same way more...

Have You Read Macbeth? What Did You Think About Shakespeare's Play?

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    • Danielle Farrow profile image

      Danielle Farrow 8 years ago from Scotland, UK

      Interesting - I hadn't heard that about James VI and I. I wonder how that relates to other plays, though, as Shakespeare wrote quite a few in his time, when his favour would have been important.

      I was referring to the fact that, as the shortest play, Macbeth is often put on by companies when rehearsal time is limited. Macbeth the character is on through most of the play, has to end up fighting when tired, and probably with limited rehearsal, so accidents are not altogether unexpected!

      would be grand to see an update here, or even a new hub. Make sure I know about it if you go for that! :)

    • flighty02 profile image

      flighty02 8 years ago

      Thank you for your comment Danielle. I have ideas to update this hub and adding a section on the superstitions surrounding the play and the belief that the play is cursed is one of them... some more fascinating research to do yet though :)

      I know that it is reputed that Macbeth was written for the entertainment of James I who really didn't like long plays as they sent him to sleep, hence the shortest tragedy, but how this relates to the 'Scottish Play' superstitions I have not yet heard.

    • Danielle Farrow profile image

      Danielle Farrow 8 years ago from Scotland, UK

      Really enjoyed reading this, and - as a Shakespeare fan - I'm glad that Macbeth inspired you to write this, and to research the real Macbeth.

      I live in Scotland and have heard a lot from my mother about the real Lady Macbeth too. My mother's very indignant about Shakespeare's liberties, actually, but as you say - poetic licence.

      I noted your first headline mentioned Macbeth being the shortest tragedy - have you heard how that connects to the 'Scottish Play' superstitions?

      Thanks again!