Macbeth: Context

  • Created by: Hoo24
  • Created on: 22-12-17 22:30

King James I

The plays that Shakespeare wrote during the reign of King James I were dark and cynical (e.g Macbeth and Hamlet) to reflect the insecurities of the Jacobean period. Macbeth was written the year following the gunpowder plot in 1606.James was a distant cousin of Elizabeth (son on Mary Queen of Scots, who was killed under Elizabeth's orders), and when she died he inhererited the throne. As he was brought up by protestant regents, he kept a protestant regime in Scotland once king, seemingly acceptable as Elizabeth had made England firmly protestant. However not many accepted his reign as there were others who had a more direct claim to the throne. Catholics were unsupported by James, so in retaliation they made conspiracy theories against him; one of which was the gunpowder plot- an attempt to kill the king while he was in parliament. To an extent, Macbeth is Shakespeare's cautionary tale as warning to other potential regicides of the awful fate that they will inevitably recieve in any attempt to kill the king.

Religious Beliefs

A belief at the time was the 'Great Chain of Being'- the belief that God had designed an ordered system for nature and humankind, everyone and everything had it's place. It was considered an offence against God to change your place, and since royal rank was bestowed by God, it was a sin to aspire to it. Any opposition was an attack on God himself, and therefore the most heinous of sins. The anointing ceremony at the king's corination made him virtually divine- some even claimed Christ-like powers of healing. In Macbeth, Shakespeare alludes to King Edward of England healing the sick ("such sanctity hath heaven given his hand").

Shakespeare and the Royal Court

Shakespeare's theatre company were initally called 'Chamberlain's Men', however once James became king they changed their name to  'King's Men' in tribute to him. 


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