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Lilan Miller

ENGL304-Ray
17 May 2016
Historical Background
Witchcraft is one of the major aspects of Shakespeares Macbeth. Without the use of the
supernatural there would be very little plot. Shakespeares influence for including a supernatural
aspect came from King James. James himself had been the target of a plot by witches in
Scotland in 15901 so it is little wonder that his mind was focused on witchcraft in this
period (Almond 210). King James was fascinated by witchcraft to the extent that he wrote a
book title 'Daemononlogie' (Johnson para. 8). Since Shakespeare was aware of the influence
witchcraft was having on society during this time, it allowed the supernatural theme to have a
much stronger effect. While Macbeth is arguably fully accountable for his actions, the power of
the supernatural leaves rooms for an uncontrollable higher power to influence the readers
interpretation and feelings towards Macbeth. However, in order to create a dark evil presence,
Shakespeare reshap[es] [the] Holinshed's weird sisters, by making the witches in the play have
beards and playing upon the weather elements such as thunder and lightning (Mabillard para.
10). Not only does this connect the witches portrayed in Macbeth to some historical background,
but it also draws upon the plays geographical setting: Scotland.
During the Battle of Carham in 1018, King Malcolm was able to unite the Four
Kingdoms of Scotland under one throne and after he died his grandson Duncan became King in
1034 (Johnson para. 3-4). As Macbeth is referred to as Duncans kinsman in the play, historically,
King Duncan did have a cousin named Macbeth. However, Macbeth united with another cousin
(Earl of Orkney) in which they killed Duncan near Elgin in 1040 (Johnson para. 5). While the
play does stick to this historical outline in which Macbeth in the play murders Duncan, the play

deviates from the historical accuracy with the addition of the witches and their prophecies. While
in the play Macbeth reign lasts a very short time, historically Macbeth ruled for 17
years (Johnson para. 10). The play also sets the final battle in Birnam Hill, as oppose to an area
near Elgin where the battle between Duncan and Macbeth actually took place in 1040.
Nonetheless, all of the geographical settings where the play is set, are actually places in Scotland
and England.
For the general plot line, Shakespeare references Holinsheds Chronicles of England,
Scotland and Ireland (1587) (Hadfield 234). While not all aspects of the Chronicles appear in the
story line of Macbeth, there are subtle references that most readers would overlook. For example,
while Edward the Confessor (King of England) does not appear as a character in Macbeth,
Malcolms character referenc[es] [Edward] in a passage that forms a linke between Malcolms
testing of Macduff and teh arrival if ROss with the news that Macduffs family has been
slaughtered (Hadfield 234). Supposedly, King Edward had the healing powers to cure a
Kings evil (Hadfiel 234). Now this scenario would of been an interesting plot twist to
Shakespeares play had he created a King Edward character.
Shakespeare also references the bible throughout the play. It can be argued that the
gradual emergence of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth as, variously, types of antichrist (Streete 21).
Shakespeare also references other points and figures in history. For example, in Act 2 scene 1, he
references the Roman prince Tarquin, as Macbeth is hallucinating the dagger.

Work Cited:
Almond, Philip C. "King James I And The Burning Of Reginald Scot's The r Of

Witchcraft:

The Invention Of A Tradition." Notes And Queries 56 (254).2 (2009): 209-213. MLA
International Bibliography. Web. 17 May 2016.
Hadfield, Andrew. "Macbeth, IV.Iii.140-158, Edward The Confessor, And Holinshed's
Chronicles." Notes And Queries 49 (247).2 (2002): 234-236. MLA International
Bibliography. Web. 17 May 2016.
Johnson, Ben. "Duncan and MacBeth." Historic UK. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 May 2016.
<http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofScotland/Duncan-MacBeth/>.
Mabillard, Amanda. The Relationship Between Macbeth and the Witches. Shakespeare Online.
20 Aug. 2000. (date when you accessed the information) < http://www.shakespeareonline.com/faq/macbethfaq/macbethdarkness.html >.
Streete, Adrian. "'What Bloody Man Is That?': Questioning Biblical Typology In Macbeth."
Shakespeare 5.1 (2009): 18-35. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 17 May 2016.