Theatrical flattery : Macbeth and King James I of England
The world has come to regard William Shakespeare as a literary genius who used the stage as a tool for not only the performance of his masterfully constructed plays, but often as a platform for commentary on what occurred in his modern-day England. His portrayal of monarchical conflicts, romantic woes, and vulgar humor has become eternal in the world of literature which scholars study today; however, in certain cases, those artfully communicated themes have other inspiration aside from his theatrical goals. These playwrights did have to earn a living with their work, their plays earned them their living wages. Shakespeare had many of his plays performed in front of the royal court, including the monarchs themselves. This performance would consequently have a significant influence on the content of these plays considering monarchs functioned essentially as their employers. Considering that factor, one could reasonably assume that pleasing the monarch for which they performed became one aim of the playwrights’ work. Shakespeare’s Macbeth provides a great example of this type of placation. Macbeth, written in 1606, follows a tale of witchcraft, regicide, and the ultimate punishment of death with no legacy, quite similar the primary concerns facing King James I of England, the monarch who ascended the throne in 1603. Not only does Shakespeare mention similar topics of concern as the King, but he also echoes the King’s views on these concerns as well as the favorable tone regarding the King at the time. From witchcraft to regicide, Shakespeare covers these topics with the same tone as the King, something easily attributed to his desire to please, or at least to remain neutral towards, the seemingly extreme monarch. Shakespeare wrote Macbeth at a time in England where King James I, as well as much of England, searched for and killed many supposed witches for their crimes against the crown and against God. The King had direct involvement in several witch trials and published his own views on how to seek out and punish witches who threatened the security of the monarchy in his book, Daeomonologie. This book demonstrates just how strongly King James I feels in regard to something like witchcraft. These intense views lead to massive witch hunts as well as many wrongful executions of citizens across the country. Shakespeare characterizes these witches just as demonically in Macbeth; the weïrd sisters are portrayed as having direct ties with demonic beings like the devil as well as using their powers for malicious acts, something in which they take pride. Macbeth portrays a King who fails to punish the witches with which he interacts and instead uses their predictions to carry out a plot of regicide, such a decision which results in Macbeth’s murder by the rightful heirs to the throne as well as the loss of honor for eternity for himself and his wife. This mirrors the punishment James believed to suit engagement with witchcraft, but also for regicide. James had strong views against regicide, but not only because he was a King himself. James felt regicide to be a high crime against God because of his belief in the divine right of kings. This religious backing gave him more of a reason to come down harshly on those who attempted something like this, such as the sentencing of Guy Fawkes, conspirator of the Gunpowder Plot, to be sentenced to death by drawing and quartering only after intense torture on the rack. James took none of these topics lightly and Shakespeare would have known this. Because of the intensity of James beliefs, specifically those regarding witchcraft and regicide, coupled with the portrayal of these same beliefs in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, one can come to the conclusion that Shakespeare wrote Macbeth as a form of flattery to the monarch James I and VI of England and Scotland.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License.