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Shakespeare blackened the reputation of Macbeth

Posted in Historical articles, History, Scotland, Shakespeare on Wednesday, 1 May 2013

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This edited article about Macbeth originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 237 published on 30 July 1966.

Macbeth, picture, image, illustration

Macbeth the warrior by Neville Dear

Early Scottish history is obscure, but it is known that on July 27, 1054, Macbeth, King of the Scots, was defeated in battle by Earl Siward of Northumbria and his grandson Malcolm, contender for the Scottish throne.

Macbeth’s story is familiar to many people even today, for Shakespeare made him the central figure of one of his great tragedies. Shakespeare tells of an ambitious man spurred on by his power-hungry wife to commit murder and win the crown of Scotland.

Shakespeare’s play is only loosely based on fact. Dissension in Scotland stemmed from conflicting ideas about the laws of Succession. Trouble began because King Malcolm II wanted his grandson, Duncan, already king in Strathclyde, to succeed him as King of Scotland, but according to old Scottish custom, Duncan was ineligible to succeed, and the rightful heir was the infant stepchild of Macbeth.

In the interests of his wife’s child, Macbeth opposed Duncan’s right to succeed, and killed him, quite probably in a fair fight. Macbeth held the throne on behalf of his stepchild, and Duncan’s young sons, Malcolm and Donalbain, were hurried out of the country into the care of their grandfather, Earl Siward of Northumbria. Malcolm stayed with his grandfather for 14 years, during which time Macbeth ruled Scotland and she prospered. Then they marched into Scotland, to Dunsinane, Macbeth’s castle.

Shakespeare makes the battle at Dunsinane a highly dramatic finale to his play: Macbeth is slain in single combat, and Malcolm joyously proclaimed King of Scotland. In fact, Macbeth lived three more years before Malcolm killed him in battle at Lumphanan.

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