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Macbeth Study Guide

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Get literature in a whole new way with the LitCharts study guide to William Shakespeare's Macbeth. Started by the guys who created SparkNotes back in the distant past, LitCharts are made for today’s students.

Brief Biography of William Shakespeare

Shakespeare's father was a glove-maker, and Shakespeare received no more than a grammar school education. He married Anne Hathaway in 1582, but left his family behind around 1590 and moved to London, where he became an actor and playwright. He was an immediate success: Shakespeare soon became the most popular playwright of the day as well as a part-owner of the Globe Theater. His theater troupe was adopted by King James as the King's Men in 1603. Shakespeare retired as a rich and prominent man to Stratford-upon-Avon in 1613, and died three years later.

Historical Context of Macbeth

When Queen Elizabeth died in 1603, King James of Scotland became King of England. James almost immediately gave his patronage to Shakespeare's company, making them the King's Men. In many ways, Macbeth can be seen as a show of gratitude from Shakespeare to his new King and benefactor. For instance, King James actually traced his ancestry back to the real-life Banquo. Shakespeare's transformation of the Banquo in Holinshed's Chronicles who helped murder Duncan to the noble man in Macbeth who refused to help kill Duncan is therefore a kind of compliment given to King James' ancestor.

Other Books Related to Macbeth

Shakespeare's source for Macbeth was Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, though in writing Macbeth Shakespeare changed numerous details for dramatic and thematic reasons, and even for political reasons (see Related Historical Events). For instance, in Holinshed's version, Duncan was a weak and ineffectual King, and Banquo actually helped Macbeth commit the murder. Shakespeare's changes to the story emphasize Macbeth's fall from nobility to man ruled by ambition and destroyed by guilt.

Key Facts about Macbeth

  • Full Title: The Tragedy of Macbeth

  • When Written: 1606

  • Where Written: England

  • When Published: 1623

  • Literary Period: The Renaissance (1500 - 1660)

  • Genre: Tragic drama

  • Setting: Scotland and, briefly, England during the eleventh century

  • Climax: Macbeth's murder of Duncan

Extra Credit for Macbeth

Shakespeare or Not? There are some who believe Shakespeare wasn't educated enough to write the plays attributed to him. The most common anti-Shakespeare theory is that Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, wrote the plays and used Shakespeare as a front man because aristocrats were not supposed to write plays. Yet the evidence supporting Shakespeare's authorship far outweighs any evidence against. So until further notice, Shakespeare is still the most influential writer in the English language.