Macbeth was one of William Shakespeare’s finest plays. Although many people
have read Macbeth, not many people know that King Macbeth of Scotland actually
existed and what influenced Shakespeare to write about him. English culture and
society as well as the historical figure Macbeth impacted Shakespeare’s
infamous play. The historical King Macbeth reigned in Scotland for 17 years from
1040-1057. He had a wife named Coruoch and a stepson named Luloch. Although
Macbeth did kill Duncan, he was not the gentle king as described in Macbeth.
Killing a king was not uncommon at this time as, Macbeth’s 7-9 predecessors
were killed as well. In 1050, Macbeth went on a religious pilgrimage to Rome to
seek absolution for Duncan’s death. Unlike Macbeth, Malcolm (rather than
Macduff) killed the historical Macbeth. Luloch, known as the “Idiot,”
reigned for five months after Macbeth’s death until Malcom overthrew him.
Although there are differences between Shakespeare’s Macbeth and the
historical figure Macbeth, it is obvious that Shakespeare based his character on
this Scottish king. The person who influenced Shakespeare to write Macbeth was
King James I of England, who reigned from 1566 to 1625. King James, who was also
known as King James 6 of Scotland, succeeded the throne of Queen Elizabeth.
James’ mother, Mary Queen of Scots, was known as a tragic queen since she
killed James father. At age sixteen, rivals kidnapped James and at age 20,
James’ mother was executed. King James was intellectual, scholarly, and an”insatiable curiost.” His ideal of heaven was the Oxford Library. In 1584,
while he was only 18 years old, James wrote Essays of Apprentice in Fine Arts of
Poetry. He discussed a new translation of the bible, The Authorized Version,
which is the most popular bible today. James also wrote in defense of the Divine
Right of Kings- that kings were chosen by God, but they must rule well. King
James succeeded in ruling an authoritarian government, but he ruled no better
than today’s democratic governments. He was known as the wisest fool in
Christendom. James was also eager for social reform. He wrote A Counterblast to
Tobacco, which is much like the anti-smoking campaigns of modern times. When
Shakespeare wrote Macbeth, he was obviously aware of James concern with
witchcraft. King James wrote the Daemonologie, an account of his experiences
with witchcraft. Once a witch tried to melt James’ image in wax, and another
witch tried to poison him with toad venom. James is skeptical of witchcraft, but
does not dismiss it. One significant event during King James’ reign was the
gunpowder plot. A party of Christian zealots attempted to blow up Parliament.
Henry Garnet, a Jesuit, knew of the plot but lied under questioning sine he
thought it was justifiable to conceal the truth. James resented this, and many
people sympathized with him. The writing of Macbeth was aimed at the head of
King James. James was Scottish, like Macbeth, and enjoyed the play. Shakespeare
and his actors were known as the “King’s Men” and Grooms of the Chamber.
They received increased pay and production time. King James found an ancestor in
Banquo and believed that man could ally himself with evil, but cannot create it.
Macbeth emphasized the savagery of Scotland, which was all too real for James,
who knew the throne of Scotland was worth struggling for. It was King James who
conceived the term “Great Britain” when he united England and Scotland.
Macbeth was deliberately written for King James I, who influenced many factors
of the play. While Macbeth was a real king, Shakespeare intertwined the history
of Macbeth with events of King James’ life to create this masterpiece.