The Real Macbeth
BLOODY TYRANT OR BENEVOLENT KING:WILL THE REAL MACBETH PLEASE STAND UP?
by Catherine Wells
We all know the story of Macbeth, right? He murdered the king, usurped the Scottish throne, had his best friend assassinated, and was killed by Macduff at Dunsinane. Then there’s some stuff about witches and a conniving wife– Shakespeare was a skillful dramatist, but how much of the story is true, and how much myth? I had no idea until stumbled across an entry on Macbeth in a reliable reference book. It said he ruled Scotland for 17 years and was probably a very good king. It also said he claimed the throne in his own name and his wife's.
What’s this? A man maligned in popular lore? Succession claimed through the female line? I was intrigued, to say the least. I wanted to know the real circumstances surrounding the historical ruler. I wanted to know who the real Macbeth was.
I began my research with several books on Scottish history from the University of Arizona library, assuming such scholarly works would spell out the story for me. That’s when I got the shock of my life: the books didn’t agree! What was represented as fact in one was challenged or dismissed as erroneous in another. Books written before World War II tended to portray Macbeth as a usurper who rose to power by murder; those written later suggested he had ascended through legitimate channels after defeating Duncan on the field of battle.
WHY THERE’S ROOM FOR INTERPRETATION
WHAT DO WE REALLY KNOW ABOUT MACBETH?