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  • Writer's pictureNPC Team

Macbeth: True History or Shakespeare's Fiction?

A man sitting on a throne with a spear and wearing amour

William Shakespeare's plays have captivated audiences for centuries, and one of his most famous tragedies is "Macbeth." But is Macbeth's story based on actual historical events, or did Shakespeare make it all up? In this blog post, we will explore whether Macbeth is fact or fiction.

We need to look at the historical context to understand the truth behind Macbeth. The play is set in medieval Scotland during the 11th century when Scotland faced political turmoil. In reality, a king named Macbeth (Mac Bethad mac Findlaích) ruled from 1040 to 1057. Like in Shakespeare's play, he became king by plotting against and killing King Duncan I.

Shakespeare used a book called "Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland" by Raphael Holinshed as a primary source for Macbeth. Holinshed's book, published in 1577, tells the history of the British Isles, including the reign of Macbeth. However, it's essential to know that Holinshed sometimes changed or exaggerated historical facts to make the story more exciting.

While Shakespeare used historical events as a starting point, he used his imagination to create a captivating story. He changed the timeline of events and exaggerated Macbeth's flaws to make the play more dramatic. The three witches in the play are entirely fictional, adding a mysterious and supernatural aspect to the story.

Shakespeare's version of Macbeth has become more famous than the real historical figure. In the play, Macbeth is a tragic hero driven by his ambition. He feels guilty for his actions and is haunted by his conscience. Lady Macbeth, a character invented by Shakespeare, plays a significant role in persuading Macbeth to commit the terrible crime of killing the king. These complex characters, their struggles, and the themes of fate, ambition, and the corrupting influence of power make Macbeth a timeless and universal tragedy.

Macbeth's enduring popularity is because it explores human nature, the consequences of unchecked ambition, and the characters' moral dilemmas. The play has been interpreted and performed differently, showing its relevance to different times and audiences.

Macbeth is a mixture of historical events and Shakespeare's imagination. While it takes inspiration from real history, it is ultimately a work of fiction. Shakespeare's creative genius transformed the historical foundation into a powerful tragedy that continues to captivate audiences today. Macbeth serves as a warning, showing the consequences of ambition, betrayal, and the loss of morality.


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