Macbeth is a play written by William Shakespeare around 1606. It is important for us to understand the social context on which this play was written. Shakespeare was writing for the theatre during the reigns of Queen Elizabeth I and King James I. The plays he wrote for Queen Elizabeth such as A Midsummer nights dream have themes of confidence, happiness, love and optimism to reflect the mood of the Queen.
However, the plays he wrote during the reign of King James such as Hamlet and Macbeth, were much more cynical and dark reflecting the insecurities of King James.
When Queen Elizabeth died in 1603, the throne was offered to James VI of Scotland, who then became James I of Britain.
James maintained his Protestant beliefs but his accession was not a popular choice with everyone, and since he was not a direct descendant of Elizabeth, James feared that disconnected factions might gather around him.
Catholics had hoped James might support them in their faith, but when they realised that would not happen, conspiracies against the King developed. One of which was the Gunpowder Plot. A man named Guy Fawkes and his followers tried to blow up James and his parliament in 1605. The assassination failed and all the people who had tried were executed.
Macbeth was written a year after the Gunpowder plot.
Religious thinkers in the middle ages had upheld the idea of ‘the great chain of being’. This was a belief, held by many, that God had designed an orderly system for both nature and human kind. Everything had its place in the great chain of being, even rocks, which were at the bottom of the chain. It was considered a sin against god for anybody to try and alter their station in the chain. After death however, everything would be raised to heaven if they respected God’s will.
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