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Macbeth (some comments)

Background to Macbeth

Macbeth is based on Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles which details a plot by Macbeth and a series of conspirators (amongst them Banquo) in which King Duncan is executed. In Holished's Chronicles, however, the murder of King Duncan is a private affair, Duncan a weak and inexperienced King and Macbeth rules successfully after the coup as a good King. The play was written during the Gunpowder plot against the recently crowned James I; its design was driven by Shakespeare's need to please King James I to continue funding for his work (as a member of the 'King's Men' – a group of playwrights who received funding from the King).

Left: The Gunpowder Plot Medal, which features a serpent hiding behind a flower (Lady Macbeth says "look like the innocent flower but be the serpent underneath")
Right: Holished's Chronicles

The 'Natural Order' and 'Great Chain of Being'

The Great Chain of Being is a hierarchy, supposedly decreed by God. At the top of the chain is God, below God are the angels, then humans, then animals, then plants and finally rocks. Within the Great Chain of Being humans are further divided into subcategories along the lines of the Medieval Feudal system. Shakespeare's Macbeth supports the continuation of the status quo (in which such a system exists) and is engineered to act as a warning to those who might go against it.

An illustration of the Great Chain of Being