The Influence of king james in Shakespeare*s macbeth

ENG 3U – Ms. Kelly
Model Seminar
Learning Goal: Students will
understanding the importance of
King James’ influence on
Shakespeare’s writing of
Macbeth is not a “history” play
Macbeth was a Scottish figure who ruled from 1040 to 1057
Though the numerous accounts of this time period vary, it is agreed by all sources
that Macbeth did come to power by killing King Duncan, and lost his power when
killed by Malcolm
Shakespeare drew heavily from Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland
and Ireland
Major alterations to the dramatics of the play center around the theme of kingship
Macbeth was written and first performed in 1606
Coles Notes. Macbeth: Total Study Edition. Mississauga: John Wiley & Sons Canada, Ltd., 2012. Print.
King James VI ruled in Scotland from 1567 to 1603, when Queen Elizabeth 1 named him
King of England (King James I) on her death bed; having no male sons of her own to inherit the
King James and Queen Elizabeth were relatives of each other
James was a direct descendant of Banquo
James believed in the Divine Right of Kings, which was adopted in Scotland in the 11th
James was incredibly religious, having published the King James version of the Bible in 1611
James was a renowned scholar having written many books including Daemonolgie (1597)
Under James, the arts and sciences of England flourished
"James I of England." - New World Encyclopedia. N.p., 3 Apr. 2008. Web. 16 Apr. 2014. <>. Web.
Given that Kings were viewed as God’s emissaries, they received absolute power
While James was known as a lover of the arts, he was also known for some evil
deeds as well:
1596 - Ulster, Ireland 1000s of Catholics starve in exile after James I seizes Ulster from
Roman Church and gives it to Scottish and English Protestants.
1597 - King James I of England publishes Daemonologie which becomes official handbook
of Scottish witchfinders
1597 - 23 women and one man are burned at Aberdeen in one of Scotland's most notorious
witchcraft trials; accused are mainly elderly women.
1597 - English conjurer and herbalist Edmund Hartley is hanged after court convicts him of
causing two children of Leigh, Lancashire, to become "possessed".
1605 – Conspirators in the Gunpowder Plot were tortured on the rack until they confessed,
and then killed in a brutal fashion to serve as warning to any future traitors/conspirators
"Influential People." One Evil: King James I of England., n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2014. <>. Web.
"Macbeth: Background." BBC News. BBC, 1 Jan. 2014. Web. 16 Apr. 2014. <>. Web.
Although he was already an accomplished
writer at the time of King James’ coronation,
the prospect of increased wealth and security
under the King’s patronage influenced
Shakespeare to alter his adaptation of
Macbeth from the Holinshed Chronicles in
favour of, and with consistent references to,
King James.
1. Biblical
2. The Gunpowder
3. Witches
4. Banquo
Macbeth: I. iv.
Duncan: I have begun to plant thee, and
will labour
To make thee full of growing. Noble Banquo,
That hast no less deserved, nor must be known
No less to have done so, let me enfold thee
And hold thee to my heart.
King James’ adoration of his religion culminated in
the King James version of the Bible, published in
1611. While biblical references are used in all of
Shakespeare’s plays there are more than sixty
biblical references in Macbeth. In this quote,
Shakespeare demonstrates Duncan’s divine right to
the throne, which further asserts King James’
proper and divine right to the throne.
Macbeth: I.v. & II.iii.
Lady Macbeth: …look like the innocent flower,
But be the serpent under’t…
Porter: …Faith, here’s an equivocator, that could swear
in both the scales against either scale; who committed
treason enough for God’s sake, yet could not equivocate
to heaven. O, come in, equivocator. (3.2.9-12).
In 1605, a conspiracy was hatched by a group of
Catholics, angry at King James. They intended to
blow up James and his parliament. Shakespeare’s
connection to the plot was only familial in nature,
but enough of a connection that he would have
been concerned for his safety and monetary
security. It is of no coincidence that within a year
Shakespeare is writing and producing Macbeth,
with direct (negative) references to the Plot and its
Macbeth: I.iii.
Third Witch: Sister, where thou?
First Witch: A sailor’s wife had chestnuts in her lap,
And munch’d, and munch’d, and munch’d: Give
me quoth I:
‘Aroint thee, witch!’ the rump-fed ronyon cries.
Her husband’s to Aleppo gone, master o’ the Tiger:
But in a sieve I’ll thither sail,
And, like a rat without a tail,
I’ll do, I’ll do, and I’ll do.
Second Witch: I’ll give the a wind…
First Witch: I myself have all the other;
And the very ports they blow,
All the quarters that they know
I’ the shipman’s card
I’ll drain him dry as hay:
Sleep shall neither night nor day
Shakespeare’s depiction of witches was evil in
nature. Holinshed’s depiction differed in the sense
that “goddesses” assisted Macbeth. This dramatic
change from good to evil by Shakespeare is
directly related to King James. James was
incredibly interested in the supernatural; witches in
particular. In 1597 he published Daemonolgie, in
which he vilified witches and their powers. This
vilification is carried forward in Shakespeare’s
Macbeth. As a patron of King James, Shakespeare
would not be wise to portray those who help
Macbeth as “good.”
Macbeth: II.i.
Macbeth: If you shall cleave to my consent,
When ‘tis, it shall make honour for you.
Banquo: So I lose none
In seeking to augment it, but still keep
My bosom franchised and allegiance clear…
Banquo is consistently portrayed in a sympathetic
light within the play. In Holinshed’s account of
Macbeth, Banquo assisted in the killing of Duncan.
In Macbeth, Shakespeare portrays Banquo has
loyal to the King, despite the consequences. Given
the hereditary line between Banquo and King
James, Shakespeare knew it would not be wise to
portray Banquo as an accomplice to the removal
of a King who has divine rights, like James.
Coles Notes. Macbeth: Total Study Edition. Mississauga: John Wiley & Sons Canada, Ltd.,
2012. Print
"Influential People." One Evil: King James I of England., n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2014.
<>. Web.
"James I of England." - New World Encyclopedia. N.p., 3 Apr. 2008. Web. 16 Apr. 2014.
Mabillard, Amanda. "Shakespeare and the Gunpowder Plot." Shakespeare and the Gunpowder Plot.
N.p., 19 Nov. 2011. Web. 16 Apr. 2014. <>. Web.
"Macbeth: Background." BBC News. BBC, 1 Jan. 2014. Web. 16 Apr. 2014.
Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Canada: ITP Nelson Canada, 1997. Print.

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