You’re probably familiar with Shakespeare’s tragic character, but who was the real Macbeth?
Macbeth as depicted in an engraving from 1750
The Real Macbeth
In free moments I’ve been asking this question as I prepare to write a story for the Love After All project. I’ll be taking the classic tragedy and giving it a happy ending.
The Fire of Winter
, by DK Marley is the fictionalization of the story told from Lady Macbeth’s point of view—so far, a dark tale indeed.
An age of bloodshed
The real Macbeth lived and ruled in a bloody time when kings seized power by force. Although, looking back at the excesses of the socialist and fascist leaders of the twentieth century, maybe we’re always living in bloody times.
My friend author Anne Cleeland
says that people chose their kings and nobles because of
–not in spite of
–their ruthlessness. They needed rulers willing to do whatever it took to keep the peace in the land and invaders at bay. And the Celts suffered through plenty of invaders from the east and the south. (BTW, Anne’s latest mystery–a big hint here– is called Murder in the Blood
Across the channel in France, before the revolution the nobles paid no taxes. Or rather, they paid their taxes in blood, reporting for war whenever and wherever the sovereign required.
Celtic governance originated in Ireland, spreading to Scottish Celts. The passing of leadership from one king to the next was called tanistry
. Titles weren’t automatically passed from father to son. Rather, the heir was chosen from kinsmen related through the male line. To further complicate things, the Scottish Picts apparently allowed tanistry succession through the mother’s line.
It sounds like a recipe for conflict, and we see that in Macbeth’s story. In The Real Macbeth video I mentioned above, a member of Clan Duncan defended the real Macbeth’s actions in killing King Duncan. By strict Celtic tanistry rules, Duncan, who was King Malcolm’s grandson, was not entitled to the kingship because he was related to Malcolm through his mother.
King James VI of Scotland and I of England
As I cherry-pick through these details planning my story, I take heart in the knowledge that William Shakespeare did the same thing. The Bard presented MACBETH in 1611 with one audience member in mind: King James I.
The thinking goes like this: Macbeth was the last Celtic king of Scotland. Duncan’s son allied with the English to defeat Macbeth. Ever after, the Celts would not be able to shake off the English yoke, culminating in the reign of James whose bloodlines were not by any means pure Celt.
The witches were a nice touch as well, never recorded in the history that Shakespeare drew from. However, he would have known of James’s interest in witchcraft, and his 1597 book, Daemonology.
My Macbeth will be living in Regency England, and I have some ideas for how to bring about a happier ending for the lord and his lady. Suggestions are welcome! Share them in the comments!
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