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MACBETH. By William Shakespeare. Date Written: Between 1605 and 1607. For the test, just use 1606. Type of Play: tragedy Setting of Play: Scotland and England. Holinshed’s Chronicles. Written in 1577, it was the most impressive British history England had ever seen.

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By William Shakespeare


Date Written: Between 1605 and 1607. For the test, just use 1606.

Type of Play: tragedy

Setting of Play: Scotland and England

Holinshed s chronicles

Holinshed’s Chronicles

  • Written in 1577, it was the most impressive British history England had ever seen.

  • In 1587, it was rewritten and added to after Holinshed died. It is the 1587 edition Shakespeare used.

Probable main source

Probable Main Source:

  • The Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland (Holinshed’s Chronicles) by Raphael Holinshed

First performance

First Performance:

  • Probably 1605 to 1607 at the Globe Theatre. It was printed in 1623 as part of the First Folio

The real macbeth

The Real Macbeth

  • An 11th century Scot who took the throne in 1040 after killing King Duncan I, his cousin, in a battle near Elgin in the Moray district of Scotland.


  • In 1057, Duncan’s oldest son, Malcolm, ended Macbeth’s reign by killing him in battle.

Length of play

Length of Play:

  • 18,301 words long, the shortest of Shakespeare’s tragedies. It has no subplots.

Belief in witches

Belief in Witches:

  • In Shakespeare’s time, many believed in the power of witches, including King James I.

King james i

King James I

  • In 1591, when he was king of Scotland, a group of witches and sorcerers attempted to murder him. Their trial and testimony convinced him that they were agents of evil. Thereafter, he studied the occult and wrote Daemonologie, published in 1597.

Themes of macbeth

Themes of Macbeth:

  • Great ambition, or inordinate lust for power, ultimately brings ruin.

  • All things are not as they appear.


  • Fate vs. Free will

  • Deception and treachery often disguise themselves.

Evil banquo

Evil Banquo

  • The real Banquo is depicted as a conniver who took part in the plot to kill King Duncan.

  • So why did Shakespeare portray Banquo in a positive light in his play?


  • Because James I, the King of England when the play debuted, was a descendant of Banquo.

Preparing a manuscript

Preparing a Manuscript

  • Writing Tool: Quill dipped in ink. A quill is a feather (latin word “penna”) Goose feathers were cheapest with crow quills used to make the finest lines.


  • Illumination: Daylight and candlelight (candles were expensive)

  • Dictionaries: No official English dictionaries existed in his time.


When words did not exist to express his thoughts, he made up his own- hundreds of them. Some include:

Eyeball, generous, investment, obscene, radiance, torture, unreal bedroom.

Sources for plays

Sources for Plays:

  • History

  • Mythology

  • Other writers

How settings affected writing

How Settings Affected Writing

  • Shakespeare had to write descriptions of them into his dialogue.5th

Drafts of plays and censorship

Drafts of Plays and Censorship

  • Manuscripts had to be submitted for approval.

  • After writing out a manuscript, a copy was made (by Shakespeare or a professional scribe)


  • In this copy, obvious errors were corrected and submitted to the government censor.

  • The original manuscript was called the “foul papers”

  • The copy was called a “fair copy”

Master of revels

Master of Revels

  • Government censor who examined the fair copy for material offensive to the crown. If approved, the fair copy became known as the prompt copy.

The acting company

The Acting Company

  • Would buy the prompt copy, gaining sole possession of it, after paying the writer. The company then wrote in the stage directions.

Alteration of the copy

Alteration of the Copy

  • An acting company could alter the manuscript, with or without playwright’s approval.



It is possible that editors improved or weakened some of Shakespeare’s manuscripts.

Surviving manuscripts

Surviving Manuscripts

No original copy, or foul papers, of a Shakespeare play survived to the present day except for a few pages of Sir Thomas More, partly written by Shakespeare.

Writing format

Writing Format

  • Prose and poetry

  • Most plays are written in unrhymed iambic pentameter poetry also known as blank verse.


  • Portions of his plays are written in prose (the form of communication used in everyday writing and speech and does not use a rhyme or meter scheme).

Drama terms to know

Drama Terms to know:

  • Act: One of the main divisions of the play. Shakespeare’s plays are all divided into five acts. Each act is subdivided into scenes.


  • Scene: Time and place of the action of the play.

  • Alarum: Stage direction indicating the coming of a battle; a call to arms.

  • Aside: Words an actor speaks to the audience which other actors on the stage cannot hear.


  • Catchword: A single word on the bottom of the right side of every page. This word was the first word appearing on the next page.

  • Dramatis Personae: List of the characters in a play.


  • Enter: Entrance onto the stage of a character or characters.

  • Epilogue: Short address spoken by an actor at the end of a play that comments on the meaning of the events in the play or looks ahead to expected events.


  • Exeunt: Departure of two or more characters from the stage.

  • Exit: Departure of a character from the stage.

  • Flourish: Music usually introducing the entrance or exit of a king or another important person.


  • Hautboys: Stage direction indicating that entering characters are playing hautboys (OH bwah), which are Elizabethan oboes.

  • Induction: Preface or prelude to a play.


  • Prologue: Introduction of a play spoken by a character.

  • Soliloquy: Long passage in which a character reveals his thoughts to the audience but not to other characters.


  • Stationer’s Register: Book in which the English government required printers to register the title of a play before the play was published.


  • Torches: Stage direction indicating that entering characters are carrying lit torches.

  • Within: Stage direction indicating that a person speaking or being spoken to is behind a door or inside a room.



  • Operated under the control of the Worshipful Company of Stationers, a trade organization.3rd


  • If a play met government standards – that is, if it did not attempt to inflame the people against the crown- a printer could publish a play after buying it from an acting company and gaining full ownership of it.


  • Quarto: A sheet of printing paper folded twice to form eight separate pages for printing a book.

  • Folio: A sheet of printing paper folded once to form four pages for printing a book.

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