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Saturday, 27 February 2016



Shakespeare's famous character Macbeth was based on a real Scottish king in the 11th century named Mac Bethad mac Findlaích.

The name "Macbeth" (or Mac Bethad) means 'son of life' in Gaelic.

Macbeth succeeded his first cousin King Duncan I after killing him on the battlefield near Elgin on August 14, 1040. He went on to reign for 17 years.

Chroniclers of the time described Macbeth as a "liberal king" with "fair, yellow hair and tall" and having a "ruddy countenance". He was nicknamed Rí Deircc, "the Red King.”

Imagined 19th century portrait of Macbeth

Macbeth’s reign was a time of relative peace and he encouraged the spread of Christianity. In fact Scotland was so peaceful under his rule that Macbeth made a pilgrimage to Rome in 1050 where he is said to have given money to the poor “as if it were seed”.

Lady Macbeth’s first name was Gruoch. Unlike Shakespeare’s portrayal, Macbeth was no villain and Lady Macbeth was not scheming.

King Macbeth was killed at the Battle of Lumphanan by the forces of King Duncan I's son, the future Malcolm III, on August 15, 1057.


Shakespeare's Macbeth is the most produced play ever written, with a performance staged every four hours somewhere in the world. It is believed to have been written between 1599 and 1606. The first documented performance of Macbeth was performed at the Great Hall at Hampton Court on August 7, 1606.

King James I of England was notorious for his fascination for witches. The three 'weird sisters' in Macbeth were in part Shakespeare's attempt to please the monarch.

King James I liked the play as it forecast that Banquivo would be the first of many Kings in his line and James counted Banquo as an ancestor.

The first page of Macbeth, printed in the Second Folio of 1632. By William Shakespeare,  Folger Library Digital Image Collection Wikipedis Commons

Macbeth is referred to as the "Scottish play" by those in the acting profession as to mention it by name traditionally brings misfortune upon any production of it.

The origins of the superstition against saying "Macbeth" in a theatre are unclear. One idea is that Shakespeare took some lines for his three witches from a real coven who cursed the play.

The role of Macbeth is 719 lines long, which is only half the length of Hamlet.

Famous lines in Macbeth  include "So foul and fair a day I have not seen."1:3.
"Yet do I fear thy nature; It is too full o'th' milk of human kindness. To catch the nearest way." 1:5. "That but this blow, might be the be all and the end all here."1:7.
"I bear a charmed life, which must not yield" 5:8.

Macbeth was banned in several Eastern European countries during the 1940s and 50s as it ended in rejoicing at the killing of tyrants.

The phrase "to steal another's thunder" meaning "to get in first and do whatever the other wanted to make a big impression with" is said to derive from an incident involving the playwright and critic John Dennis (d1734). He had invented a device for making the sound of thunder in plays and had used it in one of his own at London's Drury Lane Theatre in 1700. After a run of just two weeks, the play was replaced by a staging of Macbeth. Dennis saw the production and wrote a furious review: "See what rascals they are. They will not run my play and yet they steal my thunder."

Ellen Kean and Charles Kean as the Macbeths, in historically accurate costumes

The earliest film version of Macbeth was a 1908 silent movie in black and white which was censored by the police for its violence when shown in Chicago.

Orson Welles’ 1948 film of Macbeth used sets and scenery left over from Western movies.

Sources Daily Express, Red Herrings and White Elephants: The Origins Of The Phrases We Use Every Day by Albert Jack,

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