How historically accurate is Shakespeare's Macbeth?
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As in most of his plays, Shakespeare takes dramatic license in his portrayal of most of the major characters.
Macbeth (or MacBeth) was the son of Findlaech (or Findlaich) mac Ruadri, a grandson of King Malcolm II, giving him a legitimate claim to the Scottish throne.
Duncan, Macbeth's cousin, was also a grandson of King Malcolm II, who designated Duncan the heir. Duncan became king when Malcolm died in 1034.
Duncan was not an aged king, but was only 39 when killed by the younger Macbeth near Forres in 1040 after ruling for less than six years. Duncan's armies had been defeated repeatedly and, unlike his character in the play, was not considered a strong ruler. Though the specifics of Duncan's death are not certain, it is documented that he was killed by Macbeth, possibly in battle or shortly afterward. It is not believed the death was premeditated as described in the play, but it was also probably not accidental.
Macbeth ruled for 17 years before he was killed in battle at Lumphanan by Malcolm Canmore (soon King Malcolm III)--Duncan's oldest son--in 1057, exactly 17 years to the day after the death of his father. Malcolm had previously defeated Macbeth's army at the battle of Dunsinnan in 1054, but Macbeth had remained king.
Lady Macbeth was a real character but little else is known about her.
Macduff was almost certainly a fictional character; Banquo was most likely a fictional concoction.
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