What was King James I's relationship with Shakespeare's acting company and its relevance to the play Macbeth?
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James I was king of Scotland and England. Shakespeare wrote the play Macbeth to please King James I, and made sure he was on the winning side (in the end). There is some evidence that James himself suggested the play (see third link).
Macbeth was written especially for James I and was performed in 1606. James I was King of Scotland when he came to the English throne; his descendants can be traced back to Banquo. (enotes, see first link)
King James I was a patron of the arts, as Queen Elizabeth was before him.
James I was also an avid supporter of the theatre. Shakespeare’s company, “Lord Chamberlain’s Men,” came under royal patronage and were subsequently known as “the King’s Men.” (enotes, see first link)
James enjoyed having companies visit him and perform. Shakespeare might also have visited Scotland when James was king there (see third link). All in all, James would have been satisfied with the Scottish Play! It was a great tribute to him as a patron of the arts.
Shakespeare (and his company of Chamberlains Men) relied heavily on Royal 'acceptance'. While the theatre was still considered to be of low status, having to perform on the less desirable side of the Thames, along with the bear baiters and other leud activities. The constant threat of being shut down bore heavy on the heads of playwrights. Under Elizabeth I, Shakespeare experienced great success and popularity in the Royal Court.
When Elizabeth I died without an heir, naming James VI as her successor (to become James I of England and Scotland), Shakespeare was keen to present his best side forward to impress the new monarch.
James was a well known lover of performance, and a believer in Witchcraft. Persecution of witches in Scotland began during his reign, and he even wrote a book entitled "Daemonoligies" about witchcraft, asserting how real a threat witches were.
Shakespeare wrote MacBeth in a very short time, specifically to the tastes of the new King. He wrote about the manipulation by witches, set in Scotland, and filled with the information for a watching crowd that killing a King is always wrong. James I became a fan, and Shakespeare was to continue to rise in success under the name of "The Kings Men".
Truly, Shakespeare's Macbeth has less to do with the upsetting of the cosmos and more to do with the Bard's wish to align things with King James I since the new king of England had made a contract in 1603 with Shakespeare's acting company, newly named "The King's Men." As such, the players gave between ten and twenty shows per year. The influence of the new king upon the play Macbeth is extensive:
- the rights of royal succession are a motif - Banquo was an ancestor of James I, so he appears in Macbeth as a kind man and Macbeth as the villain. In reality, Duncan was said to be reckless and greatly disliked while Macbeth was favored by the people and reigned successfully for seventeen years.
- the relationship between England and Scotland is discussed
- the reality of witchcraft is considered because James I soundly believed in witches.
- the anxiety about high treason and Roman Catholic plots (the porter's allusion to "equivocation" has often been viewed as a reference to the cleverness of Father Garnet, one of the Gunpowder Plot conspirators during the trial of the early months of 1606.
- concern with witches was a debated subject, but King James firmly believed so as it was the necessary antithesis of his vision of his ideology of kingship.
King Jame I of England
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