How did Shakespeare link his play Macbeth to James 1st?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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An intense interest and persecution of witches began with King James VI of Scotland who adopted the Christian view that if there were one witch, others were around since they were in covenant with the devil and the preternatural world.  With his reign, attention was given to witchcraft; however, when he became king of England as James I, he realized that the Christian theory of witchcraft had not been adopted by the English. After James was king in England for several years, people could tell jokes about witchcraft – something no one would have done in Scotland in the 1590’s.

Nevertheless, since Elizabethan audiences enjoyed the occult, the inclusion of the preternatural world of the "evil sisters" increased interest in the performance of Macbeth.  Of course, it seemed natural to include witches in a play set in Scotland since King James demonstrated such interest in them.  Along with the Elizabethan belief in the Chain of Being, the murder of King Duncan rings of world disorder and the occult both.  Since Shakespeare's Macbeth was written for James I, whose descendents can be traced back to Banquo, the good friend of Macbeth's who is murdered by him is portrayed as a honorable man, one who promotes goodness and fairness.

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