How does the play Macbeth reflect the social anxieties of the time?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Since Shakepeare's plays were under the patronage of the English monarchy, he was well aware that political repercussions could gravely affect his prosperity. In fact, King James named Shakespeare's company of actors the King's Men. With this financial support and political connection, with James I of Scotland on the throne of England, Shakepeare wrote what would be known as the cursed Scottish play since James VI was also king of Scotland; his mother had been Mary Queen of Scots, a cousin of Elizabeth I.  Additionally, since the ancestors of James I could be traced back to Banquo, Shakespeare wrote the role of Banquo kindly as a man of integrity who is fair in his dealings.  Whereas some of his previous plays contained pejorative language regarding Scotland, Shakespeare wrote Macbeth with a motif of commonality between the two countries. Malcolm's role, too, was altered for King James; he was recorded in history as not a friend of England, but at the end of the play, he is shown as a friend of the English.

Another element of the play that is politically correct is that of the preternatural world.  For the Elizabethans, the other world had a tremendous role in their lives. What Shakespeare does in his play is to take the "goddesses of Scottish destiny" that he had read about in Holinshed and altered them into bearded hags, in keeping with the interest of the principal person for whom he was writing the play, King James, as well as for his Elizabethan audience.

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