Information on Shakespeare's Play "The Tragedy of Macbeth"

by Nancy Hayden

"The Tragedy of Macbeth" by William Shakespeare is a famous and controversial play. The story is a multifaceted tale of greed, betrayal and murder. The character of Macbeth is widely regarded as one of Shakespeare's most complex and flawed protagonists. And because several productions of the Scottish tragedy have been accompanied by strange happenings, many members of the theater world consider the play cursed.

Background and First Productions

Shakespeare wrote a total of 37 plays and divided them into three categories: comedies, histories and tragedies. He wrote 12 tragedies, including some of his best-known works such as "Romeo and Juliet," "Hamlet" and "Othello." "The Tragedy of Macbeth," or "Macbeth," as it is commonly known, was Shakespeare's last tragedy. The first known performance of "Macbeth" was a gift from Shakespeare to King James I. This royal performance is believed to have occurred between 1603 and 1605. "Macbeth" was first performed publicly at The Globe Theatre on April 20, 1611.

Main Characters

At the beginning of the play, Macbeth is praised as a victorious general in the Scottish army. He is led astray by prophecies of greed and ambition. Macbeth's biggest flaw is perhaps his weakness of will, which turns him into a murderer. His wife, Lady Macbeth, is driven by her desire for power, and she pushes her husband to commit atrocities to achieve greatness. Macbeth sees Banquo and Macduff as rivals, and he does all he can to vanquish them. The three witches are perhaps the play's most interesting characters, driving much of the action with their mystical prophecies.

Plot Overview

While returning triumphant from war, Macbeth and Banquo encounter the witches, who predict that Macbeth will be the king of Scotland and Banquo will father future kings. Lady Macbeth uses these prophecies to convince Macbeth to murder the current king, Duncan. This sets off a chain of events from which Macbeth cannot escape. Once he kills Duncan and becomes king, he has Banqo killed. Another visit to the witches tells Macbeth that he must now beware of the nobleman Macduff. Lady Macbeth, for her part, is driven mad by guilt and commits suicide. In the end, a grief-stricken and tormented Macbeth must battle Macduff's army.

Lore and Controversy

Much controversy surrounds "The Tragedy of Macbeth." Many people in the theater have superstitions about the play. Some believe that the three witches have aligned it with the forces of the occult. Others link the curse back to an early production of the play during which someone replaced the wooden prop swords with real swords, causing bloody injuries. People who believe in this curse refuse to say the name Macbeth inside a theater, instead calling it "the Scottish play" and Macbeth "the Scottish king." Many swear that injuries and misfortune befall productions when the name is said outside the context of the play.

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