Why Macbeth Isn’t About the Gunpowder Plot of 1605

Banner bloody hand - Macbeth Gunpowder Plot 1605

· 05 November 2015 ·
[Correcting a recently promulgated temporal error]

The first thing we do, let’s check out the poster version for the calendar-challenged:

Dead Men Don't Write Plaid photoshopped poster - Macbeth Gunpowder Plot 1605I can’t make it any clearer than this.
It’s your job to think.

For those who can read and reason:

I died on 24 June 1604. Ipso facto, I had to write Macbeth before that date. Delusional book titles to the contrary, I did not write it in 1606. (I’m not linking it. Find it yourself. Look under Fiction.)

Actors can corpse, but corpses cannot write plays. Four hundred ten years ago tonight, the 5th of November 1605, King James VI and I managed to avoid being blown sky high. Perhaps this was an inherited trait from his father, who survived an explosion meant to kill him, only to be strangled in the aftermath. On this night I was an an ex-playwright, and had been for almost a year and a half.

If you insist that Banquo’s ghost represents the Stuart line, and snakes and flowers allude to commemorative medals, and an infamously equivocating priest was sent to hell (I didn’t know there was another kind of priest, and anyway the entire play is about equivocation)… well, you can read anything you want to into anything you want to, if you want to. If you believe that Willy from Warwickshire wrote my body of work, you’ve already demonstrated your tendency to make errors in judgement.

Remember, remember, this too: a lot of wretches got their ink-stained fingers on my plays, both before and after my death. The unpublished plays were performance scripts, and even while I was alive it was impossible to keep people from messing with them. Ask any screenwriter – some things never change. Macbeth didn’t hit a printing press until 1623, nineteen years after my demise. Plenty of time to butcher rework the thing, making it say things I never said, making it look like it was written later than it was. The task is trivial.

First Folio page - Macbeth Gunpowder Plot 1605Macbeth in the First Folio, 1623

As for Macbeth being a kiss-up to the new Scots King of England, written in 1603 when I was not yet dead, to make the Stuarts look good… please. Herakles himself couldn’t clean that stable. I didn’t want Mary’s son to succeed Elizabeth, and I wasn’t happy when he did. I had other hopes, but I was fortune’s fool and those hopes came to naught. King Jamie convinced himself that God had chosen him, not my ex-brother-in-law, and our new monarch would sign anything Rob put in front of him, the sooner to get back to his hunting and, er, other pursuits. [It was often said, though not by me, Rex fuit Elizabeth, nunc est regina Jacobus.]

Here’s some history about the Gunpowder Plot, straight from Parliament. You Colonials can read it to learn what’s up with all the bonfires and the Guy Fawkes masks that look like internet hackers, though it’s the internet hackers who look like Guy Fawkes.

Remember, remember, the fifth of November
Gunpowder treason and plot.
I see no reason why in any season
Maths ever be forgot.

And yes, I know it should be called tartan, not plaid, to be Scottishly accurate. Tell that to the chaps in Hollywood who made the movie.

Scottish mercenary soldiers - Macbeth Gunpowder Plot 1605Scottish mercenary soldiers in Germany, 1631