Why Macbeth Isn’t About the Gunpowder Plot of 1605

· 5 November 2015 ·

The first thing we do, let’s check out the TL;DR version for the maths-challenged:

Dead Men Don't Write PlaidI can’t make it any clearer than this. It’s your job to think.

Now, for those who can read and reason:

Let’s go over this carefully. Fact: I died on 24 June 1604. Ipso facto, I had to write Macbeth prior to that date. I most definitely did not write it in 1606, delusional fantasy book titles notwithstanding. (No, I’m not linking to it. Go find it yourself, if you like fiction.) Are we clear about this now? If not, refer to the poster above. Actors can corpse, but corpses can’t write plays. Four hundred and ten years ago tonight, when King James avoided being blown sky high (perhaps an inherited trait from his father), I was an EX playwright, and I had been one 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 one 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 into anything you want, if you want to. If you believe that Illiterate Willy wrote my body of work, you’ve already demonstrated that you’re prone to errors in judgment.

Remember, remember, this as well: a lot of wretches got their ink-stained hands on my work, both before and after my death, but prior to publication. These plays were theatrical performance scripts, and even while I was alive it was impossible to keep people from messing with them. (Just ask any screenwriter today – some things never change.) Macbeth didn’t meet a printing press until 1623, which was NINETEEN YEARS after my demise. Plenty of time to butcher rework the play, making it say things that I never said, and making it look like it was written later than it was. A trivial task.

Macbeth in the First Folio, 1623.Macbeth 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) as propaganda to make the Stuarts look good… please. Herakles himself couldn’t clean out that stable. I never wanted Mary’s son to succeed Elizabeth, and I wasn’t happy when he did. I had lived a lifetime filled with other hopes, but I was fortune’s fool and all of them came to naught. Wee Jamie convinced himself that God had done the choosing rather than my twisted brother-in-law, and he would sign whatever Robin put in front of him in order to hurry back to his hunting and his, er, other pursuits. [It was often said, although not by me, Rex fuit Elizabeth, nunc est regina Jacobus.]

Here’s some history about the Gunpowder Plot, straight from Parliament itself. Those of you from across the pond can read it to learn what’s up with the bonfires and the Guy Fawkes masks that look like internet hackers.

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.

Scots mercenary soldiers in Germany, 1631.Scots mercenary soldiers in Germany, 1631.