Macbeth and Early Stuart Politics

Shakespeare was a Jacobean for over a decade of his professional life. In his plays written after the accession of James I, the first Stuart king of England, Shakespeare addressed, however obliquely, a range of pressing political concerns, as well as exploring in general terms the proprieties of kingship and challenges to royal power. In this film Professor Paulina Kewes and Dr Joseph Hone discuss the politics of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, in particular its response to the Gunpowder Plot and James’s project for a closer union of England and Scotland.

Key Questions

  • What is the topical resonance of Shakespeare’s treatment of king-killing, treason, and tyranny?
  • How does Macbeth engage with Stuart kingship and the issue of Anglo-Scottish union?
  • In what ways does it channel the anxieties sparked by the Gunpowder Plot?
  • What is the role of the supernatural in the play?

Further Reading

  • David Norbook, ‘Macbeth and the Politics of Historiography’, in Politics of Discourse: The Literature and History of Seventeenth-Century England, ed. Kevin Sharpe and Steven N. Zwicker (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1987), 78-116.
  • James Shapiro, 1606: William Shakespeare and the Year of Lear (Faber, 2015)
  • Malcolm Smuts, ‘Banquo’s Progeny: Hereditary Monarchy, the Stuart Lineage and Macbeth’, in James Dutcher and Ann Lake Prescott, eds., Renaissance Historicisms: Essays in Honor of Arthur F. Kinney (University of Delaware Press, 2008), pp. 225-46.

Unless otherwise noted, images in this film are reproduced by courtesy of the Ashmolean Museum and the Bodleian Libraries at the University of Oxford.

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