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R. Gruen

(Suggested) Research Notes


In the video titled “An Introduction to Macbeth,”, “Flippin’ English” claims that Shakespeare’s  Macbeth is a compliment and concession to King James I for his protection and patronage.

“The play is set in Scotland.  Before ascending the throne in England, James was the king of Scotland.”

“James I had a fascination with witches.”

“James I believed he was descended from Banquo, who is portrayed positively and will father a line of kings.”

“Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, who kill king Duncan, come to a grisly end. When performing for a king, it’s always a good idea to discourage regicide!”

“It was also believed that James I had a short attention span.  Macbeth is Shakespeare’s shortest play.

“James did become Shakespeare’s patron. And ...the group of actors who performed Shakespeare’s plays...changed their name to The King’s Men…”

“The fact that Shakespeare wrote Macbeth for James I explains why the climax of the play isn’t the murder of Duncan…[but] ...climaxes when Banquo is murdered, and Fleance - Banquo’s son - escapes…”.

However, other scholars disagree, stating that Shakespeare wrote Macbeth as a political insult to King James I and his Scottish Heritage.

William Farina claims in De Vere as Shakespeare: An Oxfordian Reading of the Canon:

(Page 189) The oft-repeated view that Macbeth was written as a compliment to King James deserves a closer look:

“There is no record of the play ever being acted at court, and this is in contrast to The Tempest which is known to have been performed at least twice at Whitehall.”

“Portraying one’s countrymen on the public stage with a homicidal lust for power and nihilistic worldview (plus insanity and suicide tossed in for good measure), particularly when both of King James’ parents had been involved in murderous scandals and rumors, does not seem very complimentary.”

Macbeth also contains a clear subliminal message: that the Scots are a violent people, especially Scottish kings.”

Refers to Macbeth as a “backhanded compliment” and possibly a  “slap in the face.”

Martha Cerenza Moreno claims on page 273 in Critical Approaches to Shakespeare: Shakespeare for All Time:

According to two conflicting historical accounts, Banquo may or may not have participated in Macbeth’s plot to murder the king, and in Shakespeare’s play, “Banquo has nothing to do with them.”

“However, many critics have argued that, though Banquo does not participate in the murder, his behaviour is ambiguous since he knows about the prophecies and remains silent.”

In a footnote, Moreno quotes the author of Shakespearean Tragedy: “...[After] Duncan’s murder Banquo ‘is profoundly shocked, full of indignation, and determined to play the part of a brave and honest man.  But he plays no such part. When we see him, on the last day of his life, we find that he has yielded to evil… He alone of the lords knew of the prophecies, but he said nothing of them.”

In his introduction to William Shakespeare's Macbeth: Ignatius Critical Editions, Joseph Pearce claims that Macbeth is exposing a sinister event in King James’ life:”

In 1600, the Gowrie Incident involved Lord Gowrie and his brother Alexander, who allegedly were Cabbalists who plotted and attempted to assassinate the king at the Gowrie estate.  The King’s retinue found James being attacked by Alexander and immediately stabbed him to death and then executed Lord Gowrie.  There was a  prolonged “witch-hunt” and more executions of “guilty” co-conspirators. 

“Although few dared to question the official line of inquiry, many suspected foul play on the king’s part.” (Page 4)

“Two powerful nobles whom the king distrusted and to whom he was eight thousand pounds in debt had been killed, conveniently removing both the nobles and the debt...and...the king’s final Machiavellian coup de grace was the seizure of the Gowrie estate as ‘compensation’.” (pages 4-5)

“In 1604, a playwright affiliated with Shakespeare’s acting troupe, the King’s Men, wrote a play based upon the Gowrie conspiracy.” (p.5)

...The Tragedy of Gowrie, was twice performed before large crowds in December 1604 before being apparently banned by the censors.

The reason for the banning of the play was evident in a contemporary report that hints at James’ discomfort at its being performed…”

“Did the unknown writer...succeed in exposing King James in the same manner in which Hamlet had exposed King Claudius with the staging of The Mousetrap, the play within a play..? (p. 6)

…”[It] is surely reasonable to see a connection between this earlier Scottish play [Tragedy of Gowrie], with which Shakespeare was almost certainly involved...and the other Scottish play [Macbeth], on which Shakespeare began to work on almost immediately afterward. (p. 6)

“If this is so, it is difficult to see the sinister conspiracies unfolding in Macbeth without seeing the shadow of the Gowrie conspiracy looming ominously in the background.” (p. 6)


Identify the play:



General theme: “Unchecked ambition and power can destroy a person and those surrounding him/her.”

 Identify the argument:

Video claim. (See Section I of Research Notes)

Opposing claim (See Section  II of Research Notes)

Identify the purpose of your essay:

Present both sides of the argument with evidence.

Analyze/Evaluate the evidence

You will decide which side has the stronger argument and agree with. (**Don’t tell us your decision just yet--wait for Section III)


      In the Flippin’ English video, “Introduction to Macbeth,” the narrator claims that William Shakespeare wrote the play as a concession to King James I for his protection and patronage.  His reasons are simple stating that Shakespeare targets James' interests in the play. However there are many other scholars who disagree, stating that this play about how unchecked ambition and power can destroy a person and those surrounding him is actually a political insult to James and his Scottish heritage.  both sides of the argument will be presented and the evidence examined. Following that a decision will be made as to who has the stronger argument.

[The paragraph is unedited. There are grammar and punctuation errors!!  You may paraphrase this for your own work, but DO NOT copy me word for word.]


    The video’s claim that Macbeth is written as a compliment is supported by the idea that Shakespeare targets King James’ interests.  First, the playwright sets the play in Scotland, using Scottish history, knowing that the new King of England was also the King of Scotland.  And Along with the historical facts inspiring the play, Shakespeare focuses on one particular character, Banquo, and portrays him in a positive light as a man who would father a line of kings.  It is this family line that King James, himself is a descendant.  Additionally, the play’s climax is actually when Banquo and his son, Fleance, are attack and Banquo is killed.  Instead of focusing on the murder of King Duncan, Shakespeare wants King James to watch in suspense as Banquo dies a righteous man, and his son escapes. What better way to compliment a king than by paying tribute to his great, great, great, great grandfather? 

According to the video, King James also has a fascination with witches and sorcery, which accounts for the three weird sisters.  And according to history, King James had an attention deficit, what we would call ADD today, so Macbeth is Shakespeare’s shortest play of length.  “Flippin’ English” claims that Shakespeare's flattery worked because the King would become their patron and the acting troupe would change their name from Lord Chamberlain’s Men to the King’s Men. Oh, and don’t forget, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth both come to painful bitter deaths as a result for killing a king.  This neatly completes the tragedy and teaches the public that life punishes individuals who commit “regicide.”

[I decided to make BODY SECTION I two paragraphs because of the length of the single paragraph and shift in details from the king’s family ancestry to James personally.]

This should be more than enough to get you started….. Don’t forget:::

BODY Section II. The opposing argument

BODY Section III: YOUR analysis, YOUR opinions, and YOUR choice of which side is correct.  INCLUDE REASONS



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