What makes Macbeth a tragedy

Summary of Macbeth

Theater boom and belief in ghosts

Presumably wrote Shakespeare Macbeth under the reign of King James I.who took the English throne in 1603 as the successor to Queen Elizabeth I. mounted. During Elizabeth's more than 40-year reign, England experienced an impressive political and economic boom. It emancipated itself from the Catholic Church, creating an internal political climate of spiritual and religious tolerance. In addition, England replaced Spain as the strongest seafaring nation and became a major European power. The growing material wealth of the bourgeoisie also contributed to national self-confidence. William Shakespeare's London was a modern, urban, lively and intellectually curious city of around 200,000 inhabitants - ideal conditions for a lively public theater culture. The venues became a place of experience for broad sections of the population. There was a real theater boom, accompanied by an artistically fruitful competition between professional actors.

King James I was very interested in the psychic and witchcraft, and even wrote a book himself on the subject. The witches and apparitions in Macbeth reflect the belief in the supernatural, irrational and demonic, which was commonplace and taken for granted in Shakespeare's time. This is rooted in the Christian belief of the time before the Enlightenment, according to which evil manifests itself concretely and devils or demons are real beings. It is not known whether the great playwright himself believed in ghosts. However, it is indisputable Macbeth shaped by the Elizabethan view of the world, settled between the Middle Ages and modern times. According to this, every element in the cosmos has its place assigned by God. There are analogies between microcosm and macrocosm, so that a destruction of order on one level affects the whole system.


The exact date of origin of Macbeth is unknown, but the years 1605 or 1606 are assumed. The first recorded performance took place on April 20, 1611 at the Globe Theater in London. Shakespeare's main source are Raphael HolinshedsChronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland from the year 1577. The historical background of the play is the legendary reign of the Scottish King Macbeth, who was in power from 1040 to 1057 according to Holinshed's chronicle. Shakespeare, however, shortens and condenses this period of time to a few months, which gives his drama character and its tyranny additional intensity. He also reshapes various figures. For example, Banquo is an accomplice in Holinshed's Chronicle, while in Shakespeare he becomes a positive counter-figure.

Impact history

Macbeth is one of Shakespeare's best-known and most-performed plays, and it is often on the curriculum of schools and universities in Anglo-Saxon and German-speaking countries. Shakespeare was the subject of intense discussion in Germany, where he was celebrated as a primal dramatic genius and an exceptional creative phenomenon, especially by the literary movement of Sturm und Drang in the 18th century and by Romanticism in the early 19th century. Interest in Macbeth is attested by the numerous translations of which Christoph Martin Wieland delivered the first in 1762 - but it contains numerous errors. Established in 1800 Friedrich Schiller in Weimar before his adaptation of the tragedy. In this version, Shakespeare's play is streamlined, simplified and strongly moralizing in accordance with Schiller's classicist conception of art. For example, Schiller emphasizes Macbeth's free will in relation to the prophecies of witches. The interest of German intellectuals and writers in Shakespeare in general was reflected in the establishment of the German Shakespeare Society in 1864.

The piece Macbeth became the template for numerous compositions and film adaptations. To mention are about Giuseppe Verdis Opera Macbeth (1865) as well as the tone poem by Richard Strauss (1886), as well as the film adaptations of Orson Welles from 1948 and from Roman Polanski from 1971. The effect that the supernatural and demonic of tragedy has on English actors to this day seems rather curious. In local theater circles it is considered negligent to even mention the title of the play before the premiere - because a puzzling curse then causes broken arms and legs, flu waves and collapses on the stage. The defense spell consists in Macbeth at least only to mention “the Scottish piece” during rehearsals.