William Shakespeare was born at Stratford on Avon in April 1564.
His father was a yeoman and William was the eldest son.
He married Anne Hathaway when he was only eighteen and she was twenty-six and pregnant with their daughter.
Before being a playwright he was an actor:
In 1593 the London theatre were closed because of the plague and Shakespeare needed the support of a private patron. When the theatres reopened, Shakespeare became the playwright of the most successuful company of actors in London, the Chamberlin's men. In 1599 his company built the Globe Theatre.
He died when he was fifty-two and buried in the local church.
Dating the plays
Only half of Shakespeare's plays were printed during his lifetime so dating them is not easy. Therefore they must be dated combining three kinds of evidence:
2. The internal evidence: it's when the play itself includes a reference to an identifcable event.
3. The stylistic evidence: this method is the most difficult. The changes of Shakespeare's style are so noticeable that a play can be placed in a precise period of its revolution.
By a combination of the three methods most plays can be placed in the order of their writing.
The most evident feature is the variety of interpretation they allow.
His language is so compact and full of meaning, so flexible and so expressive and a text often requires complex literary analysis.
He doesn't take his characters from one social class only. There is always a man of royal or aristocratic blood, a king, a prince, a duke or a nobleman. From the King or duke the list descends to nurses, rustics and servants. The lower classes are often designated in groups because the emphasis is on the aristocracy.
Another important feature is the importance of family ties. These relationships are often in contrasting forms (suggesting conflict between the older and younger generations).
Finally there are symmetrical correspondences: three lords and three ladies, two lovers, two princes, two brothers.
At the beginning, or during a scene, there were stage directions that were added by editors. They are ofthen given indirectly, hidden in a question or a metaphor.
He doesn't give great significance to the division between the acts. In his play a scene is over when all the characters have left the stage.
Date and sources
Shakespeare's source for Macbeth was Ralph Holinshed.
Macbeth was a Scottish king who had killed Duncan in order to get to the throne and then Malcolm, Duncan's son, killed him. In the Chronicles Duncan was presented as a weak king and Macbeth as a successful monarch.
The play opens with the news that Norwegians' invasion, helped by the Thane of Cawdor (a traitor) has failed thanks to Macbeth's courage. While returning from the battle, Macbeth and his friend Banquo meet 3 witches who say that he will become king of Scotland and they also promise Banquo that a line of kings will come from him. Their prophecy begins to work on Macbeth ambition. He invites the king to his castle and writes a letter to his wife to inform her and she carries out a plan to kill Duncan.
Duncan died and the blame is put on the king's servants who slept outside the room. The king's sons leave Macbeth's castle fearing for their lives. Macbeth is now on the throne but Macduff and Banquo suspect him.
Macbeth doesn't feel safe because the prophecy is for the throne to fall to the Banquo's heirs.
So he decides to kill Banquo and his son, Fleance, but Fleance escapes and Banquo's ghost haunts Macbeth.
The three witches warn Macbeth to beware of Macduff: this will lead to the murder of Macduff's wife and children. The witches also predict that he will be safe as long as Birnam Wood doesn't move towards him and that “ none of woman born shall harm him”
This act opens with Lady Macbeth's madness: she walks in her sleep trying to wash away Duncan's blood from her hands. In the meantime Malcolm is marching into Scotland with his army and they cut branches from the trees of Birnam Wood to advance on Dunsinane castle hidden behind the leaves.
Macbeth is alone because all the Lords have allied with Malcolm who represent order and stability.
The play ends with Macduff carrying Macbeth's head and proclaiming Malcolm king of Scotland.
Macbeth is the shortest of Shakespeare's tragedies
It is simple and direct in its plot but complex in its psychological analysis.
There is n villain pitted against the hero: Macbeth is both, he begins as a heroic warrior and he becomes a murder
The terms “blood”, “bloody”, “to bleed” are the most frequently used words in the play
the reversal of values “fair is foul and foul is fair” , introduced by the three witches, represents the aspect of equivocation.
Close of the theme of equivocation there is the false appearances. Shakespeare explores the difference between what is true and what only seems to be true. This theme find expression through metaphors connecting with clothing.
Another important theme is the “time”.
Macbeth is a tragic hero
Macbeth can be regarded as a tragic hero.
At the beginning of the play he is a member of a social group, at the end of the play he is totally alone because of his ambition and decisions.
In Macbeth there is a striking use of imagery.
Duncan is the symbol of social harmony, order, justice and honesty so his death is followed by “exceptional natural events””. On the night of the murder the earth trembles. After the murder the sky is troubled, darkness covers the earth during the day.
Darkness characterises the whole play, the sun shines only twice.