Macbeth A True Story by Fiona Watson

I saw this book at my library and as I only knew Macbeth via Shakespeare I thought it would be interesting to find out about the real story. I enjoyed the book but I do have one wee gripe about it and that is that Macbeth doesn’t make an appearance until you are more than half way through the book.

The title of the book is something of a misnomer but I have to admit that it was the title which grabbed my attention. There’s an awful lot of history to read through before you get to Macbeth who reigned from 1040 to 1057. The beginnings of Christianity in Scotland, the Romans, Viking raids and ‘kings’ who murdered each other constantly.

Those so called kings would nowadays be called gangland leaders or warlords, grabbing the top slot by violence and it was only a matter of time before someone else had a go at them.

Macbeth managed to hold onto power for 17 years and was apparently popular but has just about been written out of history because as always, the history is written by the winners and the winners were the Mac Alpins.

Macbeth’s reputation was comprehensively trashed over the centuries and it was a history by Ralph Holinshed of Macbeth which gave Shakespeare the idea for writing his play. So there is no truth in the play at all, but it served its purpose.

Shakespeare had been writing and performing for Elizabeth 1, when the company of actors had been known as The Queen’s Men. On Elizabeth’s death things must have been somewhat disconcerting for them to say the least. They were basically redundant. What was this unknown quantity King James VI (I of England) going to be like? Would he want a company of actors or not?

So Shakespeare set to buttering the King up and wrote Macbeth as the bad guy because King James was descended from the Mac Alpins who had succeeded to the throne after Macbeth. It worked, and it wasn’t long before Shakespeare’s company became The King’s Men.

There were times when ‘ma heid wis fairly birlin’ whilst reading this book, because there were so many kings and murders and strange names, and it seemed a very long time before Macbeth’s story was told, but I did enjoy it.

If you are interested in Shakespeare you might like to read this article In Search of Shakespeare’s Dark Lady, which appeared in last Saturday’s Guardian review.

6 thoughts on “Macbeth A True Story by Fiona Watson

  1. My introduction to Macbeth was through Dorothy Dunnett’s King Hereafter – which as much as I love it does sometimes leave me with ma heid fairly birlin’. I didn’t read the play til afterwards (I still have so much Shakespeare left to read).

    • Lisa,
      I want to get around to reading more Shakespeare too. I did a lot of Shakespeare at school but not much since then. We read Macbeth in third year of high school if I’m remembering correctly.

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