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.

The Birnam Oak, Dunkeld Perthshire

I really like the small town of Dunkeld, there isn’t an awful lot there but all the shops are individual and quirky and the place just has a lovely atmosphere.

There is a scenic old bridge which unfortunately is undergoing some work at the moment so half of it is covered with scaffolding, so no photograph at the moment. However if you cross the bridge from the town and take the Birnam Walk, which is just down the steps at the left hand side of the bridge, and turn to the right at the bottom of them, after about ten minutes you will reach the Birnam Oak.

As you can see, the tree is so old it has been given crutches. It is thought that this is the only remaining tree of the original ancient Birnam Wood which is mentioned in Macbeth.

The bottom three metres is hollow. You can see the gap.

Apparently a company of English players did act at the nearby city of Perth and it is thought that William Shakespeare may have been one of them. It seems plausible to me as something must have given him the idea of writing about Birnam Wood travelling to Dunsinane.

If anything, this sycamore tree looks even older but it is thought to be only about 300 years old. It is wonderfully gnarled, like something out of a scary fairy tale.

Dunkeld is also famous for its links with Beatrix Potter as her family had a holiday home nearby. She got a lot of her ideas from the area and also did some very good paintings of the local flora and fauna which can be seen at the Arts and Conference Centre in nearby Birnam.