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On This Day



On This Day… How Historically Accurate Is Shakespeare’s Macbeth?

Written by: George Chittenden : 14 Aug 2019

It was on this day, 14th August, back in 1140 when Duncan was killed by Macbeth’s forces near Elgin in Scotland. To set the scene, the clans had been fighting for years and the Vikings had been raiding Scotland’s coast. King Malcolm, Duncan’s grandfather managed to unite the four Kingdoms of Scotland under one throne in the year 1018.

Michael Fassbender in the 2015 film

Michael Fassbender in the 2015 film

When Malcolm died in 1034, Duncan became King of Scotland, but he wasn’t a great leader. He even led an attack into Northumbria but was forced to retreat into Scotland. Meanwhile further north his cousin began plotting. Macbeth was chief of the northern Scots and had a claim to the throne through his mother.

This portrait of Macbeth was commissioned to decorate the Great Gallery at Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh.

This portrait of Macbeth was commissioned to decorate the Great Gallery at Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh.

Forming an alliance with his cousin the Earl of Orkney, Macbeth and his men defeated and killed Duncan near Elgin on this day in 1040. Claiming the throne for himself, Macbeth was a relatively successful King and ruled for seventeen years before he was finally defeated by Duncan’s son and was killed at the Battle of Lumphanan in 1057.

So how does Shakespeare’s version differ? Well in the bards play he sets the battle between Duncan and MacBeth in 1040 at Birnam Hill in Perthshire, rather than near Elgin where it actually took place. The timeline is much shorter too, as in the play the action takes place over a year, but in reality MacBeth ruled for seventeen years.

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