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  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: March 2007

‘Two truths are told’: Afterlives and Histories of Macbeths

Summary

Shakespeare’s Macbeth made an immediate impression on his Jacobean contemporaries. Within a year or two of its first performance (late 1605 – early 1606, according to most scholars), one of the play’s key scenes – the appearance of Banquo’s ghost in 4.1 – had already been alluded to in Middleton’s The Puritan, or the Widow of Watling-Street, and parodied in Beaumont’s The Knight of the Burning Pestle, when Jasper enters, ‘his face mealed’ (5.1.4 sd). Thomas Middleton seems to have been involved in making additions to Shakespeare’s text – the songs in 3.5 and 4.1, and possibly more – after 1609. In 1611, Simon Forman recorded details of a performance of the play at the Globe Theatre, including the evidently memorable scene of Banquo’s ghost appearing, in addition to extensive commentary on the witches and their prophecies, and Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene. After the Restoration, Davenant’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth (1673) became highly successful – Pepys recorded attending multiple performances – and inspired its own parody by Thomas Duffet in 1674. A succession of the greatest actors and actresses of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries performed the lead roles. By the twentieth century, Shakespeare’s Macbeth had become the sole origin of what might be called ‘Macbeth-discourse’, the only version of the story known to most readers and audiences; famous lines and scenes from the play had entered the general cultural lexicon as suitable for appropriation by commercial and other interests, and a feature film released in 2000, Scotland, PA, resituated the play to a fast-food restaurant in America.

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Shakespeare Survey
  • Online ISBN: 9781139052764
  • Book DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCOL0521841208
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