By Gugulethu Nyoni
Many learners in the fields of arts and humanitarians have to deal with Shakespeare works at one point or the other.
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The ability to discern the import of the literature by this legend is in itself a school of critical analysis. Shakespeare works fall into different genres which mainly include plays, poetry and prose.
In order to explore the works of Shakespeare appropriately we have to place the works of this Playwright in the proper place, time and social and philosophical setting. In this piece we will explore some of the key historical aspects critical in exploring Shakespeare's play "Macbeth".
The social milieu within which the play “Macbeth” is written was characterized by the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1 and King James 1. Just like the other plays that the playwright wrote for the Queen such as the Midsummer Night’s Dream which articulate the themes of love, happiness and confidence as well as optimism in a bid to reflect the mood of the Queen. Plays written by Shakespeare during the reigns of King James take a somber and cynical slant as they were woven to reflect insecurities of the King.
Part of the historical milieu shaping Shakespeare's work Macbeth is that Queen Elizabeth died in 1603 after which the throne was then taken by James VI of Scotland to become the first King James of Britain.
King James stood out for his protestant beliefs yet he was not the popular choice with the largely pro-catholic populace. The fact that he was not a direct descendant of Elizabeth caused the king to fear that divisions would form around his rulership. At that time the Catholics had high expectations that the king would uphold Catholicism but when this did not happen conspiracies against the King began to emerge.
One of the famous conspiracies was the Gunpowder Plot. This involved a man known as Guy Fawkes who worked with his followers in an attempt to blow up the King and his parliament. This attempt to assassinate the king failed and all the plotters were executed. Doing a thematic analysis of the play “Macbeth” should recognize that the play was written a year after the gunpowder plot.
One of the key philosophies informing the works of Shakespeare is the religious ideology that was held by many in the Elizabethan age that beings existed in form of a well-defined hierarchy of being. The belief held that beings have their place in the order of existence or chain of being from inanimate objects such as rocks through animals right up to human beings and then God ultimately.
The Elizabethans considered it a great sin for any person to attempt to distort the order of being as defined by the ultimate creator. Analyses of Shakespeare works such as Macbeth requires the factoring in of these historical and philosophical aspects that shaped the context in which Macbeth and many other works by Shakespeare were born.