An ASBO for Shakespeare

It’s time for Scottish schools to ditch Shakespeare not because his plays are too difficult for our students but because they are held up as truths of their time when, in fact, he was a bad historian. Shakespeare stretched literary licence to turn fact into fiction. How many Scottish people believe that Scotland’s 11th century king was a real conniving scheming murderer? Most probably and why? Simply because Shakespeare chose to portray him that way. Never mind that he was a successful and popular monarch for 17 years . Never mind that Duncan was seen as the aggressor who stole the throne from Macbeth for a time.
Critics have heaped derision on Braveheart for tampering with historical fact but Shakespeare’s Macbeth is no different. Whether for political advantage or out of ignorance the story relating to King Macbeth of Scotland became corrupted and that distorted myth has become the accepted version of events throughout the world.
Shakespeare is revered as the most talented of Britain’s writers. Well that’s open to discussion. Sometimes a guy gets a lucky break and then it becomes a case of the Emperor’s new clothes. Aficionados point to his ability to reveal human truths – well what about historical truths? It has been written that literature will not survive if Shakespeare’s work is no longer available. Yes, it’s arrogance like that that created the British Empire. Didn’t hold onto it, though.
The time has come for Scottish education to slap an ASBO on the bard and his bogus histories. We owe it to our young people.

2 Responses to “An ASBO for Shakespeare”

  1. “Critics have heaped derision on Braveheart for tampering with historical fact but Shakespeare’s Macbeth is no different. Whether for political advantage or out of ignorance the story relating to King Macbeth of Scotland became corrupted and that distorted myth has become the accepted version of events throughout the world.”

    I think it was a mixture of political advantage and ignorance.

    Shakespeare was a great toady. By the time he wrote Macbeth, he was in fact a government employee, the head of the then equivelant of the British Board of Censors. Shakespeare had toadied up to Queen Elizabeth, but by the time he wrote Macbeth there was a new ruler for him to toady up to, King James the Sixth of Scotland and the First of England. Shakespeare noted several things about King James.
    (1) he was Scottish
    (2) despite being Scottish, James had a deep distrust of his Celtic subjects. James exulted that, as King of Great Britain and commander-in-chief of the British Navy, he was the first Scottish king to be able to establish firm rule over ALL of Scotland. James actually went with a fleet of the British Navy on a circumnavigation of his realm, stopping off at each Hebridean island to take the oldest son of the local chief off to London as his “guest”/hostage. So, a Scottish king coming to power with the help of English forces (as happens in the latter part of “Macbeth”) was fine as far as James was concerned.
    (3) James was obsessed with proving that he was the “rightful” king, from way, way, back. One problem with this was that his ancestor was a minor Breton mercenary called Walter Fitz-Alain who had come over from France with William the Conqueror. The Fitz-Alains settled first in England, and only in later generations moved to Scotland. Then one of the FitzAllans was appointed to the post of High Steward of Scotland. This post became hereditary and the FitzAllans adopted the name “Stewart”, or “Stuart”. Then later still one of them married into a Scottish royal family.
    (4) Fortunately for James and for Shakespeare, some sycophantic fraudster up in Aberdeenshire had written a pamphlet coming up with an alternative (and completely fictitious) ancestry for James. This Aberdeenshire fraud claimed King James was descended from a (non-existent) ancestor called “Banquo” who would have been alive around the time of MacBeth.
    (5) Shakespeare had the bright idea of incorporating this entirely fictitious ancestor of the king in his play. But he made Banquo a ghost, speaking portentous lines of prophecy.
    (6) Shakespeare also knew King James was utterly obsessed with witchcraft. Under James, witchcraft trials had been introduced in Scotland. What’s more, James was widely regarded as an “expert” on witchcraft. King James wrote a book, entitled the Malleus Malificorum, about the threat of witchcraft, a book which was distributed all over Europe, and which led to witch-hunts in many European countries. So Shakespeare put the three witches in Macbeth. He made them scary, and he made them prophecy both the rise and the eventual downfall of Macbeth. Plus of course the eventual rise of the Stuarts (yes, that’s in there too). That was fine by James, whose royal line came much later.

    So yes, I would say a large dollop of political toadying by Shakespeare, combined with downright ignorance.

    The usual justification for the play is “well, it may be crap history, but it is great literature”.

    But even considered just as literature it should carry a very big health warning.

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