On this page, we give you background information about Shakespeare’s Macbeth, including the historical context of the play.
- The genre of Macbeth: drama
- The historical context of Macbeth: the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras
- Theater in Shakespeare’s day
- Macbeth as a comment on society: King James I
The genre of Macbeth: drama
William Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a drama, or play. This is relevant to your analysis in several ways. Firstly, a play has no narrator. This means that we do not have access to the characters’ thoughts and feelings. Instead, we must analyze the characters and their motives based on what they say (their dialogue) and what they do (their actions). For example, when Macbeth starts seeing a floating dagger, it tells us something about his mental state.
Secondly, you should remember that when a play is staged, its interpretation relies on the decisions of the director and actors (and not just the text itself). So if you are working with stage versions of Macbeth, this is important. This study guide, however, only focuses on the play as a text. This is typically the way we work in English class: text-based.
More specifically, Macbeth is also a tragedy. Tragedies follow a central character who goes through struggles caused by fate and a tragic flaw within the character himself that he cannot overcome, making him a tragic hero. These elements can be found in Macbeth, as in other Shakespearean tragedies such as Hamlet.
The genre of tragedy was first invented in Athens in Ancien...