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Shakespeare: Macbeth

1. Macbeth's Appeal: Then and Now

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In this module, we consider why Macbeth was so popular in Shakespeare's time, and why it remains so popular today. Firstly, it is noted that a great many of the themes of the play are still relevant today: people are still ambitious like Macbeth, and people are still fearful like Macbeth. Other aspects of the play, such as the supernatural, remain captivating despite their unfamiliarity. As well as this, Macbeth is a morally interesting character; he is the hero of the tragedy, yet he is also a criminal - so what to make of him? Finally, we consider the play's engagement with questions of life and death - and a character who is doomed while he is still alive.


This course focuses on Macbeth, looking in particular at several key aspects of the play. In the first module, we focus on the appeal of the play, both when it was first peformed in the early 17th century, and for contemporary audiences. In the second module, we explore the theme of the supernatural in Macbeth, looking at King James' fascination with witches, the character of the witches in the play, and the role of fate and free-will. After that, we look at the role of women in the play, focusing in particular on their position in the patriarchal societies of 11th-Century Scotland and Jacobean England, and thinking about the extent to which the major female characters of the play fit into the patriarchal mould. In the fourth module, we consider the theme of kingship, looking at how Shakespeare adapted his sources to make Macbeth look less legitimate as a ruler, before turning in the final module to thinking about the play in performance, thinking in particular about the various different ways that one might present the play in production.


Stephen Siddall was Head of English at The Leys School in Cambridge for 31 years and has taught Shakespeare courses for university students and for the University of Cambridge International Summer School in Shakespeare. Between 1988 and 2005 he directed 15 Renaissance classic plays for The Arts Theatre, Cambridge and, more recently A Doll's House and Waiting for Godot for the Horseshoe Theatre Company. He has also directed for BBC television and for the (open air) Pendley Shakespeare Festival. For Cambridge University Press he has written a student guide for Macbeth (2002), Shakespeare on Stage (2008) and Landscape and Literature (2009)

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Siddall, S. (2018, August 15). Shakespeare: Macbeth - Macbeth's Appeal: Then and Now [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Siddall, S. "Shakespeare: Macbeth – Macbeth's Appeal: Then and Now." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 15 Aug 2018,

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