Unequivocal

Fuseli2Macbeth is a Jacobean play, through and through.

It celebrates the accession of James VI & I, and his descent through a true line of  Scottish kings, foreseen to “stretch out to the crack of doom.” In the vision summoned by the witches to appall Macbeth, the distant heirs of Banquo carry “treble scepters”:  emblems of the kingship of England, Ireland, and Scotland.  Elizabeth I did not rule Scotland; her rival Mary, James’s mother did.  He sought the union of his realms.

Macbeth alludes to the policies and slogans of his reign:  Concord, Peace, and Unity.  Malcolm feigningly protests that he would “pour the sweet milk of concord into hell, /Uproar the universal peace, confound / All unity on earth.”It plays to his obsession with witches, the subject of his book Daemonologie (1597). 

witches

And above all, it speaks to a king and country still shivering from a near-apocalypse.  Had it come off, the Gunpowder Plot of November 1605 would have killed not only the King, but most of his succession; his Privy Council; the House of Lords, with the highest  judges of the realm, its prelates, and its aristocracy, along with the members of the House of Commons.  (That quantity of powder would probably have burned much of London to the ground as well.)

A medal struck in 1605 commemorates the king’s escape.  It shows a serpent lurking among lilies and roses, with the legend, Detectus qui latuit (that which was hidden is disclosed).  As Lady Macbeth says to her husband, “Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under’t.”

Among the Gunpowder conspirators was Father Henry Garnet, the Jesuit Superior in England.  Though his part in the conspiracy was passive—he heard of it under the seal of confession and kept silence—he was hanged, drawn, and quartered with the rest.  His trial in March 1606 made “equivocation” a buzzword.  To equivocate—to speak one thing with another “secret meaning reserved in ... mind”—was seen as the quintessence of Jesuitical snakiness.  Shakespeare’s hell-porter made black comedy of it:  “Faith, here’s an equivocator, that could swear in both the scales against either scale; who committed treason enough for God's sake, yet could not equivocate to heaven.”  

An afterthought?  No.  Equivocation permeates the play from its first words:  “Fair is foul and foul is fair...”

The Earl of Oxford died in 1604.  His last, feeble conspiracy, in 1603, was against the accession of James VI to the throne of England. 

Unequivocally, he did not write Macbeth

 

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Comments (17)

  • anon

    And of course, Will, rather ungraciously in my opinion, refused to write any panegyrics for Elizabeth on her death, something no aristocrat could have refused, and promptly changed the name of his troupe to The King's Men.

    Jan 25, 2013
  • anon

    You seem so unequivocal about the dating of Macbeth, concluding that Oxford (1550-1604) was dead before the play was written. However, your readers should be aware that not all Shakespeare scholars agree on the dates of the plays. They include Stratfordian scholars: Edmond Malone, E.K. Chambers, E. Blakemore Evans, Sam Schoenbaum and Harold Bloom. They realize the problems of establishing a firm set of dates: the dates are tentative, riddled with speculation, conjecture and uncertainties. The problems hold true, specifically for Macbeth, and what you use to establish the year Shakespeare wrote it. You cite the Gunpowder Plot as a topical allusion (November, 1605), and what you call the “obsession with witches” as firm evidence that the play had to be written after 1604, Oxford’s death. Both are questionable pieces of evidence.

    First, the Gunpowder Plot . . . true, the doctrine of equivocation was used by Jesuit priests during the trial; however, it was not unique to this trial; Robert Southwell, a Jesuit, on trial for treason in 1595, was accused of using “equivocation.” This was a well-known, high-profile case at the time. Shakespeare’s use of “equivocation” may have come from this case. Incidentally, Shakespeare alludes to “equivocation” in Hamlet, dated by many orthodox scholars to 1600-1601.

    Next, are you really suggesting that Shakespeare wrote the play to commemorate and honor King James? Macbeth “celebrates the accession” of the king? Knowing that King James’s father was murdered and his mother executed, Shakespeare would now write a play about the assassination of Scottish king and think James would enjoy watching a performance?

    And those witches . . . James actually feared them and often worried they might be used by someone to harm him.  An Act of Parliament in 1604 (enacted by the king) legalized the execution of witches. I have a hard time believing someone with a legitimate fear of witches would enjoy watching a thane, spurred on by witches, kill a monarch.

    Jan 30, 2013
  • alfa's picture

    E K Chambers, in his preface to his edition of Macbeth:

    "…the constant reference to James I makes it practically certain that it was produced after his accession in March 1603. The interest taken by this King in witchcraft is notorious; the vision of Macbeth in Act iv, Sc i is a scarcely veiled tribute to one who traced his descent from Banquo; and a passage in sc.3 of the same Act is obviously inspired by the "touching of the king's evil" revived by James and claimed by him as hereditary in his house… [t]he bestowal of Cawdor's honours on Macbeth recalls the dignities of the Stone, formerly held by Gowry, upon Sir David Murray, who had been forward in saving the King's life from the conspirators. This event took place on April 7th 1605…"

    How is E K Chambers at odds with this article? You cannot take a scholar's sensible margin for error in dating Macbeth and turn it into it a licence for wholesale butchery of the dating consensus. There is consensus on the dating of the plays. It can accommodate debate of the kind that we see on Wikipedia

    It absolutely can NOT accommodate a playwright who died in 1604. Nor is there a trace of any support for such an idea in conventional scholarship. EK would be spinning like a propellor in his grave at the idea that his work might be made to support Oxfordian dating theory.

    Jan 30, 2013
  • anon

    Cambridge2 also cites Samuel Schoenbaum and Harold Bloom as questioning the dating of the plays- as with EK Chambers this is simply misleading. So far as I am aware neither specifically tried to date Macbeth (or any other specific play).  Both, Schoenbaum in particular, were strict Stratfordians, Neither would accept a radically unorthodox dating for Macbeth.

    Every scholar of Macbeth, so far as I am aware, believes it was writtten in 1605-6, after the Gunpowder Plot and in the wake of the great change in the direction of Shakespeare's work which began with Hamlet in 1601. 

    Jan 30, 2013
  • anon

    If you read closely, you’ll see that I did not say E.K. (or others) specifically supported dating Macbeth earlier than a post-Gun Powder Plot. I said they were all aware that the dates and order of the plays were tenuous.

    In his 1930 two-volume William Shakespeare, a Study of Facts and Problems, E.K. states, “There is much of conjecture, even as regards the order, and still more as regards the ascription to particular years.”

    `Schoenbaum admits, that “in the absence of firm chronology, one must speculate, and some guesses are better than others” (William Shakespeare, a Compact Documentary Life, 1977).

     

    And Harold Bloom concludes in Shakespeare: the Invention of the Human (1998), “Arranging Shakespeare’s plays in the order of their composition remains a disputable enterprise. This chronology [listed in his book] necessarily tentative, partly follows what is generally taken to be scholarly authority.” Bloom then says that, with some plays, he disagrees with some orthodox scholars as to the order. So there are questions and in light of new evidence, one can entertain possibilities.

     

    To the evidence . . . Let’s say Oxford was not a factor. How do you address the apparent contradictions concerning “equivocation”? Can you state with absolute certainty that Shakespeare was not aware of the reference to “equivocation” from the 1595, high-profile trial of Father Robert Southwell? Even with Oxford in the picture, could he not have written Macbeth between James taking the throne in 1603 and Oxford’s death in 1604?

     

    Furthermore, how do you view the play as a celebration of James or, for that matter, his escape from the Gun Powder Plot? There really are no parallels between the assassination of King Duncan and the attempt on James’s life. Why would Shakespeare include witches when James truly feared them? [ We also have no documented evidence that the play was performed during the reign of King James (its first publication came in the First Folio).]

    Jan 31, 2013
  • alfa-16's picture

    Taking scholarship, especially pre-war scholarship, out of context, as you have been caught doing here, does not move the argument on. It is another attempt to get the five ounce Oxfordian thumb into the balance to assist the featherweight possibilty that one link might be another and therefore cast enough doubt to move the play away from its moorings in the consensus on chronology. There are no plays that remotely resemble Macbeth written in the Elizabethan era.

     

    None.

     

    Shakespeare didn't write any. No one did. Is there really any point in worrying about which of two equivocation trials might be referred to when it is as plain as a pikestaff that we are dealing with a 17C and not a 16C piece of work? Can you find an equivalent reference in 1595 to the link between the witch who condemns a ship called the Tiger to 81 weeks of storms and the ship called the Tiger which limped into Milford Haven after 81 weeks of storms in June 1606? Even if you can, topical references are not what places this play in the mid 16 noughties. They merely add support to the stylistic and content analysis. And Simon Forman describes a performance of the play at The Globe in 1611.

    Jan 31, 2013
  • anon

    I had forgotten to identify in my last post a number of Stratfordian scholars who date Macbeth before 1604: J. Dover Wilson (Macbeth 1947/1960 edition: 1601-1602); Arthur Melville Clark (Murder Under Trust: The Topical Macbeth and Other Jacobean Matters: 1601); and Professor Daniel Amneus (The Mystery of Macbeth: 1599). Clark published his book in 1981 and Amneus in 1983. All post-war.

    I'll respond to your post on the Tiger later today.

    Jan 31, 2013
  • anon

    I might have settled the wretched comment editor by then. It's vomiting Word markup all over the place at the moment.

    Sorry.

    Jan 31, 2013
  • anon

    The Paste from Word button works now adn will reduce the size of things copied from Word by 90% but retain most of the formatting.

    Jan 31, 2013
  • alfa's picture

    Nor many people agree with Dover Wilson on his Macbeth early version theory. Someone else with soap to sell.

    The stylometrists say after Lear and before A&C and you won't get much of an argument from anyone apart from Oxfordians. There's a lot of opinions on the origins of the Scottish Play, but the pendulum will always come to rest in 1606.

    Jan 31, 2013
  • anon

    According to the entry on Macbeth in FE Halliday's A Shakespeare Companion (Penguin 1964), Dover Wilson "suggests that it was written in 1601-2, and performed in Edinburgh, whither Shakespeare had fled after the Essex rebellion." (p. 294) This is a virtually crackpot opinion, even from a well-known mainstream academic. Needless to say, there is no evidence of any kind that Shakespeare ever set foot in Scotland, or that he "fled" there or anywhere else after the Essex rebellion, or that Macbeth was ever performed in Edinburgh in Shakespeare As another poster has noted, the earliest known performance of Macbeth which has been recorded was in May 1611 at the Globe theatre. The play also contains apparent references to the union of the crowns which could not have been written prior to 1603. Every mainstream edition of the play- the Arden, Oxford, Cambridge, and all others- in their  Introductions date the play to 1605-6. When do Oxfordians think it was written?

    Jan 31, 2013
  • alfa-16's picture

    Kenneth Muir in the intro to the Arden edition is pretty categoric about a performance at court in 1606. The evidence seems to be circumstantial.

    Jan 31, 2013
  • anon

    I've had to kill the rich text option to avoid the appearance of the character strings. No italics or other formatting, but at least it's readable.

    Jan 31, 2013
  • anon

    Thanks, Tom.

    It's a problem synchronising filters. I'm trying to get the text all in the same font and size while allowing emphasis and linking and basic formatting to be copied through from Word and bb code from other boards. It might be the weekend before I get a chance to sort it. Till then, most filters are off. And things may get ugly . . . 

    Jan 31, 2013
  • anon

    Sorry for the delay in responding. Life and the Super Bowl got in the way.

    *Alpha, asks, “Can you find an equivalent reference in 1595 to the link between the witch who condemns a ship called the Tiger to 81 weeks of storms and the ship called the Tiger which limped into Milford Haven after 81 weeks of storms in June 1606?”

    No, not in 1595. However, in Hakluyt’s Voyages, published in both 1589 & 1599, Hakluyt includes several letters and journals of a voyage to Aleppo by a ship called the Tiger of London in the year 1583. Shakespeare could very well have read of this account in one of those years. Why reference Aleppo, Syria in the play and not Milford Haven, Wales as you purport (no pun intended)?

     [As you’re probably aware, the Tiger, was a common name for ships during this time period. Shakespeare uses the name in Twelfth Night (5.1.60), a play dated 1599-1600 by many orthodox scholars.]

    As far as the number 9 goes, it’s an important number to witches, symbolizing among other things, success in achieving influences over situations: for example, interrupting the sailor’s voyage to Aleppo. The number of weeks (9 x 9) or almost two years in a storm seems only to emphasize the power of witches.  I’ll go with Occam’s Razor on this one: Shakespeare used Hakluyt’s reference.

    *Alpha states, “. . . topical references are not what places this play in the mid 16 noughties. They merely add support to the stylistic and content analysis. . . . The stylometrists say after Lear and before A&C . . .”

    In “Unequivocal” the argument rests on the topical reference to “equivocation” in 1606 (a reference which, as I’ve pointed out, goes back to at least the mid-1590s) and the celebration of James’s coming to the throne (which IMO defies logic: why would Shakespeare honor or celebrate the accession of James with a play about the assassination of a Scottish king and witchcraft, a source of anxiety for James)? If stylomitrics is so important to the dating of Macbeth, why is it not included in “Unequivocal”?

    Who are some of these stylometrists? Are there articles/books detailing their analysis of Macbeth? I’d like to read about what they say. Thanks for your response thus far.

    Feb 09, 2013
  • alfa's picture

    Occam's Razor is a bit sharp for internet debate. When Tom pointed out that Shakespeare almost certainly didn't use the version of the Bible in which Oxford made his marks, no one jumped up and said 'Proof positive that Shakespeare and Oxford are different people and the marks in Oxford's Bible have nothing to do with the plays'. Yet that would have been a perfectly fair use of Occam's Razor. 

    Occam got the eponymous award the same way Shakespeare got the Sonnet, by being the best practitioner. The razor simply requires that in two competing explanations, the one with the fewest hypotheses be preferred. Plurality must never be posited without necessity.

    I have one hypothesis.

    Hundreds of years of scholarship has correctly dated Macbeth to 1606. My other premises are all subordinate but are supporting features of that one hypothesis. Topical references in my hypothesis are therefore topical. They refer to things in the news, like the return of the Tiger to Milford Haven in June 1606 after 781 days of bad weather, exactly what the witch prescribes. My hypothesis does not depend on proving the link.

    You have a thousand hypotheses in your argument, all unlikely. The unlikeliest is that you are right and everyone else is wrong, which is your starting point. There are literally hundreds of others. Topical references do not exist, for example, in your hypothesis. Any reference anywhere, even in a book that nobody in the audience will have read, written years before will take preference over topicality in your hypothesis. However, you cannot dislodge my hypothesis by finding other possible Tigers and other possible references to equivocation.

    The reason is that I only make these links in support of a coherent dating plan - the Chronology Consensus - for the whole of Shakespeare's oeuvre,  a consensus built on hundreds of years of intensive scholarship by hundreds of thousands of scholars. At any one time there are up to 5,000 Shakespearean DPhil's and PhD's in preparation by people who accept this consensus. So far there has only been one which tries to advocate something which can't be fitted to it to the point where another author is indicated.

    Until Oxfordianism has a coherent dating scheme, it cannot rebut or displace the Chronology Consensus by attacking small matters of detail within it, any more than one might disprove the existence of Queen Victoria by finding other German Princes called Albert for her to be married to.

    And as far as stylometry goes, I'm fairly happy with the results from The Shakespeare Clinic but everyone who has ever written seriously about any individual play will usually try to place it in context, a necessary requirement for comparative analysis. So if you want to study the roots of the Consensus you have hundreds of thousands of critical works on your reading list. 

    Feb 10, 2013
  • alfa-16's picture

    Excellent and rather neat, not to say fatal comment by ConradBrunstrom on Macbeth dating in response to a Guardian article about 'reigniting' the debate. "Elizabeth hated anyone taking the Stuart succession for granted - even though she knew it was probably inevitable. She couldn't bear the idea of courtiers corresponding with Edinburgh, deserting the setting for the rising sun and becoming a lame duck ruler. A play which predicts and celebrates the Stuart succession would have been utterly impossible in Elizabeth's lifetime."

    Jul 10, 2013