Macbeth was a real Scottish king, succeeding Duncan I in 1040 after defeating him in battle. But Shakespeare’s thought-provoking tragedy, one of the greatest stories in all English literature, is almost entirely fiction.
JUST before Edward the Confessor came to the English throne, two Scottish generals, Macbeth and Banquo, saved the throne of their king Duncan by repulsing a Danish invasion.*
On their way home, three witches accosted them. They told Macbeth that he would one day be a king, and Banquo that he would be a father of kings.
Macbeth wrote half-jokingly of it to his wife, but when she learned that Duncan was to visit Macbeth’s castle, she gave her husband no peace until he had agreed to help the prophecy come true.
It was quickly done: Macbeth stabbed Duncan as he slept. Duncan’s son Malcolm fled to England, fearing for his life, and Macbeth, the popular general, was crowned instead.
But the prophecy concerning Banquo, the ‘father of kings’, haunted Macbeth.
He hired men to murder Banquo and his son, but the boy escaped; and after Banquo’s bloodied ghost appeared accusingly at the new King’s table, Macbeth turned to the witches for counsel.
* Edward came to the English throne on 8th June, 1042. His predecessor was Harthacnut, a son of Cnut (Canute) the Great, a Danish king; Edward was followed on the throne by Harold Godwinson in 1066.