The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.2852 (R)  Monday, 17 December 2001

From:           Judy Lewis <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thursday, 13 Dec 2001 20:24:07 +1300
Subject: 12.2812 Re: Hermia
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2812 Re: Hermia

Graham Bradshaw wrote,

> But it does seem (to me) likely that
> Shakespeare understood that Duncan was behaving in an unconstitutional,
> or even tyrannical, fashion when he made his own son Prince of
> Cumberland. Macbeth, who is not an idiot, is staggered by this,
> precisely because the Scottish system was not based on primogeniture but
> (think of Chairmen in English departments, if you will) on rotation
> among the qualified. Rosse promises Macbeth that his new title is merely
> "an earnest of a greater Honour"--which doesn't materialise. Editors
> have always been strangely silent on this point.

I totally agree with Graham Bradshaw in his interpretation of Duncan's
naming Malcolm as his heir.  It was unconstitutional in Scotland at that
time; historically, in fact, Malcolm, who was brought up at the English
Court and married a daughter of the English king (his second wife)
introduced primogeniture into Scotland as the principle of inheritance.
(It is also interesting to note that he alone of the ancient kings of
Scotland was not buried on Iona, unlike Duncan, Macbeth and Lulach,
which suggests that the Scots didn't like him much.  Maybe they saw him
as the puppet of the English king that he undoubtedly was.)  But there
are many clues in the text that suggest that this was not appropriate
behaviour for Duncan at this time.

But the real spur to write this message is a plea that we stop trying to
read Shakespeare's play as history.  It is not history, any more than
Julius Caesar or Richard III are - it is a tragedy.  It doesn't matter
whether he knew how the inheritance worked because that is not the

Judy Lewis

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