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International Letters of Social and Humanistic Sciences
Volume 52


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The Unnoble Nobles: Notes on Shakespeare’s Masterful Characterization in Macbeth

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When writing Macbeth, Shakespeare faced a moral and aesthetic challenge. On the one hand, he had drawn the story of Macbeth from Holinshed's Chronicles, in which Banquo is depicted as an accomplice in the murder of King Duncan. On the other hand Banquo was believed to be the ancestor of King James, Shakespeare’s patron. Shakespeare had to write a play that at once pleased King James, remained true to the spirit of history, and could be a popular hit in the commercial world of Jacobean theatre, all seemingly contradictory ends because of the problem with the character of Banquo. So Shakespeare characterizes him in a different manner from his sources. The new characterization served a number of purposes. The most important reason for the alternation was to please King James, the alleged descendant of Banquo. Other than that, there is the dramatic purpose of creating a foil character for Macbeth, who can highlight Macbeth's characteristics. The presence of a noble Banquo also shows that human being can resist evil, as does Banquo. These points have been emphasized in many writings on Macbeth, which mean that Shakespeare's Banquo is an innocent man, a seemingly deviation from history. The present paper, however, tries to examine Shakespeare's complex characterization of Banquo which must meet those seemingly contradicting ends, a characterization far more ambivalent and artful than simple political affiliations might suggest. It will be shown that Shakespeare's Banquo not only is not simply an innocent man he seems to be at the first reading, but he could be as murderous as Macbeth himself. The only difference between the two is that one acts sooner than the other.


International Letters of Social and Humanistic Sciences (Volume 52)
Z. Ramin and A. Shafinasab, "The Unnoble Nobles: Notes on Shakespeare’s Masterful Characterization in Macbeth", International Letters of Social and Humanistic Sciences, Vol. 52, pp. 132-138, 2015
Online since:
May 2015