Paul, Henry N. Macbeth
When, why, and how it was written by Shakespeare. New York: Macmillan, 1950.
Thesis: Paul asserts that Macbeth "is a royal play written for performance before King James," and that this is "a fact of the utmost importance to the proper understanding of the play, parts of which take on new meaning when read with this fact in mind" (1).

According to Paul, Shakespeare's desire to please King James can be seen throughout the play, in everything from the subject matter to the use of particular words. For example, Paul believes— actually he's certain—that Shakespeare must have been inspired to write Macbeth on August 27, 1605. On that date, as King James was approaching the city of Oxford, he was entertained with a short dramatic piece in his honor:

The legend related by Holinished told that three women "of elder world" met Banquo as he came to a little glade in the woods. Accordingly an arbor of ivy had been erected at the gate of St. John's. "The scholars stood all on one side of the street, and the strangers of all sorts on the other." As the royal procession approached, the king, who was on horseback, accompanied by the Duke of Lennox carrying the king's sword, stopped at this arbor and three students dressed as sibyls (tres quasi sibyllae) came forth from the arbor and, speaking in turn,  . . . announced that three fate-pronouncing sisters in the olden time foretold to Banquo, Thane of Lochaber, that, though he should not rule, his immortal descendants should rule an endless empire.  (20)
Paul is sure that Shakespeare was among those "strangers of all sorts." As for the reason that Shakespeare must have been in Oxford at that time, that's a matter of Sherlock Holmes-type induction. Shakespeare had a friend in Oxford named John Davenant, who had a son, William, who became a dramatist. Shakespeare was the boy's godfather, and there was persistent gossip that William Davenant was actually William Shakespeare's illegitimate son. Paul refutes the gossip, but makes the point that such a rumor could not have started at all if Shakespeare hadn't been in Oxford nine months before the boy was born. And so the false rumor leads to the truth that Shakespeare was in Oxford when King James came there and saw the little play about Banquo.

Evaluation: Paul presents a lot of very interesting information, but he's very dogmatic; he's quite sure he knows what Shakespeare was feeling and thinking. Also, he's a partisan of King James and sometimes seems to view Shakespeare as little more than King James' spaniel.

Bottom Line: Good, if detective stories are your thing.

   Author: Philip Weller
   Last Modified: 26 June 2003