Macbeth and Hercules: The Hero Bewitched


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

On 27 August 1605, James I was welcomed at the gates of Oxford by three Sibyls who greeted him as the fulfillment of a prophecy made to Banquo long ago and hailed him as King of Scotland, King of England, and King of Ireland.1 Four years later, Macbeth, inspired perhaps by the Oxford playlet, was performed before the King at Hampton Court as en entertainment to please and flatter the monarch. Shakespeare's tragedy also serves to remind an audience of courtiers and commoners that the perils as well as the joys of history are linked to transitory and cyclical patterns of nature. In the course of history, great men rise to power through natural forces, by inheritance of election like James I, and often, like Hercules, they are called upon to make personal choices, whether for good or evil, that will affect generations to come. The witches, like the furies of classical myth, have come to meet with Macbeth, a hero of extraordinary stature like Hercules, and they plan to bewitch him by undermining his deepest moral convictions and bringing about a metamorphosis that will change the course of history.

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