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How does Shakespeare adapt the holinshed chronicles to create an entertaining piece of theatre?

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John Thompson Mrs. C. Mates English Coursework June 26th 2008 HOW DOES SHAKESPEARE ADAPT THE HOLINSHED CHRONICLES TO CREATE AN ENTERTAINING PIECE OF THEATRE? The Holinshed Chronicles, first published in 1577, contained factual accounts of the reign of Macbeth, and was used as the source material for Shakespeare's play 'Macbeth'. During this essay, how Shakespeare used, edited and manipulated this information will be analysed. There are several reasons why Macbeth was a good choice for Shakespeare to base a play on. Firstly, Banquo, a character in 'Macbeth', was related to the current King of England and Scotland, James I, so if Shakespeare portrayed Banquo as a good person, his play would gain instant popularity with the royal family. Another reason Shakespeare was drawn to Macbeth was because the factual story of Macbeth included the predictions of three strange women, or witches, and as people in the early 17th century took witchcraft very seriously, it added extra tension for the audience, and once again suited the interests of James I, who had a well known interest in witchcraft. It was typical for Shakespeare's plays to derive from other people's work, for example, 'Macbeth' was taken from the Holinshed Chronicles. Another example of this is the play 'Romeo and Juliet', which was taken from an Italian poem, and turned into a play by Shakespeare. When creating 'Macbeth', Shakespeare's main aims were for his play to be popular with the Royal Family, and therefore popular with the general public, which meant that he would make a lot of money from the production. It was also important that the play wasn't too long, and was easy to perform on stage. Shakespeare included three witches from the beginning of 'Macbeth' to incorporate Macbeth into the central role of the play straight away. According to Holinshed, there were not only witches, but also "certeine wizzards" who prophesied about Macbeth. ...read more.


This has resulted in many productions cutting his scene in England, and Shakespeare changing the location of Macbeth's final battle. According to Holinshed, when Macbeth finds out about Macduff being born by Caesarean section, "Macduff was from his mother's womb untimely ripped." he flees, and is pursued by Macduff. However, in the play, Macbeth and Macduff fight at Dunsinane and Macbeth is ultimately slain. This is an example of how stagecraft was a major hurdle in Shakespeare's productions, and how they were written. Shakespeare based Lady Macbeth on a person from Holinshed, Queen Gruoch of Scotland, however, he strongly exaggerates and changes the character to suit her role in the play. Lady Macbeth plays a key role in the plot of the play from the first time we see her, at the end of Act 1. Without Lady Macbeth, it is very probable that the play's plot wouldn't be able to exist, as it is Lady Macbeth who fuels Macbeth's ambitions throughout the play. She is constantly twisting the thoughts of Macbeth and propelling him to do the awful things that he does throughout. In Lady Macbeth's first appearance, when she hears of the witches predictions she calls on evil spirits to assist her in her plans for Duncan's murder, "Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here and fill me from the crown to the toe topfull of direst cruelty." As the play progresses, we see Lady Macbeth overpower the will and thoughts of Macbeth, for example, when she proposes the murder of Duncan, Macbeth goes back on his word, saying that he wants nothing to do with the murder. At the end of that same scene, however, Lady Macbeth has managed to manipulate his thoughts, and get him to go through with the murder, "I have given suck and know how tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me: I would, while it was smiling in my face, have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums and dashed the brains out, had I so sworn as you have done to this." ...read more.


In reality, Macbeth's reign over Scotland lasted 17 years before he was killed, however, this would have been inappropriate for a play of this length, so Shakespeare had to narrow his reign down to only a few months. This helped the performance, because it made it much more dramatic, creating a better audience response. Settings of the play also had to be narrowed down, due to time, cost and convenience on stage. For example, in reality, there was lots more English involvement, and Shakespeare only covers a very small scene in England. This is because the play is explained well enough without the English scene, so it was un-necessary to add more scenes which weren't needed. After having the chance to study the play from both the book and movie, it's clearer what limitations Shakespeare had. For example, in a film, special effects can be added, and more scenes made available in the production. On stage however, there are more limitations, for example, when Birnam Wood 'moves' towards Dunsinane Castle, effects can be added in a film, but on stage you are limited to basic props and no additional technology. This changes how the audience interprets the story, because you get a better idea of how it was from a movie, with more advanced editing, compared to watching it how it was probably performed originally on stage, In conclusion, there are various ways in which the Holinshed Chronicles are adapted to make an entertaining piece of theatre, but in my opinion there are a few key points. Firstly, I think that 'Macbeth' has been so entertaining and successful, because there was already an interesting plot and opportunity to impress the current king. Secondly, Shakespeare's use of iambic pentameter and prose makes the language of the play very interesting and it is clever how the information in Holinshed is twisted, manipulated and made more dramatic to create a very entertaining piece of theatre. John Thompson John Thompson ...read more.

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