Thursday, 15 August 2013

"I will not yield to kiss the ground before young Malcolm's feet, to be baited by a rabble's curse."

Mac Bethad mac Findlaích (Modern Gaelic: MacBheatha mac Fhionnlaigh, anglicised as Macbeth, and nicknamed Rí Deircc, "the Red King"; died 15 August 1057) was King of the Scots (also known as the King of Alba, and earlier as King of Moray and King of Fortriu) from 1040 until his death. He is best known as the subject of William Shakespeare's tragedy Macbeth and the many works it has inspired, although the play presents a highly inaccurate picture of his reign and personality.

In 1052, Macbeth was involved indirectly in the strife in the Kingdom of England between Godwin, Earl of Wessex and Edward the Confessor when he received a number of Norman exiles from England in his court, perhaps becoming the first king of Scots to introduce feudalism to Scotland. In 1054, Edward's Earl of Northumbria, Siward, led a very large invasion of Scotland. The campaign led to a bloody battle in which the Annals of Ulster report 3,000 Scots and 1,500 English dead, which can be taken as meaning very many on both sides, and one of Siward's sons and a son-in-law were among the dead. The result of the invasion was that one Máel Coluim, "son of the king of the Cumbrians" (not to be confused with Máel Coluim mac Donnchada, the future Malcolm III of Scotland) was restored to his throne, i.e., as ruler of the kingdom of Strathclyde.

 It may be that the events of 1054 are responsible for the idea, which appears in Shakespeare's play, that Malcolm III was put in power by the English.Macbeth did not survive the English invasion, for he was defeated and mortally wounded or killed by the future  Malcolm III ("King Malcolm Ceann-mor", son of Duncan I) on the north side of the Mounth in 1057. The Prophecy of Berchán has it that he was wounded and died at Scone, sixty miles to the south, some days later. Macbeth's stepson Lulach mac Gille Coemgáin was installed as king soon after.

Unlike later writers, no near contemporary source remarks on Macbeth as a tyrant. The Duan Albanach, which survives in a form dating to the reign of Malcolm III, calls him "Mac Bethad the renowned". The Prophecy of Berchán, a verse history which purports to be a prophecy, describes him as "the generous king of Fortriu", and says:
"The red, tall, golden-haired one, he will be pleasant to me among them; Scotland will be brimful west and east during the reign of the furious red one."

In Shakespeare's play, which is based mainly upon Raphael Holinshed's account, Macbeth is initially a valorous and loyal general to the elderly King Duncan, but is corrupted by narcissism and ambition. After being flattered by Three Witches and his own wife, Macbeth rationalizes that murdering his king and usurping the throne is the right thing to do. Ultimately, however, the propehicies of the witches prove misleading, Macbeth alienates the nobility of Scotland, and is defeated in battle by Prince Malcolm. As the King's armies disintegrate, he encounters MacDuff, a refugee nobleman whose wife and children had earlier been murdered by Macbeth's death squads. Upon realizing that he will die if he fights MacDuff, Macbeth at first refuses to do so. But when MacDuff explains that if he surrenders he will be subjected to ridicule by his former subjects, Macbeth vows, "I will not yield to kiss the ground before young Malcolm's feet, to be baited by a rabble's curse." He chooses instead to fight MacDuff to the death. Macbeth is then slain and beheaded and the play ends with Prince Malcolm planning his coronation at Scone.

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