In England, the tragedy of state has offered a means to debate forms of government and the representation of the nation, addressing topics such as the origins of Britain, its division into kingdoms, conflict that erupts into civil war, and the state as a body politic that sickens due to the moral corruption of the court. The tragedy of state exposes the weaknesses of society, yet it also stages the dream of a cure for the nation. William Shakespeare’s Macbeth is in many ways strongly connected to the conventions of the tragedy of state, but this chapter discusses how its interest in the presence of the supernatural leads to a questioning of what is natural or unnatural in the state of Scotland: endangered by both human fallibility and a climate of internal decay, it is caught in a cycle of treason that frustrates efforts at national regeneration.
This chapter pinpoints 27 December 1601 as the date of the first performance
of Twelfth Night – and demonstrates that Shakespeare wrote his play for two
audiences, one at Elizabeth’s Court, the other at the Inns of Court.