Christopher Ivic
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‘Our downfall Birthdome’
Reimagining nationhood in Macbeth
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This chapter explores Shakespeare's Macbeth, which was composed and performed at the height of Anglo-Scottish union debate and just as the plethora of union tracts and treatises were circulating. Rather than simply reading ‘the Scottish play' in relation to union debate and dialogue, this chapter treats the play as the profound reflection of an English subject of a Scottish monarch, who was, of course, also that playwright’s patron. Macbeth may not be a British play in the manner of King Lear and Cymbeline, but it does revisit and rewrite Shakespeare’s earlier inscriptions of nationhood as voiced in the Elizabethan history plays by situating them within a larger British-Irish geopolitical framework. Rather than abandoning the patriotic and nationalistic voices that punctuate Shakespeare's earlier histories, this King's Men's play seriously scrutinises such voices. The result, I argue, is not a pro- or anti-union play but instead a play that invites its early modern viewers and readers to reassess Britain's intra- and Britain and Ireland's inter-island relations under the rule of a multisceptred monarch.

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