From 11:00PM PDT on Friday, July 1 until 5:00AM PDT on Saturday, July 2, the Shmoop engineering elves will be making tweaks and improvements to the site. That means Shmoop will be unavailable for use during that time. Thanks for your patience!
We have changed our privacy policy. In addition, we use cookies on our website for various purposes. By continuing on our website, you consent to our use of cookies. You can learn about our practices by reading our privacy policy.
© 2016 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.

Analysis: Setting

Where It All Goes Down

Scotland and England in the 11th Century

(Click the map infographic to download.)

Get your popcorn: the play opens on a foggy heath amidst a terrible thunder storm, so you know you're in for a laugh-riot of a play.

Not. Macbeth is a dark, dreary play with a lot of dark, dreary action taking place under the cover of darkness, whether at Macbeth's first castle, Inverness, or later, at the palace in Dunsinane. Despite these set changes, Macbeth doesn't go into a lot of detail about it's setting—that's why, like a lot of Shakespeare plays, it can be adapted to pretty much any time period the director fancies. Gangsters in Australia? Been there. Soviet era? Done that.

Though the play is kind of set in the 11th century, based on Holinshed's Chronicles, Shakespeare isn't into historical accuracy. (Historical accuracy wouldn't be invented for another two hundred or so years.) So, the play is full of allusions to contemporary, 17th century events, like the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 in Act II, Scene iii (see "Symbols: The Equivocator" for more on that, and to King James I (see "Symbols: Eight Kings" for our take on that.) Plus, the actors would have been dressed in 17th century clothing.

Aye, Lassie

There is one quirk we want to bring up: Macbeth is the only Shakespearean play that's set in Scotland. This likely has something to do with the fact that after Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603, King James VI of Scotland was crowned King James I of England, just a few years before the play was written. Since all plays were performed at the discretion of the monarch, Shakespeare had a major interest in stroking James's ego.

Other than having more "Macs" than an Apple store, though, is there anything peculiarly Scottish about this play?

People who Shmooped this also Shmooped...