Tragic Monarchy: Saul and Macbeth

  • Mary Jo Kietzman


Shakespeare builds Macbeth’s tragedy on the tragedy of Israel’s first king, Saul, who goes mad and visits the witch of Endor. The biblical subtexts of Macbeth enabled Shakespeare to debate James I on favorite scriptural passages. James opens his “Trew Law of Free Monarchies” (1598) with a lengthy reading of I Samuel 8—warning about kings—as an argument for divine right rule. But Samuel is an ambitious cleric and Shakespeare refigured his equivocal prophecy into that which Macbeth receives from witches. For Shakespeare, as for the writer of I Samuel, monarchy is tragic from its inception because it entails the murder of saintly Duncan—a murder which refigures the Israelites’ rejection of God for a king. The corrective to tragic monarchy is a covenantal coalition: Birnan Wood moving toward Dunsinane.


Free Monarchies Divine Right Macbeths Banquo Weird Sisters 
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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mary Jo Kietzman
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Michigan–FlintFlintUSA

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