Crane’s Foot

Biological Meaning of Descent
  • Jan Klein
  • Naoyuki Takahata


In this famous scene, Macbeth calls on the three witches to learn whether Banquo’s descendants will ever reign in Scotland. To his horror, among the spirits conjured up, that of Banquo appears first, followed by a show of eight kings whom Shakespeare’s contemporaries could identify as the eight Stuart Kings of Scotland, King Robert I and II and King James I-VI. Last in line is James VI, in Shakespeare’s time the King of England and so the playwright’s lord and master, as well as benefactor. The procession is a unique theatrical depiction of a line of descent, a genealogical tableau vivant. Viewing Shakespeare’s play, King James VI must have felt extremely flattered for three reasons. First, for seeing his roots displayed so vividly on the stage. Second, for the playwright’s tact in leaving out Mary, Queen of Scots from the procession, who preceded James VI in Scotland, but for obvious reasons was not popular in England. And third, for closing the show of kings with James VI holding a mirror in his hands in which many more figures are reflected. The kings in the mirror suggest continuation of the dynasty beyond James VI. (The mirror was a neat trick on Shakespeare’s part since he could identify James VI’s predecessors, of course, but not his successors.) Macbeth’s exclamation What, will the line stretch out to th’ crack of doom? even suggested that the line of Stuart successors would be long — a reasonable and accurate prediction, as it turned out.


Primordial Germ Cell Recent Common Ancestor Hereditary Hemochromatosis Nucleotide Pair Much Recent Common Ancestor 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Sources and Further Reading


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Further Reading

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jan Klein
    • 1
  • Naoyuki Takahata
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of ImmunogeneticsMax Planck Institute for BiologyTübingenGermany
  2. 2.Department of Biosystems ScienceThe Graduate University for Advanced StudiesHayama, KanagawaJapan

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