Macbeth and Duncan. Holinshed’s Chronicle, 1577. Three woodcuts.

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Shakespeare’s primary history source for his play “The Tragedy of Macbeth” 

with three woodcut illustrations.

Recto:  Text in English printed in two columns in a blackletter font on watermarked laid paper.  Heading “The Historie of Scotlande” and marginal notes printed in a Roman font.  A woodcut illustration depicts a helmeted King Duncan and a second woodcut shows “a sergeant at armes slayne by the rebels”.

Verso:   As Recto, with another woodcut of Makdowald slaying himself after slaying his wife and children.

Printer:  Henry Bynneman, London.

Date: 1577

Content: A section of the text on Recto reads:

“…Makbeth a valiant gentleman, and one that if he had not bene somewhat cruell of nature, might have been thought most worthie the government of a realme.  On the other parte, Duncan was so softe and gentle of nature, that the people wished the inclinations & maners of these two cousines to have bene so tempered…”

Passages on Verso are concerned with Macbeth and Banquo’s battles against the rebels and Macbeth defamed by the ”Island men”.

Condition:  This leaf is in fair antiquarian condition.  The margins have been trimmed with the loss of a few letters of the marginal notes and some of the heading and pagination..  There is age-related surface marking and edge browning  Nevertheless, the text is complete and legible and the woodcuts are sharp and clear. The leaf is unconditionally guaranteed genuine.

Notes:   Shakespeare's primary source for Macbeth was Raphael Holinshed's “Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland”, first published in 1577. The outlines and considerable detail of Shakespeare's story are derived from Holinshed's account of Kings Duncan and Macbeth.

Holinshed was Shakespeare's favourite and most trusted source and he used it for more than a third of his plays, including Macbeth, King Lear, Cymbeline and the English history plays such as Richard III. At times Shakespeare followed the text of the Chronicles closely, at other times using it as an inspiration for plot details or deviating entirely from its account, preferring other sources or his own imagination.

In 1603, James VI of Scotland ascended the English throne, becoming James I of England. The king became a patron of the playwright's acting company. London was alive with an interest in all things Scottish, and Shakespeare turned to Scottish history for material.

He wrote the final version of "The Tragedie of Macbeth" during the spring of 1606. Holinshed’s narrative of witches, prophesy, treason, execution and murder were topics that fascinated King James to the point of obsession. Shakespeare completed the play in time for a special royal performance at Hampton Court that same summer.

A second revised edition of The Chronicles was published in 1587 without the woodcut illustrations.

Size: Leaf: approx. 275x175 mm.

Item No:  PSE098

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