How Shakespeare Supports Elizabethan Tradition

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Plays are usually fictional stories, but sometimes they are based on true history. In the play Macbeth, Shakespeare created scenes and lines, alluding to people and society in the Elizabethan era. By discussing roles of royal family, superstitions about witches, and stereotypes of men and women at that era, Shakespeare successfully upheld Elizabethan tradition and status quo.

To begin with, the correct role and responsibilities of royal family in Macbeth accurately uphold Elizabethan tradition. For example, when Malcolm clarified his true aim and tried to persuade Macduff that he had the quality to be the king, he claimed that ‘he’s a virgin’ (Shakespeare IV.iii.). In fact, in the Elizabethan era, Queen Elizabeth was a virgin for all of her life (Macbeth: Historical Background). She was a woman that married her country. She did this in the aim of devoting all of her enthusiasm and energy into regulating and developing her country. Without other distractions, she could pursue policies that cherishes the only purpose of benefitting the country and the citizens. So by making this statement, Malcolm demonstrated his determination and confidence in becoming a good king. He not only ensured Macduff’s loyalty to their country, but also illustrated his own aspiration and quality of spending all his effort in ruling the country in an efficient and beneficial way, which suits responsibilities of royalties in the Elizabethan era. In the contrast, Shakespeare also hinted the tragic fortunes of unqualified kings. Being a king, Macbeth did all for the sake of his own benefits. Comparing with his predecessor, kind king Duncan, Macbeth was cruel and selfish. He killed many kind and just people only to gain and stabilize his crown. In reality, under the rule of James VI, many people envied his position and employed treason, aiming at having the crown. But they were ‘betrayed, tortured, and brutally executed’ (Macbeth: Historical Background). James VI wanted to use this case to warn other potential traitors. As a believer in the orthodox lineage of the crown, Shakespeare advocated James VI’s actions by arranging a bad ending for Macbeth. He failed for his over-confidence and ambition, and was killed and hanged in the same way as Macdonwald’s – the first traitor of the book. Shakespeare demonstrated that if people having royal status cannot fulfill their responsibilities and roles, they cannot enjoy benefits brought by their positions. As a conclusion, Shakespeare supported the Elizabethan tradition by reinforcing the responsibilities of qualified royalties.

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Secondly, Shakespeare also mentioned people’s beliefs in superstition in the Elizabethan era. For instance, right before Macbeth and Banquo met the three witches that started their tragic fate, Macbeth stated that, ‘so fair and foul a day I’ve never seen’ (I.iii.). In the Elizabethan era, balance was a great deal that many people held true belief in. They thought that good and evil things would come out together and then balance each other (Elizabethan Era Superstitions, Beliefs). The three witches’ prophecies aroused Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s ambition and stimulated them to do endless bloody businesses, which would make them evil creatures. By writing about an abnormal fine day along with the evil witches, Shakespeare triumphantly alluded to Elizabethan people’s beliefs in the balance of evil and good. Subsequently, the three witches’ predictions originated Macbeth’s desire for the crown and his eventual death. The witches even had the power to change a person’s fate by their witchcraft. In the Elizabethan era, people strongly believed that witches had supernatural power and they could do all the things they wanted (Elizabethan Era Superstitions, Beliefs). Fear about the unknown witchcraft, people generally link witches to unlucky and unexplainable events. So in Macbeth, meeting the three witches was a turning point that separated his lucky fate and unlucky fate. Also, the boss of the witches were depicted as owning power that could exceed everything. In conclusion, Shakespeare added Elizabethan people’s beliefs in superstition to Macbeth in order to upheld the status quo.

Last but not least, Shakespeare’s portray for stereotypes of gender roles is reasonable considering the status quo in the Elizabethan era. For instance, when Duncan was murdered and all people gathered in the hall, Lady Macbeth came downstairs and asked about the situation. Seeing her, Banquo asked servants to take her away because he thought ‘the kind lady could not even hear about blood and murder’ (II.iii.). In the Elizabethan era, women were thought to be inferior to men (Women in the Elizabethan Era - Lady Macbeth). Physically and mentally weaker than men, women could only cook, help their husbands, and raise children during that time period. In Macbeth, this stereotype was determined in everyone’s heart. Under this condition, everyone believes that women could not be harmful, which reverently provided space for Lady Macbeth to plan and practice her cruel plan of killing the king without being suspected. Similarly, at the beginning of the play, Macbeth was highly respected by the bloody general: ‘ Brave Macbeth!’ (I.ii.). In that era, men were typically thought to contain enough courage to kill the enemies. So in the first chapter, Macbeth showed his capability and courage by killing all the opposing soldiers on his own, especially by killing the evil traitor and hanging his head on the wall of the castle. Men who embraced those stereotyped traits could readily gain appreciation and approval from other people as authentic men. This traditional gender role also intrigued Lady Macbeth’s later question of ‘are you a man?’(IV.) . She thought that her husband, as a brave real man who could kill opponents on the battlefield without hesitating, should not have been showing timidity in front of all of their noble guests, which does not fit Elizabethan people’s expectation for a real man and a real king. As a result, Shakespeare accurately depicted Elizabethan people’s notion of gender roles in Macbeth.

Overall, Shakespeare followed Elizabethan tradition and status quo by talking about responsibilities and roles of royal family, common Elizabethan people’s beliefs in superstitions, and stereotypes of gender roles. Being thoughtful and determined, Shakespeare stated very clearly about whether he advocated or disagreed about a particular concept without being ambiguous.

Work Cited

  1. BBC. (N.D.) Macbeth: Historical Background . Retrieved from:
  2. “Women in the Elizabethan Era - Lady Macbeth.” StudyMode - Premium and Free Essays, Term Papers & Book Notes, 1 July 2012, Retrieved from:
  3. Stargazer, and WordPress. “Elizabethan Era Superstitions, Beliefs -.” Achievements, Contribution, Legacy of Queen Elizabeth I Part1, Retrieved from:
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How Shakespeare Supports Elizabethan Tradition. (2022, Jun 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 16, 2024, from
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