Little Details

A Fact-Checking Community for Writers

Previous Entry Add to Memories Share Next Entry
What Scottish people think of Shakespeare's Macbeth
verbs or adjectives
lotus0kid wrote in little_details
Setting: Contemporary, a small rural Scottish town.

I've got a non-Scottish character talking to a Scottish character about Shakespeare's Macbeth and I was wondering if there is any kind of general opinion on the play. Is it considered part of the cultural identity, just a story that happens to be set in a place calling itself Scotland, or is it highly offensive and not to be mentioned in polite company? Is it considered all that and more, depending on who's asked and who's asking?

Also, how common is the name Macbeth in Scotland? Are they around every corner, or would people notice if that was someone's name?

The answer from this Scotswoman is that it is just a play. The worst criticism I've heard on it is that whenever an English actor is in the role they always do a bloody awful Scottish accent. And frankly that isn't confined to just Macbeth; I would cheerfully eat my own left kidney to never listen to another bloody awful fake Scottish accent.

How common it is depends where you are. In the North West and Hebrides (and parts of Glasgow), while it isn't common by any means, it is still normal enough not to raise eyebrows. In the rest of Scotland it would draw various degrees of comment, but still not much.

Generally you do Macbeth in English at school so everyone kind of knows it, but there's no real general opinion of it. Recently the government's been pushing the ~read Scottish things!!~ idea, but it's just another Shakespearean play to most people.

Macbeth is a weird name (forename or surname) to me, but I come from the central belt so it probably depends on where exactly your rural Scottish town is!

My mom's from a small town near Aberdeen. None of my relatives have ever commented on Macbeth because, well, there's a lot of Scottish history, and none of them have a thing for literature. Everyone comments more on Robert Burns or William Wallace. After all, William Shakespeare wasn't Scottish, he just wrote a Scottish play. In that area, there are no Macbeths that I met or heard of.

As a NZer I worked with a Macbeth, so at least a few of them emigrated. There was also a set of police procedural/life in small Scottish town books with a protagonist called Hamish Macbeth. It was made into a tv show with a young Robert Carlyle, and the name, from recollection was treated as just another name.

Castle Glamis capitalizes on its association with the play, but the tour guides tell you bluntly that the play's NOT really historical and that the history is very different.

There are 200 people called Macbeth (or MacBeth) in the Scottish phone directory - so not very common, but not unheard off. I'd assume a connection with the poet George MacBeth rather than the Shakespeare play.

Are you basing that on a websearch? 192.com returns 170 Macbeths in Glasgow alone. Their cut-off for "Scotland" is 200, but that's true of Smiths too - all numbers cut off at 200.

(30 in Edinburgh, 23 in Inverness, 19 in Aberdeen, 4 in Stirling...)

I only found 5 in Edinburgh - but it does indicate that the name is midling-common. (It is so much easier to hunt through paper directories for names!) The 1911 Census results for Scotland gives 827 matches. (It's too early for 2011 census data.)

Is a census only done every one hundred years?

It's done every ten years, but the data isn't released publicly for 100 years (when most of the people involved are dead). Hence the last census available on the internet is the 1911 one.

Nobody yet has mentioned that's it's often referred to by something other than it's name as described here on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Scottish_Play . I'm from the middle of England but studied it as part of my GCSE in English Literature so have heard of it. I didn't particularly enjoy it but that's down to me not enjoying Shakespeare in any form. I've never heard of anyone called Macbeth.

The small Scottish town that I stayed in many years ago has a prehistoric fortification on the outskirts that locals said was the site of Macbeth's last stand. Most of the Scots I know are fairly vehement about the play, which they consider completely traduces him; they tell me that he was the rightful king and Duncan (who I gather was younger than him) an usurper, that he had a long and mostly peaceful reign and was secure enough that he was able to make a pilgrimage to Rome and still be king when he got home.

It's a more common surname in some areas than others, but not so unusual anywhere as to cause many comments.

I gather Dorothy Dunnett's "King hereafter" is a lot closer to history, as I'd expect from her.

I had high hopes of it but found it very unsatisfying.

I have a cousin in Scotland who married a Macbeth. She was teased more about the show Hamish Macbeth than the play.

I studied it for my O-grade English - it tends to be done at some point in High School, either for O-grade (now standard grade) or highers. I think a lot of Scottish people would react to it as "oh yeah, I was forced to read that when I was 15..."

The thing about never mentioning the name of the play Macbeth is generally regarded with amusement and something that people who are a little theatrical/upperclass ... quite a few of my friends will think of the scene in Blackadder about it!

It's uncommon enough that someone could notice and someone could get the piss taken a bit because of it, but no major surprise.

Theatrical person here, with a side note, as this was not what OP was referring to about not speaking about it in polite company - as far as the Macbeth "jinx" goes, it only applies when you're actually physically in a theatre or performance venue. You're fine to say the name "Macbeth" or the title anywhere else, but you must refer to it as "The Scottish Play" in a/the site where the play could be performed. Some rebels still call it "Macbeth" even then, but if you're superstitious your only say "the M word" when you're actually performing the play and must call the character by name.

I once worked back stage in a small local theatre, and it was a game amongst stage hands to try and trick visiting thesps into saying the name. We never had any noticeable bad luck, well beyond having to buy a round if you were too obvious about doing it and failed. (if you were really obvious, and succeeded the other backstage guys all bought you a drink...the hangover could be considered bad luck I suppose).

The "only in a theater" bit depends on where you are. I don't allow anyone to say or read the M-word at any point when I'm directing a play XD Had a bad experience with reading the word on my SATs, and then going to paint sets and a girl got her hair stuck in a drill, so I am extra careful.

Interesting historical note - there is a point in it where the future king sees a vision of himself & lots of descendants all being powerful kings, and holding a glass to signify many more... this was blatant brown-nosing on Shakespeare's part as James VI of Scotland, first of England, was a descendant of that king!

The view of my Scottish friends is that the whole play is, and indeed that that was its raison d'être.

That was one of the main things we were taught about it in English Lit (age 13, for me).

We're mostly "Eh" about it for the most part. It's a play. By an Englishman. About not-quite-accurate Scottish Stuff. Story of our life, really. And really, given how many Mac names there are, Macbeth just happens to be slightly more famous because of it, and its unlikely anyone would comment.

As a Scot myself, I have to pretty much agree with everybody else. It's mainly just seen as a play. I've never met any Macbeths either, but maybe it's because of where I live (the North East)?