by Kim Pederson…….
It’s often difficult to separate reality from fiction. This may be particularly true regarding people and events that receive the “based on a true story” treatment in prose and film. Take Macbeth for example. If you’ve seen a stage production or film rendition of the Shakespeare play (which some stage actors, by the way, only talk of as “the Scottish play” out of superstition), then you know Macbeth was a Scottish general and lord who listened a little too closely to some witches and his wife and his own greed and ambition and so came to a bad end, learning too late not to believe “juggling fiends” that “keep the word of promise to our ear and break it in our hope.”
Shakespeare’s play has been described as presenting a “highly inaccurate picture of [Macbeth’s] reign and his personality.” The story of the real Macbeth, not surprisingly, is not all that dramatic. He did become king upon the death of Duncan on this day (August 14) in 1040, but Duncan died in battle rather than being murdered in his sleep. Macbeth became king of Alba, not Scotland, since Scotland did not exist at the time. He also reigned for seventeen years, not the short time in the play between Duncan’s murder, his wife going mad, and Birnham Wood coming to Dunsinane. Macbeth’s real name was Mac Bethad mac Findlaích. Lady Macbeth’s real name was Gruoch and she had been married previous to becoming Macbeth’s goad and a stain-obsessed housewife. Her son by her first husband was “king of Scots” pre-Macbeth until he died in a fire.
As in the Will S. version, Macbeth was killed by Malcolm, son of Duncan. Malcolm, however, was fighting for the English who were busy invading Scotland in 1057. Finally and perhaps most ironically, Macbeth was not, according to contemporaries, a murderous tyrant. It’s too bad the real Macbeth never got to see himself as the world sees him now. I can’t imagine him being pleased. He might, though, have been a little jealous of Act 5, Scene 5, lines 17-28. I can envision him reading words such as “And all our days have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!,” smiling ruefully, and saying, “Gee. I wish I’d said that.”
All of this makes me wonder how we could come off if someone like Shakespeare had a chance to transform our lives into high drama. In my case, I doubt the story would be a three-hour stage play. It would more likely be a Saturday Night Live sketch featuring a married couple, the bones of a black chihuahua named Taco, a narrow stretch of forlorn dirt behind a rundown garage, and the line “You’re kidding me. This is the place?” And no, I’m not explaining any of this.