in Drama, English Literature, Shakespeare

  • Macbeth is set in Scotland – it’s part of the United Kingdom, but a separate country from England. The country is in the far North, and it is known for dramatic weather and wild landscapes – particularly the moors or ‘blasted heath’ upon which we meet the Witches. The opening of the play begins this way: [Thunder and Lightning. Enter three Witches]. A storm is brewing and they talk of ‘rain’. This creates a dark, dramatic mood that lasts throughout the play, using pathetic fallacy to foreshadow the brutal events that are about to come. 
  • The play is set in the 11th Century (the 1000s). Shakespeare wrote it in 1606, so it is set about 500-600 years before the time of writing. It is in some senses based on historical events; Macbeth was a real king, though Shakespeare alters his behaviour and personality a lot to suit his own story. 

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  • Within the play, there are many changes in the setting. Macbeth moves from his own castle at Inverness to Dunsinane when he becomes king. The Witches are always depicted in wild, implacable landscapes. Pay attention to the different atmosphere of each place, and think about how it reflects the action of the scene: 
Vianden castle in Luxembourg. It is one of the largest fortified castles west of the Rhine. The castle was built in the Romanesque style from the 11th to 14th centuries. Photo by Mike van den Bos on Unsplash

The barren moorland / A desert place  – the opening of the play

A cavern – an unspecified places where the witches meet in Act 4 

Duncan’s army camp at Forres 

Macbeth’s castle at Inverness – in the North of Scotland

Dunsinane Hill – the castle that the Macbeths move into once Macbeth is king England

Macduff’s castle at Fife – where Lady Macduff and their son are killed 

Birnam Wood – the forest that Malcolm’s soldiers cut down as they march towards Dunsinane

  • In Shakespeare’s time, there were no settings onstage – so audiences had to imagine castles and backdrops themselves.
  • Most of the scenes take place either in darkness at night, or in a foggy atmosphere. How do these two atmospheric conditions contribute to the mood and overall feeling of the play? 

Thanks for reading! If you’re stuck on Macbeth and need more help, you can access our complete Macbeth course here.

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