(It is best to read ‘Macbeth’ Decoded. Part One first).
The Shakespeare Code is of the firm opinion that William Shakespeare (in collaboration with Thomas Nashe) wrote The Tragedy of Macbeth in Edinburgh in 1599.
His intention was to persuade King James VI of Scotland….
….to invade England and seize the throne from Queen Elizabeth…..
Shakespeare had been commissioned by ‘The Gang of Four’ – the Earls of Southampton and Essex, Penelope Rich and her lover Lord Mountjoy.
All of them had been terrified by the house-arrest of Essex on his return from Ireland..
And all of them had been communicating with James, in code, for a year or so…
Penelope (codename ‘Rialta’) had even sent him a miniature of herself…
James’s code name was ‘Victor’…
Victor over Elizabeth….
Shakespeare and Nashe would have received a warm welcome from King James. He loved English actors and had asked Elizabeth to send a troupe to Scotland in 1590 to celebrate his return with his teenage, Danish bride, Anne….
He requested actors again in 1594 to celebrate the baptism of his son, Prince Henry. He had envisaged a Court masque in which a lion appeared, pulling a chariot. He had to abandon the plan because it was thought the lion might frighten the ladies of the Court…
Shakespeare, of course, sends all this up in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Snug the joiner tells the women in the audience not to be afraid of the lion in the Pyramus and Thisbe play: it’s only him in a costume…
James had a favourite English actor called Laurence Fletcher who probably played Macbeth. When it was falsely reported Fletcher had been hanged in England, James threatened to hang Elizabeth’s agent in Scotland in retaliation.
Also, James, unlike Elizabeth, was gay-friendly…
He had suffered an appalling childhood. He was parted from his mother, Mary Queen of Scots, as a toddler….
…..then fed milk mixed with alcohol by his drunken nurse and whipped black and blue by his sadistic, Calvinist tutor, George Buchanan…
James didn’t learn to walk till the age of five because, as King of Scotland, he was carried everywhere by flunkies.
But, as a teenager….
……he found love.
The 37 year old Catholic French aristocrat, Esmé Stuart, handsome and cultivated….
…… whisked the lonely, young King off his feet.
James created him Earl, then Duke, of Lennox and would openly kiss and embrace him.
In defiance of his tutor, Buchanan (who thought that bad Kings should be kicked out) James adopted Lennox’s French belief that the monarch’s power was absolute.
Lennox also introduced James to Catholics and Jesuits in France and Spain. This led many to suspect that James, who claimed to be a Protestant, was in reality a closet Papist. He had, after all, been baptized a Catholic by his mother….
She had, however, forbidden the old unhygienic practice of the priest’s spitting down the baby’s thoat…
The Protestants, fearing the power of Lennox over the King, put James under house arrest at Ruthven Castle. Lennox was forced to flee from Scotland and died, the following year, back in his native France.
His embalmed heart was sent back to James who, still incarcerated, wrote the poem Ane Metaphorical Invention of a Tragedy called Phoenix about his love for the French aristocrat…
James in the poem compares Lennox to a lovely bird that has winged its way from Arabia to Scotland to be tamed and loved by the King. Unfortunately the other birds become jealous of the Phoenix and attack it. James defends it until he drips with blood and eventually the Phoenix flies away, to die in a foreign land…
This poem was later to inspire Shakespeare’s poem The Phoenix and the Turtle about Shakespeare’s love for another, exotic aristocrat, the Earl of Southampton…
Lennox was the first of many male lovers of James. An English envoy observed in 1588…
[James] gives to everyone that asks, even to vain youths and proud fools, the very lands of his crown or whatever falls, leaving himself nought to maintain his small, unkingly household…’
And in 1589 described James as…
too much carried by young men that lie in his chamber and are his minions’.
James also surrounded himself with artists and musicians, known as the Castalian Band….
No wonder gay poet Christopher Marlowe wanted to emigrate to Scotland!
But James did enjoy the occasional heterosexual fling…
And he did father three surviving children….
The arrival of Shakespeare and the actors in 1599 helped James in his power struggle with the Presbyterian church.
As William Guthrie of Brechin wrote in 1767…
[Shakespeare’s] drama, which finds access at this day, to the most insensible hearts, had no charms in the eyes of the Presbyterian clergy. They threatened excommunication and church censures to all who attended the playhouse [so] many forbore to attend the theatrical exhibitions. James considered the insolent interposition of the clergy as a fresh attack upon his prerogative, and ordered those who had been most active in it to retract their menaces; which they unwillingly did: and we are told that the playhouse was then greatly crowded.’
James would have been delighted with his victory and would have paid close attention to Shakespeare’s new play, Macbeth….
He would have known it was another coded message from The Gang of Four…
The Gang thought there was a good chance James would go along with their invasion plan because….
1. It would be an official ‘revenge’ for Queen Elizabeth’s execution of his mother, Mary Queen of Scots, in 1587. At the time the Scottish Parliament had dropped to its collective knees to beg James to avenge the English ‘Jezebel’s’ insult to the Scottish nation…
(James had been secretly delighted by the beheading of his mother. She would always have been a threat to his kingship and had planned to have her son kidnapped and sent to Rome).
2. An invasion would fulfil Queen Mary’s hopes that her son would be the first person to unite England and Scotland. At the time of the Armada victory, James had started to write about ‘The Isle’ rather than England and Scotland.
Queen Mary had also hoped James would bring a united Britain back to Rome.
3. An invasion would allow James to escape the dour Calvinism of John Knox’s Scotland and make ‘Merrie’ (and sexually lax) England his home.
4. An invasion would stop Isabella of Spain becoming Queen of England when Elizabeth died. France and Spain had made a sinister peace in 1598…
5. An invasion would also allow James to assassinate Elizabeth – something he was rumoured to have attempted twice before, once in the previous year.
But The Gang also feared James might reject the plan because…
1. He was a coward. He would faint if anyone drew a sword from its sheath and advised his son to wear light armour in battle so he could run away.
This fear may have originated in the womb. Three months before his birth, his mother Mary, with a gun pointed at her chest, had witnessed the frenzied stabbing (fifty-three times) of her Italian ‘secretary’, David Rizzio….
2. James believed, as a result of his affair with Lennox, in the Divine Right of Kings. Even a ‘tyrant’ like Elizabeth might be fulfilling some plan of God….
3. James had blood-ties, through King Henry VII, with Queen Elizabeth which made killing her a problem. She was ‘family’.
4. James believed that the English despised the Scots and despised him in particular. In 1596 his agent wrote a letter to Queen Elizabeth complaining that actors were mocking James – and the Scottish people – on the London stage.
The English and the Scots had been enemies for centuries.
Some think they still are…
So Shakespeare (and The Gang’s) aim was to demonstrate to James that it was GOD’S PLAN that he should:
1. Reign over both England and Scotland.
2. Unite the Protestant Church with the Catholic Church.
3. Replace Queen Elizabeth.
4. Kill her, if necessary, and…
5. Turn Scotland and England into allies.
James believed, along with many of his contemporaries, that time was cyclical.
As he wrote to his son, Prince Henry, in Basilkion Doron, in 1597….
By reading of authentic histories and chronicles, you shall learn experience by theoric, applying the by-past things to the present estate, quia nihil nunc dici aut fieri, quod non dictum and factum fit prius: [since nothing is spoken or done which has not been spoken or done before] such is the continued volubility of things earthly, according to the roundness of the world, and volubility of the heavenly circles, which is expressed in the wheels in Ezekiel’s vision, and counterfeited by the poets in rota fortunae [the wheel of fortune]…’
So, by writing about the past, Shakespeare was commenting directly on the present.
Also, by writing about Banquo , Shakespeare was commenting directly on James.
Banquo, though never a King himself, had fathered the Stuart line….
As we shall see when we examine Macbeth itself…
(It’s best to read ‘Macbeth’ Decoded. Part Three now.)