Shakespeare Play Macbeth Showing All the Characteristics of Angle Saxon Period Term Paper

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Macbeth Showing all the Characteristics of the Anglo-Saxon Period

Anglo-Saxon Culture in Macbeth

The tragedy of Macbeth took place in Scotland at the end of the medieval period of Europe. It was based on real accounts of a Scottish Thane who murdered his Lord. William Shakespeare was known for his poetic language, which helped framed the dramatic and tragic story of Macbeth, (Nostbakken 14). By highlighting elements of the Anglo-Saxon culture which existed in that area and later influenced future generations, Shakespeare creates a world torn by war and ruled by fate. Several aspects of Anglo-Saxon culture are prevalent in the tragedy, including religious implications, the unique interpretation of the idea of faith, and the social customs which ruled over the people of early Britain after the departure of the Romans from the area. These elements help frame the tragic story of a man who rejected the normal behavior allotted to his status and let his ambition ruin an entire nation.

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As the Roman Empire began to crumble, the Romans deserted the British Isles in the fifth century a.D. After Roman rule ended, local tribal squabbles erupted in the effort to seize control of the region. In this power struggle, Nordic tribes from Scandinavia such as the Anglos, the Saxons, and the Jutes invaded the British mainland. They brought new religious beliefs to a land already inhabited by both Roman Christians and Celtics. Roman mythology was still an influence, although it was least prevalent, "Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood / Clean from my hand?" (Macbeth III.2.63-64). The tribes eventually united in defense against Viking invaders, which led to the formation of the culture of the Anglo-Saxons as we know it today. This Anglo-Saxon culture had a very defined social structure, which Shakespeare used as a backdrop for his tragic play.

Term Paper on Shakespeare Play Macbeth Showing All the Characteristics of Angle Saxon Period Assignment

Kings, or Lords, were at the top of the power hierarchy in Anglo-Saxon social construction. They were the ultimate leaders of the Anglo-Saxon community. Kings were expected to embody virtues such as honor and courage, much unlike the deceitful Macbeth. A prime example of what an Anglo-Saxon King was supposed to be was the figure of Beowulf from the epic poem entitled Beowulf. He was honorable and prideful, without being arrogant. He risked his life to save the lies of others, and eventually died in battle attempting to save his kingdom from a dragon. Beowulf also shows the Anglo-Saxon idea of attaining glory through an honorable death in battle. Macbeth, on the other hand, could not be further from the example of the perfect Anglo-Saxon King. Although he dies in battle, it is not an honorable death; for he had brought death and misery to his friends and kinsmen. Macbeth was supposed to embody the qualities of a true gentleman; his cruel actions do not coincide with his designated role, both as thane and king, (Muir 145). Anglo-Saxon leaders were expected to be victorious and to share the spoils of war with their people. Kings were seen as sprouted from the divine. In both Christian and pagan Anglo-Saxon traditions associate kings with a divine lineage; they were thought of as beyond the regular man, "His silver skin laced with his golden blood," (Macbeth II.3.110).

These kings were responsible for a group of warriors, called thanes, who in return brought honor and wealth to the kingdom. The thanes were supposed to serve their Lord with dignity and honor. Everyone reported to the king, even the treacherous Macbeth, "The service and the loyalty I owe," (Macbeth I.5.17-19). Any chance Macbeth had at acquiring the crown without intervening was crushed through Duncan's choice of Malcolm as his successor to the throne, (Ludawyk 37). This shows the complex relationships which determined the royal lineage of Anglo-Saxon kings. Successors were chosen through their closest relationship to the last king.

The role of the female in the Anglo-Saxon community was very different than how modern society allocates the societal role for women. The female role was that of "cup bearer (they served the mead) and peace-weaver," through the practice of ending feuds through arranged marriages between feuding tribes. Anglo-Saxon women had little or no direct influence on the politics of the day. Unlike Lady Macbeth, who helped instigate the three murders which brought her husband to the throne, most Anglo-Saxon women had no say in their family's affairs, and absolutely none in the country's affairs. The audience gets a view of how men defined the role of their female counterparts in Shakespeare's tragic play. Macbeth's reaction to the news of his wife's death paints an obvious picture. He reacted with not grief or sorrow, but rather states "She should have died hereafter," (Macbeth V.6.19). He was not too concerned with her death, instead he expressed the idea that she would have died eventually. It was simply inconvenient that she died on the day he needed to protect his kingdom from the crimes he himself had committed.

The Anglo-Saxon culture is heavily influenced by warfare. The Anglos, Saxons, and the Jutes, all fought with other tribes for centuries before winding up in Britain. These traditions continued as they united to fight off larger enemies from the European mainland. Their culture therefore reflected a strong sense of honor for those who fought bravely; by winning victories or by dying a glorious death in the heat of battle, on brought honor to oneself and ones countrymen, "The Germanic tribes hated peace; fighting was more honorable," (Delahoyde 2007). The tribes united though warfare with the Vikings and other dangerous cultures, which is mentioned in Macbeth. Bloody fighting was part of the Anglo-Saxon culture, "Which ne'er shook hands nor bade farewell to him / Till he unseamed him from the nave to th'chaps / and fixed his head upon our battlements," (Macbeth (I.2.21-23). The story of Macbeth began in the middle of a war with the Norwegian King, "No sooner justice had, with valor armed, / Compelled these skipping kerns to trust their heets / but the Norwegian lord, surveying vantage, / With furbished arms and new supplies of men / Began a fresh assault," (I.2.29-33). Macbeth continued this tradition of warfare on through his tyrannous battle to keep the crown from Malcolm. This sent his country into a bloody civil war, "Macbeth dramatizes a story about powers and authority, order and disorder; about violence and civil war, and restorence of peace," (Nostbakken 23).

However, before Macbeth had sent his country reeling into a civil war, he had fulfilled the honorable mold of a thane. After his first battle and victory over the Norwegians, the Kind Duncan placed great honor on his title, "But all's too weak: / for brave Macbeth -- well he deserves the name," (Macbeth I.2.15-16). He had fulfilled the Anglo-Saxon version of the warrior hero. He was victorious in defending his country against invaders, and did so bravely fighting himself rather than simply giving orders. Macbeth did earn the title of Thane, which the king gave to him after the original Thane of Cawdor died in battle, "Go pronounce his present death / and with his former title greet Macbeth," (I.2.65-66). This information was later used by the witches before Macbeth knew about it to prove that their later prophecies would also come true.

Major elements of both Christianity and a previous form of Nordic Paganism were prevalent within the Anglo-Saxon community. Shakespeare took a real story about a power struggle and placed it within a highly lyrical, supernatural world. This real aspect of Anglo-Saxon daily life was pumped up through clever usage of both Anglo-Saxon pagan and early Christian practices. Macbeth blended elements of both paganism and Christianity. This represents the blended nature of the Anglo-Saxon religious traditions. Roman influence had left "Celtic speaking Britains somewhat Christianized," (Delahoyde 2007) when they retreated backwards towards Italy and deserted their British outposts. The Anglo-Saxon people brought with them a Nordic form of paganism from Scandinavia. Multiple gods and goddesses ruled various aspects of the world and everyday life. The god Woden was said to be the ancestor of many early kings. This idea that the monarch was somehow related to the divine was also a Christian belief, and so it continued in Britain after Christianity was rejuvenated. This religion also brought a unique set of superstitions and practices which continued on in the mainstream culture even after Christianity returned to Britain with a vengeance. St. Augustine was sent by the papacy in 597 as a missionary to rekindle the flames of Christianity within the British Isles. An old Anglo-Saxon legend states that a pagan King would only meet with St. Augustine in an open field, so that Woden, one of the major Anglo gods could protect him without hindrance from his position in the sky. This element is repeated in Macbeth's meeting of the witches in an open field, "Upon the Heath. / There to meet with Macbeth," (Macbeth I.1.7-8). Christianity was adapted to the practices and traditions which had already existed within British society.… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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