Macbeth

by: William Shakespeare

Setting

Macbeth is set during the 11th century in Scotland, in the northernmost region of what is now the United Kingdom. At the time the play is set, Scotland was a separate country, although its proximity to England led to many struggles over who would rule the area.

Due to its far northern location, Scotland is often dark, dreary, and damp – the perfect setting for a play about evil deeds done under the cover of darkness. The play opens during a storm, with the Witches asking if they’ll meet again “in thunder, lightning, or in rain.” The lack of sunlight in the physical setting of the play reflects the secrecy and deception of the title character. Over the course of the play, Macbeth moves from his castle in Inverness to the royal palace in Dunsinane. The most important action, such as the murder of Duncan, takes place indoors, at night, suggesting the setting is not terribly important to the action. On the other hand, the references to nature itself being out of order – “fair is foul and foul is fair/ Hover through the fog and filthy air” (1.i.) suggest that even the physical surroundings have been thrown into disorder by Macbeth’s treachery. The sense of a disordered, unreliable setting is heightened at the end of the play, when Birnam Wood appears to move of its own accord.