chapter
16 Pages

Introduction

It is possible that Macbeth existed in some earlier form as much as twenty-five years prior to the date o f its publication. Internal references within the play have led most editors, since the time o f Edmond Malone at the end o f the eighteenth century, to place the date o f composition around 1606. In March o f that year Henry Garnet, the Superior o f the Jesuit Order in England, was tried for complicity in the ‘Gunpowder Plot’ to assassinate King James and his Parliament on 5 November 1605. Accused o f extensive perjury in his evidence Garnet claimed that he had a right to equivocate in self-defence. This topical reference is generally seen as lying behind the Porter’s line on page 54: ‘Faith here’s an Equivocator, that could sweare in both the Scales against eyther Scale, who committed Treason enough for Gods sake, yet could not equivocate to Heaven’. Allusions in contemporary works to scenes from Macbeth in, for example, Thomas Middleton’s The Puritan, or The Widow of

[13]

Wattling Street (1606-7) all place the play in the middle of the first decade o f the seventeenth century.1