In the time that King James I ruled, there was a large fear of witches and witchcraft throughout England and Scotland. And during his reign, William Shakespeare wrote the play Macbeth, which is the renamed King’s Men sign of gratitude towards James. Macbeth is interesting because it is “based on a story from Scottish history particularly apt for a monarch who traced his line back to Banquo” (Greenblatt 815). The play also drew from James’ own fears of assassination, eventually leading to Macbeth’s own fear of Banquo and having him killed so that he would not have to worry about his possibility of becoming a traitor. James also had a fear of witchcraft being behind any attempt on his life because he “suspected the hand of the devil in any plot against an anointed king” (816). James had a strong belief in the supernatural and witchcraft and had written a book about witchcraft and believed that the reason for various things that happened in his life to be the fault of witches and lived in fear of the occult eventually bringing everything to an end.
Before an exploration of the actual occult, supernatural and other spooky things that happened in Macbeth, it is best to look at the history of witchcraft in the time and how people dealt with the threat of witchcraft. In the 1840s, Wilhelm Gottlieb Soldan believed that witchcraft was actually something that was made up by monks and that it was actually a non-existent crime while German mythologist Jacob Grimm viewed witches as “wise-women persecuted by the church” (Gaskill 1070). Soldan’s view is also shared by Daniel Fischlin, who “argues that witchcraft during James's reign was a constructed political threat to be punished in order that the king's absolute monarchical authority might be instantiated” (Hampton 343).
Allison Rowlands investigated a witch- trial where the city of Rothenberg ob der Tauber had eighteen witchcraft cases between the years of 1561 and 1652 and with forty-one suspects where only one of those suspects was executed (1082).
Most of the witch-trials were focused on politics, not hysteria. “Authority, loyalty, honour, discretion, alliance, and faction- matters of tactics and strategy, not the blind imposition of policy or belief” was the main reason behind the witch-trials ( ). During the witch-trials in Scotland however, it is believed that “the devil appeared as an external figure that convinced morally weak people (mostly women) to renounce their baptisms, enter into a demonic pact, and commit atrocious crimes”, thus linking it to a very religious view of how witchcraft gets people to join in (Brock 26). It is worth mentioning that King James held a very religious view of the crown and his regency, which is why it is seen as a shock that Macbeth would kill the king who was anointed by God and then proceed to take the throne even though he committed these acts in a state of what can only be described as witchcraft induced prophecy.