The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Play is foul, Macbeth is fair
- Scottish legislators launch campaign to clear king's name

London, Feb. 3: Members of the Scottish parliament are stirring up double, double toil and trouble. They say they want to restore the reputation of Macbeth, who they claim was a good king whose reputation was traduced by William Shakespeare in his great tragedy.

Such a dramatic change of perception would have worldwide repercussions, for Macbeth ' or 'the Scottish play', as superstitious actors invariably refer to it ' is widely studied and performed across the globe, especially in India.

There is now even a Bollywood film, Maqbool, based on Macbeth.

The campaign is being led by a Tory MP, Alex Johnstone, who is being supported by 19 of his colleagues from all parties.

Noting this is the 1,000th anniversary of the birth of Macbeth, king of Scotland from 1040 to 1057, Johnstone's motion 'regrets that Macbeth is misportrayed in the Shakespeare play of that name when he was a successful Scottish king'.

'Marking this 1,000th anniversary would both boost understanding of this historic period and increase awareness, especially among tourists, of locations such as Lumphanan that have ties with Macbeth,' adds the motion.

The notion that Macbeth was not a traitorous villain is apparently based on research conducted by an American academic.

Johnstone said: 'I was contacted by an American professor who has visited north-east Scotland and some of the sites associated with Macbeth. He took the view that Macbeth was a good king, that he served Scotland well and brought the country together. He was so successful that, unusually for that period, he was able to up sticks and visit Rome and not have the country fall to bits in his absence.'

Johnstone insisted: 'Macbeth was perceived as a good king who stabilised the country and has since been maligned by Shakespeare's play. In a time of war, he unified the country and promoted Christianity. He was even able to leave, visit Rome and return without trouble, something almost unthinkable in those times.'

According to Shakespeare, Macbeth is tormented by the predictions of the three witches, murders the king in his sleep to steal the throne and then succumbs to madness before being killed himself.

Shakespeare's play is thought to have been first performed in 1606 for King James 1 (James VI of Scotland). Johnstone believes that Shakespeare wrote the play to appeal to the superstitious monarch, who had just succeeded to the English throne.

'Apparently. King James believed in witches and Shakespeare wanted to appeal to that,' Johnstone said.

His campaign is not totally disinterested for it could have valuable tourism spin-offs.

Johnstone, who represents north-east Scotland, the area that includes Macbeth country, explained: 'At this stage, we don't have the opportunity to debate the motion but I am trying to keep it in the public eye and hopefully we can debate it at some stage in the future. It might be fitting if we used this to build up interest in tourism in that part of Scotland and counter some of the difficulties Scottish tourism has had. We will try and revise the Macbeth story.'

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