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(măkbĕth`), d. 1057, king of Scotland (1040–57). He succeeded his father as governor of the province of Moray c.1031 and was a military commander for Duncan I. In 1040 he killed Duncan in battle and seized the throne. Possibly of royal descent himself, he acquired a direct claim to the throne through his wife, Gruoch; she was a granddaughter of Kenneth III, who had been overthrown by Duncan's ancestor Malcolm II. Macbeth represented northern elements in the population who were opposed to the ties with the Saxons advocated by Duncan. Macbeth was defeated in 1054 by SiwardSiward
, d. 1055, earl of Northumbria. A Danish warrior, he probably came to England with King Canute. At the behest of King Harthacanute in 1041 he ravaged Worcestershire and perhaps murdered Eadwulf of Northumbria; thereafter he was himself earl of Northumbria.
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, earl of Northumbria, who regained the southern part of Scotland on behalf of Malcolm Canmore, Duncan's son. Malcolm himself regained the rest of the kingdom after defeating and killing Macbeth in the battle of Lumphanan. He then succeeded to the throne as Malcolm IIIMalcolm III
(Malcolm Canmore), d. 1093, king of Scotland (1057–93), son of Duncan I; successor to Macbeth (d. 1057). It took him some years after Macbeth's death to regain the boundaries of his father's kingdom.
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. William Shakespeare's version of the story comes from the accounts of Raphael Holinshed and Hector Boece.
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(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Fillet of a fenny snake, In the cauldron boil and bake; Eye of newt and tongue of dog, Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting. . .

These words, from the Second Witch of the three in Shakespeare's Macbeth (Act IV, Sc. 1), are words that most people automatically associate with witches. The picture of the three old hags gathered about a steaming cauldron, throwing in all kinds of obnoxious ingredients and stirring the brew, is typical of the popular misconceptions of Witches and Witchcraft.

In the play, written about 1605, Macbeth is guided by the prophesies of the three witches, their words encouraging him to commit murder in his quest to become king. Ultimately, he dies cursing the three and the day he met them on the heath. Interestingly, Shakespeare never refers to the three as "witches" in the words of the play, but as "Weird Sisters."

The witch scenes in Macbeth are based on the idea of witches concocting evil brews with gruesome ingredients. In fact, this idea was the result of the propaganda of the Christian Church, at a time when it was trying to stamp out its rival Witchcraft and Paganism in general. The play was written only two years after King James I came to the throne with all his prejudices against the Old Religion. Witches did boil up brews when at their sabbats, but these were ordinary stews and soups to eat. The horrible-sounding ingredients thrown into the mixture were no more than herbs and roots, known in those days by colorful names. These names were frequently based on the appearance of the plant: the shape or texture of its leaves or the color of its flowers, for example.

Macbeth's witches speak of lizard's legs, adder's fork or tongue, fillet of snake,

and dog's tongue. Breast weed (Saururus cernuus) was commonly known as lizard's tail or lizard's leg; the dogtooth violet (Erythronium dens-canis) was known as adder's tongue; fillet of snake was adder's meat or chickweed (Stellaria holostea); dog's tongue was tory weed (Cynoglossum officinale). Most ingredients mentioned in Macbeth and elsewhere were simply the common names of plants and herbs. Shakespeare added to the Pagan image of the witches by having them conjure Hecate, the Greek goddess of Witchcraft.

Shakespearean scholars believe that Macbeth was originally a shorter play than the one we have today. It is generally felt that the witchcraft scenes were added or expanded after the main play had been written. Some suggest that it might not have been Shakespeare who was responsible—that possibly Middleton made the additions. His play, The Witch, had been published in 1600.

The Witch Book: The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, Wicca, and Neo-paganism © 2002 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



Died Aug. 15, 1057, in Lumphanan. Scottish king beginning in 1040.

Macbeth came to power after gaining a victory over King Duncan I and killing him at the Battle of Dunsinane (Perthshire). He struggled against the feudal factions that were attempting to hand the throne over to Duncan’s son, Malcolm. Macbeth was killed in a battle against Malcolm, who was proclaimed king.

Legends as collected in R. Holinshed’s Chronicle formed the basis for the plot of Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


aspires to political power. [Br. Lit.: Macbeth]


became king of Scotland through a series of ruthless murders, but was ultimately slain by his enemy, Macduff. [Br. Lit.: Shakespeare Macbeth]
See: Murder
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


died 1057, king of Scotland (1040--57): succeeded Duncan, whom he killed in battle; defeated and killed by Duncan's son Malcolm III
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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