Tragic Hero to Antichrist: Macbeth, the Oedipus Tyrannus of the English Renaissance

Edwin K. McFall. "Tragic Hero to Antichrist: Macbeth, the Oedipus Tyrannus of the English Renaissance." Diss. U of Washington, 2005.

The dissertation argues that Shakespeare's Macbeth is a profoundly political, historical, and even theological play in which James VI and I's reign is presented as the fulfillment of prophecies rooted in and derived from British sources, Dante, and ancient Greco-Roman writers both pagan and Christian. This argument is developed in two parts. In part one, the literary and theological traditions leading up to Macbeth are analyzed, particularly as they pertain to a post-Classical understanding of Greco-Roman epic, tragedy, and mythology. In part two, a textual interpretation of the play on the basis of this analysis is put forward.
The play has innumerable allusions to James, whose life is understood as a culmination of British history, and whose reign is presented as the final chapter in a divine plan figuring Britain as an elect nation. James's life story, the product of a God-given destiny, is seen as the living epic, with James its Virgilian/Biblical epic hero, surrounding the play Macbeth . The character of Macbeth is derived from the historical Macbeth, the flawed Greek Tragic Hero, and Christian traditions of the "Antichrist." It is this composite character who comes on the scene at a crucial moment in Scottish history, to oppose the establishment of the line that will ultimately lead to the Stuart monarchy. Understanding Macbeth as a composite character allows us to see the Greek Tragic Hero, and especially Oedipus, as a prefigurement of the later Antichrist of the Christian tradition.
The dissertation chapters address the following topics: The so-called "British History"; James as a "Christ-King"; Macbeth as apocalyptic text; Characteristics of the Antichrist; the two orderings of time in the play; the evidence that Shakespeare knew the Greek tragedies; the Greek Thebes as a prefigurement of hell; Dionysos as Satan prefigured or even Satan unidentified; Oedipus as a prefigurement of Antichrist; Britain as a transitional place between Heaven and Hell; Dantean influence; James's Royal Entry of 1604; an act-by-act exegesis of Macbeth focusing on the anagogical and historical; and a final section on the dating of the play.

Research Type: 
Status of Research or Work: 
Completed/published