Date and text - Macbeth

Four tragedies - Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Othello, the Moor of Venice, Macbeth and King Lear - David Bevington and David Scott Kastan 1988, 2005

Date and text


Macbeth was first printed in the First Folio of 1623. It was set up from a playbook or a transcript of one. The text is unusually short and seems to have been cut for reasons of censorship or for some special performance. Moreover, all of 3.5 and parts of 4.1 (39—43, 125—32) appear to be interpolations, containing songs from Thomas Middleton’s The Witch (c. 1609—1616). Middleton may have been responsible for other alterations and additions.

Simon Forman, in his manuscript The Book of Plays and Notes thereof per Formans for Common Policy, records the first known performance of Macbeth on April 20, 1611, at the Globe Theatre. The play must have been in existence by 1607, however, for allusions to it seemingly occur in Lingua and The Puritan (both published in 1607) and in The Knight of the Burning Pestle (probably acted in 1607). On the other hand, the play itself seemingly alludes to James I’s royal succession in 1603, to his touching for “the king’s evil” (see 4.3.147), and to the trial of the notorious Gunpowder Plot conspirators in March 1606. The interpolations from Middleton’s The Witch are probably from a later date, perhaps after 1613. The likely date of Macbeth is thus c. 1606—1607.