Where’s the Source

March 7, 2010 by Mercedes Rochelle | Filed under Macbeth.

When researching historical fiction, we can feel comfortable knowing we are treading in the footsteps of another, who may have followed in the footsteps of still another, many generations removed. Such is the case in Macbeth, knowing that the great bard often used Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles, who in turn relied on Hector Boece for his history, written in the early 16th century. But who did Hector Boece use for his source material?

Since King Macbeth of Scotland lived in the mid-eleventh century, there were five hundred years’ worth of chronicles and histories scattered here and there. Of course, not all chroniclers told the same story, so the author is given a choice which tale to follow. What freedom!

It is said that while writing I Claudius, Robert Graves used Suetonius as his source, often referred to as the Gossip of Rome. Not everyone believed that Livia had such an impressive list of poison victims, but it sure made for a great story! And in the end, I suppose, this is what makes historical fiction so much fun. You get hooked by the story then go find other sources for confirmation.


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