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William Shakespeare’s references to biblical material have been much written about, but little attention has been given to a connection between Macbeth and the New Testament Epistle of James. James addresses issues common to secular and sacred literature—issues such as the nature of wisdom, the conditions of unity, the difference between appearance and reality, a reason and remedy for suffering, and the volatile involvement of language in each of these discussions. The themes, diction, and causation claims of James’s Epistle find their representations in the characterization and plot of Macbeth so consistently as to warrant reading the play as a midrash, or creative application and embellishment, of James’s Epistle. Without damaging the multivocal impulses and philosophical quandaries of Macbeth, a midrashic reading dispels some indefensible murk and sheds some light on the playwright who trusted this ancient Christian’s perspective on human and divine natures.

“Be ye doers of the word and not hearers only,” admonishes the New Testament writer James. In Greek, the phrase “doer of the word” might be translated simply as “poet”1 or “word maker.”2 Proof of William Shakespeare’s facility with Greek is not necessary to concede that this translation has an ironic element that would have appealed to him. Conjecture is not necessary to establish Shakespeare’s affinity with this early Christian’s letter on language and truth; it is evident in the many allusions to the Epistle of James throughout the dramatist’s work. Naseeb Shaheen, in his seminal Biblical References in Shakespeare’s Plays, finds some part of each of James’s five chapters referenced in twenty-one of Shakespeare’s poems and plays. None of these allusions, according to Shaheen, is found in Macbeth. This may be an oversight. Although specific allusions may be few, James’s central topics and the tropes, schemes, and urgency of his letter permeate the play. Macbeth’s characters and plot, altered versions of material in Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles, produce a dramatic realization of James’s overarching concerns: the dualities of appearance and reality, truth and falsehood, unity and division, and the causal consequences attending their confusion. To establish the Epistle of James as a source, and as a structuring truth source, of this play would be to illuminate readings of the play and perhaps glimpse something more of the playwright’s dramaturgical purposes.

James and his Epistle would appeal to the playwright’s philosophical and theological questing and poetic vision. In James, Shakespeare would find a mind given to think in contraries and similitudes; the dualism in Macbeth reflects James’s axioms. Key elements of Genesis 1—3, perhaps the most common allusive feature in Shakespeare’s corpus, are also foundational to James’s propositions. The structure of his letter eludes consensus, but there is much to commend it to a doer of the word. Its compact aphorisms, typical of the sententiae of Shakespeare’s schooling,3 are interspersed with direct appeals and brief explications that include allusions to Old and New Testaments. Reflecting the Genesis—Revelation arrangement, James begins with the topic of temptation, concludes with words on salvation, and cycles these themes throughout his letter. Macbeth also opens with temptation, but the “grace of grace”4 of its conclusion is denied to Shakespeare’s tragic hero. James’s rhetoric employs “more imagery drawn from nature than all the epistles of Paul,”5 and much of it is identical to that found in Macbeth. James’s themes depend “more than any other NT author on the teachings of Jesus”6; his repetition of Christ’s teaching on the need for direct language emerges as a central theme in the play. Both play and Epistle apply metonymies of eye, hand, and tongue similarly. Both exploit symbolic resonances of crown and mirror as well as tropes of clothing as ironic disguise and turbulent seas as signifiers of troubled psyches. James’s teaching on the destructiveness of ambition, the uncertainty of “tomorrow,” and the efficacy of prayer; and his symbolic images of a judge knocking at the door (James 5:9) and sinners washing their hands all appear in Macbeth. James’s rhetoric and propositions are transformed into narrative events in Shakespeare’s version of the historical Macbeth, and the parallels are strong enough to warrant reading Macbeth as a midrash of James’s Epistle.

Definitions of “midrash” are varied and sometimes contentious. Some generally agreed-upon basics suffice for this essay. Midrashic stories are creative extensions of biblical material. The midrashist seeks to apply and amplify Scripture to understand the relevance of biblical history and law to contemporary experience. Midrash understands biblical history not “as a story of things that happened once, long ago … [but as] an account of things that happened every day.” Because it is authoritative, “Scripture dictate[s] the contents of history, laying forth the structures of time, the rules that prevailed and were made known in events.”7 In arguing that Shakespeare’s Macbeth should be read as a midrash of the Epistle of James, I propose that Shakespeare used this New Testament source as a concise “structure of rules” that “dictate the contents of [this piece of Scottish] history.” Acknowledging the many contributors to Shakespeare’s creative combinations, this essay proposes that the Epistle of James as translated in the Geneva Bible,8 together with its annotations written by Protestant Reformers, is the canonical frame on which Shakespeare stretched his canvas of historical events in an activity and genre known as midrash.

Several of the alterations Shakespeare made to the characters of Holinshed’s Chronicles, his generally agreed-upon primary historical source, may be explained with reference to James’s Epistle. Shorn of the years of just and pious reign Holinshed records for him, the depraved tyrant of Macbeth becomes an antithetical character, exemplifying all that James warns against and displaying a psychological interior not present in Holinshed. Duncan, depicted as “feeble and slothful” by Holinshed, is “sainted” though gullible in Shakespeare’s rendering. Incapable of discerning feint, Duncan illustrates the pernicious danger of deception, a central Jamesian topic. Banquo is wiser and more virtuous in the play than in the Chronicles. To him Shakespeare gives a key question (“Can the devil speak true?”).9 The question recalls the Genesis narrative, and it is specifically addressed in James’s discussion of temptation and truth. An invented conversation between Macbeth and the murderers echoes James’s condemnation of slander, oppression of the poor, and praise of patience. The Doctor and Gentlewoman, invented witnesses of Lady Macbeth’s bizarre behavior and incriminating disclosures, discuss their observations in explicit linguistic parallels to James’s letter.

Since Macbeth’s character is antithetical to James’s axioms, it follows that the tragedy of his story should dramatize the consequences of failing to heed James’s propositions. An overview of plot and proposition is helpful: James begins his letter on the topic of temptation, instructing readers to endure temptation with patience and wisdom from God. Shakespeare also puts temptation at the beginning of Macbeth, characterizing Macbeth and his wife as a couple who eschew patience, submit to temptation, and seek knowledge from “instruments of darkness.” James outlines the destructive and regenerative potential of words. Shakespeare midrashically amplifies, constructing an entire drama around the beguiling and appalling effects of paradoxes, equivocations, ironies, and explicit lies; the healing potential of confession is mostly ignored, and ignominious deaths result. James encourages believers to live in this world for the “crown of life” in the next world; the Macbeths choose the crown of this world even though this means risking “the life to come.”10 James directs believers to “[s]ubmit [them] selves to God [and to] resist the devil.” Godless Macbeth defies Fate and Destiny and solicits occult knowledge. To those deceived by their own hypocrisy, James commands, “Cleanse your hands, ye sinners, and purge your hearts, ye double minded.”11 Both Macbeths despair of ever cleansing their hands of bloody deeds. James challenges his audience to look past outward appearance for evidence of a corroborating or contradictory reality. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth strive to conceal their falseness with fair appearances, and their resultant downfalls delineate the causal consequences explicitly outlined in James’s Epistle.

Appearance and Reality: Deceptions and Delusions

Macbeth is, dramatically and thematically, one of Shakespeare darkest plays; and Theodore Spencer attributes this darkness to the play’s “continually expressed uncertainty as to what is real.”12 James appeals to “the Father of lights with whom [there] is no variableness [or] shadow” for the truth that replaces doubt and error. His solicitous “Err not, my dear brethren” is followed by cautions against “deceiving your own selves” and “deceiv[ing] [one’s] own heart.” Two such deceptions result in disregard for others, especially the poor, and in boastful claims that ignore the transitoriness of all life. Both find their parallel in favorite Shakespearean tropes—masks of clothing and of Time itself. Both depict Macbeth’s immersion in error and self-deception.

Though the witches’ “wild attire” accurately reveals their wild natures, the clothing metaphors applied to Macbeth illustrate the disparity between his outward appearance and his inner reality. In the final act he is dressed in a “giant’s robe,” though he is truly a “dwarfish thief”13 of a kingdom he has usurped. This image inverts but does not contradict James’s observation that those in “vile raiment” may truly be “rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which [God] promised to them that love him.”14 Another common Shakespearean trope, mentioned twice in the Epistle, concerns the brevity of Time and ephemerality of life. The rich, writes James, will wither and vanish like the grass and flower “when the sun riseth with heat.”15 There may be some echo of this image when King Macbeth begins “to be aweary of the sun / And wish[es] th’ estate o’ th’ world were now undone.”16 James also chastises all who presumptuously boast, “Today or tomorrow we shall go into such a city, and continue there a year,” with the reminder, “[Y]e cannot tell what shall be tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appeareth for a little time, and afterward vanisheth away.”17 A macabre application of this occurs first in Act I when Macbeth informs his wife that Duncan will arrive at their castle that evening. She asks when he will depart, and Macbeth answers, “Tomorrow, as he purposes.” She replies, “O, never / Shall sun that morrow see!” Macbeth’s “Tomorrow” speech in act 5 echoes James even more poignantly, though the tone and import differ:

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more.

Juxtaposing Time’s interminability (“creeps,” “all our yesterdays,”) with its brevity, and light with hope and life, Macbeth’s bitter lament inveighs against a previously unperceived nihilistic reality. James offers a redemptive alternative to this despair, reminding his audience that their tomorrows depend upon the providence of God, described throughout the letter as a generous giver of light and life. But Shakespeare’s tragic midrash offers only antithesis. God is pointedly absent in Macbeth, and the only one on stage to hear this lament is Seyton.18 In this darkest—and shortest—Shakespearean tragedy, Macbeth and his wife are perpetrators and victims. They are traitors to truth and reality and they provide “the perfect definition of evil, which is delusion.”19

Unity and Division—Duality and Doubleness

Douglas Moo identifies “the integrity and undividedness of God—in contrast to the duality and instability of man—[as] a key motif of [James’s] letter as a whole.”20 Shakespeare weaves the specific language of unity and division throughout Macbeth, midrashically exploring through imaginative invention their relationships in a Scotland stripped of God. His dramatic embellishment accords with James’s claims for certain necessary unities and divisions—in the cosmos, in human interactions, and in the individual heart and mind.

James points out that even the devils believe “that there is one God,” thereby affirming the oneness of God while recognizing the powers that oppose him.21 The indivisibility of God’s Law attests to his perfection and humanity’s imperfection: “For whosoever shall keep the whole Law, and yet faileth in one point, he is guilty of all.”22 Perfection cannot be compromised. Allegiance or attachment to the Divine requires detachment from that which opposes the Divine. The Geneva Bible’s translation captures the ironic similarity of opposing terms: “the amity of the world is the enmity of God,”23 doubly emphasizing that “whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world maketh himself the enemy of God.”24 (James’s use of “world” here refers to those forms of thought and activity that are antithetical to God’s revealed will. In this context, “world” does not refer to humanity, for in a different passage, discussed below, James calls for unity rather than division between one’s stance toward God and toward humanity.) More wordplay accompanies James’s warning that the one who “wavereth” between God and the world “is like a wave of the sea, tossed of the wind, and carried away.”25 In more fervid language, he excoriates as “adulterers and adulteresses” those seeking an impossible syncretism between these necessary oppositions. The irreconcilability of this duality explains why “a double minded man is unstable in all his ways.”26

James uses the word “double” only in the context of duplicity or hypocrisy. Shakespeare provides an expanded word analysis without straying from James’s precept. Of the many references to the word “double” in Macbeth, the witches’ incantation over their stew of dismemberments probably first comes to mind; but the word is initially used to describe Macbeth’s and Banquo’s single-minded service to their king. Fighting the enemies of Scotland, they are “overcharged with double cracks, / So they doubly redoubled strokes upon the foe.” Their doubleness, (artfully emphasized by adjacent forms of “double”), is a doubleness of degree rather than kind. “Redoubled” signals the word “redoubtable” and possibly foreshadows a change through its etymological root, “doubt.” This change in the type of doubleness occurs in the following scene. Once Macbeth’s desire has been quickened by the “double-sense”27 of the Weïrd Sisters’ equivocal words, he finds his “single state of man” terrifyingly “shake[n].” He now depicts the instability of James’s “double minded man,” and his precarious dividedness is resolved by the end of Act I in a union with “the world” that necessitates his “enmity [toward] God.” He is committed to one course, “settled and ben[t] up / Each corporal agent to this terrible feat [regicide].”28

Macbeth’s unity with the world ironically manifests in a duplicitous tongue, and an early example from the play mirrors James’s condemnation of such hypocritical speech:

bless we God even the Father and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of one mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. Doeth a fountain send forth at one place sweet water and bitter? Can the fig tree, my brethren, bring forth olives, either a vine, figs? So can no fountain make both salt water and sweet.29

To these verses, the Geneva annotators note that “the order of nature which God hath set in things will not suffer things that are so contrary the one to the other to stand the one with the other.” Shakespeare’s illustration of this precept is vivid. After masking his evil intent to murder Duncan with a false “welcome in […his] tongue,” Macbeth finds his tongue strangely paralyzed. He is unable to utter the benediction Duncan’s drugged servants implore him to speak. “Consider it not so deeply,” Lady Macbeth dismisses, but Macbeth persists:

But wherefore could not I pronounce “Amen”? I had most need of blessing, and “Amen” Stuck in my throat.30

At first glance, the example of Malcolm’s deceit with Macduff seems to challenge the preceding claim since he is clearly able to speak “things that are so contrary the one to the other.” His lies are spoken not against others, however, but against himself; and his lie does not involve “blessing” or benediction. Even so, Macduff’s reply to Malcolm’s “unspeak[ing]” confirms the principle: “Such welcome and unwelcome things at once / ‘Tis hard to reconcile.”31 In fact, they are not reconciled; one is dismissed as false.

Shakespeare’s midrashic application and amplification of James’s use of “double” are replicated in his creative exploration of cosmic, political, and individual unity. Unity appears to be the solution to the political and epistemic divisiveness, duality, and opposition of Shakespeare’s eleventh-century Scotland. In the cunning deceit mentioned above, Malcolm defines “the perfect ruler” “by contraries”32 and establishes “universal peace” and “unity” to be the mark of the virtuous monarch. He tells Macduff that if he were crowned king he would

In the division33 of each several crime,
Acting it many ways. Nay, had I power, I should

Pour the sweet milk of concord into hell,
Uproar the universal peace, confound
All unity on earth.34

The speech recalls one uttered by the truly tyrannical Macbeth just two scenes earlier when he insists that the Weïrd Sisters reveal their occult knowledge to him,

Though you untie the winds and let them fight

Against the churches, though the yeasty waves

Confound and swallow navigation up,

Though bladed corn be lodged and trees blown down,

Though castles topple on their warders’ heads,

Though palaces and pyramids do slope

Their heads to their foundations, though the treasure

Of nature’s germens tumble all together

Even till destruction sicken, answer me.35

Macbeth’s speech is similar to Malcolm’s in his threat of uproar and destruction, but it differs in its depiction of unity. Macbeth sanctions con-fusion—an annihilation of the divisions that order reality, an entropic, obliterating unity (“though the treasure / Of nature’s germens tumble all together”). Shakespeare demonstrates that in some contexts, in the cosmos, in human interactions, or in the individual heart and mind, unity is a sign of collapse. Macbeth’s cry for “the frame of things [to] disjoint, [so that] both the worlds suffer”36 depicts the awful oneness of narcissism, solipsism, egotism, and monomania into which this double-minded man has been, in James’s words, “carried away.”

The language of remediation for problematic doubleness and unity is also shared by both texts, with Macbeth again illustrating James’s mandates in the negative. James calls for repentance, evidenced in metonyms linguistically paralleled in Macbeth. He commands those guilty of double-mindedness or amity of the world to “Cleanse your hands, ye sinners, and purge your hearts, ye double minded.”37 Richly replicated in Macbeth, Shakespeare dramaturgically doubles the scenes of hand washing: Macbeth’s early cry that he would never be able to wash his hands clean of blood is mirrored in Lady Macbeth’s ineffectual ritual of hand washing in the final act. This hand washing is an allusion usually attributed to Pilate, and Macbeth certainly has bloodguilt on his hands; but James is emphasizing the need to be cleansed from duplicity, the sin that preceded Macbeth’s shedding of blood. “Stepped in”38 the duplicitous amity of the world, Macbeth’s pleas for the cleansing (“Cleanse the stuffed bosom of that perilous stuff / Which weighs upon the heart”39) and purging (“purge” Scotland “to a sound and pristine health”40) of James’s demands are ineffectual and incapable of issuing in redemption.

The goal of cleansing and purging is integrity or unity. James insists upon a harmonious unity between appearance and reality that dispels hypocrisy and delusion. Even in Macbeth, concentrated as it is upon delusory and illusory appearances, appearance is not always at odds with reality. Malcolm, adept at deception, also understands its limits. In the midst of his honesty and dishonesty with Macduff, he proclaims that “Angels are bright still, though the brightest fell. / Though all things foul would wear the brows of grace, / Yet grace must still look so.”41 And, though Duncan is an inept judge of character, he too recognizes a need for conformity of word and deed in commending the wounded Captain, “So well thy words become thee as thy wounds / They smack of honor both.”42

Wisdom: Genuine and Counterfeit

Hannibal Hamlin devotes a full chapter to “Shakespeare’s Variations on Themes from Genesis 1—3,” culling the histories, tragedies and romances for examples of the playwright’s “inexhaust[ible] fascination with the Genesis story and its implications.”43 While “Shakespeare’s allusions to Genesis 1—3 are more complex than those in the chronicle histories, and sometimes ambiguous,” they are always predicated on the understanding that these Old Testament stories are “real history” with relevance to people throughout the ages.44 The relevance of this real history for James appears in his allusions to Abraham, Rahab, Job, and Elijah, and in his opening remarks on “divers temptations,” which require wisdom from God. As with other propositions in his first chapter, this topic receives fuller development in his subsequent chapters.

Important semantic differences distinguish wisdom from intelligence and knowledge. Examples of each are found in Macbeth, while James is intent on distinguishing between genuine and counterfeit wisdom. Harking back to the Genesis narrative, James counsels believers threatened by temptation to seek wisdom from God: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, which giveth to all men liberally, and reproacheth no man.”45 In explicit contrast to James’s directive, Macbeth seeks knowledge (not wisdom) from perverse sources (not God). These “instruments of darkness” are stingy and equivocal, not liberal, in the “knowledge” they initially offer Macbeth, and he is soon overwhelmed by reproach. Shakespeare’s embellishment continues to invert aspects of the Genesis account while arriving at its same conclusion. In Genesis 3, for instance, Eve heeds the words of the serpent (referred to with a masculine pronoun); Macbeth, however, heeds the prophecies of the Weïrd Sisters. The serpent tempts Eve with the prospect of knowledge that will make her and Adam “as gods.” Conversely, Macbeth (not Lady Macbeth) is met by the Weïrd Sisters on a “blasted heath,” (not a garden) with a promise of kingship. Macbeth enthuses that the Weïrd Sisters “have more in them than mortal knowledge,”46 but the consequences of seeking wisdom from a source antithetical to God are inexorable. His reproach, (either anagnorisis or ironic lack of self-awareness), is bitterly exposed in his cry, “damned all those that trust them [the Weïrd Sisters].”47 Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are undone by a kind of knowledge masquerading as wisdom, and they typologize a postlapsarian Adam and Eve, minus the hope of redemption offered in Genesis and in James’s Epistle. In plotting Macbeth’s fall from “valiant cousin [and] worthy gentleman”48 to “hellhound”49 and “butcher,”50 Shakespeare has compellingly imaged the counterfeit wisdom of James’s description, reiterating its every particular:

But if ye have bitter envying and strife [“ambition”51 in other translations] in your hearts, rejoice not, neither be liars against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, and devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is sedition, and all manner of evil works.52

The annotators refer to this counterfeit wisdom as “a false persuasion of wisdom” which “differeth from heavenly.” The latter, writes James, “is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without judging, and without hypocrisy.”53 Though Banquo, King James 1’s purported ancestor, possesses “a wisdom that doth guide his valor,”54 England’s “good king,” Edward the Confessor, seems to be Shakespeare’s illustrative example of true wisdom. “The most pious Edward” is devoid of the hypocrisy and censorious judgment James denounces, receiving the exiled Malcolm “without judging” him because of “the malevolence of [Malcolm’s] fortune.”55 It must be said that Edward’s lack of censorious judgment differs importantly from Duncan’s lack of discerning judgment, a deficiency of wisdom that proves fatal.

Patience: An Alternative

In failing to distinguish between God’s heavenly wisdom and the serpent’s demonic craftiness, Adam and Eve succumbed to temptation, deeply marred their natures, violated their relationship with God, and changed the structure of the created world. It is startling, then, to read James’s exhortation to his audience, “the twelve Tribes, which are scattered abroad,” to welcome temptation with joy because it can issue in a prized virtue—patience. James writes, “My brethren, count it exceeding joy, when ye fall into diverse temptations, knowing that the trying of your faith bringeth forth patience, and let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, lacking nothing.”56 Temptation is a necessary but not sufficient cause of sin, and James is confident that the redeemed believers among his readers can resist repeating the cataclysmic action of the first couple. Not unimportantly for a reading of Macbeth that leans upon James’s Epistle for structure and meaning, their opposite response to temptation will issue in a “crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.”57

Bookending his Epistle in a manner Shakespeare would certainly have apprehended and appreciated, James returns to this theme at the end of his letter, alluding to the Wisdom literature of the Jewish Bible:

Take, my brethren, the Prophets for an example of suffering adversity, and of long patience, which have spoken in the Name of the Lord. Behold, we count them blessed which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have known what end the Lord made.58

As a midrashic counter-example to the Prophets who exemplify patience and who speak in the Name of the Lord, Shakespeare presents Macbeth, who acts impatiently after listening to the Weïrd Sisters. Included among Malcolm’s list of “king-becoming graces,”59 patience may not evoke the customary admiration that some of the others on Malcolm’s list do—qualities such as justice, courage, and fortitude. It is mentioned seven times in James’s letter, however, and the Geneva annotators assert that patience is “a far passing and most excellent virtue.”60 This opinion seems to have been shared by Shakespeare’s progenitors, Chaucer and Petrarch, who elevated Walter’s “wife’s patience” to thematic prominence in revising Boccaccio’s version of the “Clerk’s Tale” and explicitly referenced “the Epistle of St. James as a key to [the tale’s] meaning.”61

Following the course forewarned against by James, Macbeth pursues his lustful desire for power instead of patiently awaiting the outcome of Providence, or “Chance” in his worldview. Told that the Cawdor title is “an earnest of a greater honor”62 Macbeth’s thoughts race ahead to the “imperial theme” the witches prophesied, and he “yield[s] to that suggestion” of Duncan’s murder.63 Repulsed by this thought, he resolves, “If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me / Without my stir.”64 This resolve is replaced by “black and deep desires”65 when Duncan announces that his eldest son Malcolm will succeed him. Macbeth is now subject to adversity as well as temptation since royal successions were determined by elective tanistry rather than by primogeniture in eleventh-century Scotland. Therefore, his hope for the throne and his plan to murder Duncan rather than Malcolm are not as perplexingly irrational as they seem to modern audiences. They are evidence of Macbeth’s determination to take control of his future. His spur is Lady Macbeth, who fears that Macbeth will not “catch the nearest way”66 to the throne. Eager to leave behind “This ignorant present” and immerse herself in “The future in the instant,”67 she advocates regicide, voicing the thoughts Macbeth has already had. Macbeth muses that “If it were done when ‘tis done, then ‘twere well / It were done quickly”68; but convinced of the repercussions of killing the king, he briefly determines to “proceed no further in this business.” His preference for basking in Duncan’s honors and in the people’s “golden opinions … which would be worn now in their newest gloss, / Not cast aside so soon”69 is not a determination to be patient, however. It leaves the door open for regicide in the future, and the future descends quickly in Macbeth. Like wisdom, patience has its counterfeit. The Geneva annotators remark that “true and continual patience may be discerned from feigned and for a time.”70 Like wisdom, patience is the daughter of Time.

Lady Macbeth dangles the crown of Scotland, “the ornament of [this] life,” before her husband; and he acquiesces, only to realize later that this worldly diadem is a “fruitless crown” for which he has surrendered his “eternal jewel … to the common enemy of man.”71 Rejecting patience in the face of temptation and adversity, Macbeth relinquishes the other kingly virtues as well and forgoes any hope of possessing the “crown of life” to which James refers. Instead of becoming “perfect and entire, lacking nothing,” by submitting to the “patient work” of endurance, he becomes deranged, desperate, and devoid of all “that should accompany old age.”72 Rather than “lacking nothing,” Macbeth cries that his life “signif[ies] nothing.”73 The extent and emphasis of his inverse midrashic example on the topic of patience is clearly evident in his words to the men he solicits to kill Banquo and Fleance. Falsely blaming Banquo for the men’s economic misery,74 he contemptuously snarls,

Do you find

Your patience so predominant in your nature

That you can let this go? Are you so gospeled

To pray for this good man and for his issue,

Whose heavy hand hath bowed you to the grave

And beggared yours forever?75

Temptation: Cause and Effect

The editors of Mirror for Magistrates, a popular sixteenth-century collection of poems based on deceased English monarchs, sought to correct what the Earl of Worchester criticized as “the slovenliness of previous chroniclers who were insufficiently specific in delineating the teleology inherent in their material.” Worchester complained that “story writers leave the causes out, / Or so rehearse them, as [if] they were in doubt.”76 Budra sees in this quotation an anticipation of Sir Philip Sidney’s criticism of those historians whose “example draweth no necessarie consequence, and therefore a less fruitfull doctrine.”77 Shakespeare’s Macbeth makes plain the consequences of error. He does not leave the causes out, but he provides several possibilities—rampant ambition, an overactive imagination, and Fate or Fortune among them.

Macbeth’s initial constancy in the face of treachery and death occurs in off-stage actions. He is at first praised as “deserv[ing] that name” of “brave” by the wounded Captain who recounts Macbeth’s prowess on two fronts: he has been victorious in battle against Scotland’s rebels and against Fortune, “the rebel’s whore.”78 His prowess recedes when he appears onstage in scene 3. He “start[s] and fear[s]”79 in response to the witches’ greetings, he is subsequently cowed by his wife’s derision, and he imagines “a dagger of the mind,” a “fatal vision” as he prepares to murder the king for whom he had fought so valiantly. This warrior meets his most formidable enemy, his own psyche, onstage. Unlike the tragic heroes of Greek drama, Macbeth’s “great fault” or hamartia (sin) is his “habit of taking the unreal to be real, and allowing it to master him because it corresponds precisely with his wishes,”80 according to Henry Paul. Willard Farnham offers a more complex reading: Macbeth, like his “precursor” King John, “gives something of the same paradoxical impression … of being morally responsible for his own destruction even though he is so heavily fated to destroy himself that the lines of his destiny can be read by prophecy.”81 W. H. Auden distinguishes between Greek and Christian tragedies in terms of volition: “Greek tragedy is the tragedy of necessity; that is, the feeling aroused in the spectator is ‘what a pity it had to be this way’; Christian tragedy is the tragedy of possibility, ‘what a pity it was this way when it might have been otherwise.’”82

James insists upon the individual’s moral responsibility, offering a causal hermeneutic replicated in Shakespeare’s characterization of Macbeth and in the plot of his tragedy:

Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God; for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man. Every man is tempted when he is drawn away by his own concupiscence and is enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin, and sin when it is finished, bringeth forth death.83

A Jamesian reading of Macbeth, then, sets aside the culpable contributions of the Weïrd Sisters, Lady Macbeth, and even King Duncan. Despite Duncan’s nepotism in naming his son as successor, despite Lady Macbeth’s manipulative rhetoric, and despite the witches’ beguiling “solicitations,” Macbeth admits that in first hearing the witches’ prophecies, he “burned in desire to question them further.”84 A. P. Rossiter refers to this desire as “will,” and explains Shakespeare’s dramaturgical alterations to his historical sources in terms of this thematic topic:

Shakespeare removed the external motive from both murders, i.e., the coup d’ etat from Duncan’s, the blood-feud from Duff’s; and correspondingly increases Duncan’s trustfulness, piety, sanctity. The wilfulness of the murder is thus isolated … Better, I think, to call it ‘particular will’: a Shakespearian phrase for a force as much of the ‘blood’ as the intellect.85

If the cause of Macbeth’s ruin is a will that is “a force as much of the ‘blood’ as the intellect,” then it is not limited to passion, and it is not remedied or prevented by reason. This is the doctrine of total depravity vigorously debated by theologians of Shakespeare’s time. As a cause of human misery, total depravity emphasizes humankind’s inability to repair its situation through its own efforts. Macbeth typifies an unredeemed depravity conditioned by a delusionary darkness or murk that precludes redemption. He blames his estate on a cosmic milieu that reduces the individual to an actor whose acts are predetermined and meaningless. Read as a midrashic explication of James’s Epistle, however, Macbeth is a man in an unregenerate state initiated by his willful submission to concupiscence.

Despite his use of words such as “concupiscence” and “adulterer,” James does not address sexual crime as such. He finds submission to sexual temptation to be an apt metaphor for the greed and envy underlying all sin. Macbeth reasons similarly, equating his imminent murder of Duncan with Tarquin’s rape of Lucrece. Of this poem, L. C. Knights writes that “lust—a type of sin, ‘including all foul harms’ (l.199)—was defined as the urge to possess something that in the experience inevitably proves mere loss, an over-reaching into insubstantiality and negation.”86 This same outcome is charted by James with explicit verbal negativity (“have not,” “cannot obtain,” “get nothing,” and “receive not”) as he begins with effects and traces them to their causes:

From whence are wars and contentions among you? Are they not hence, even of your pleasures, that fight in your members? Ye lust, and have not; ye envy, and desire immoderately, and cannot obtain; ye fight and war, and get nothing, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye might lay the same out on your pleasures.87

Lust conceived finds its embodiment in Macbeth, who, instead of power achieves impotence; instead of glory, infamy; and instead of satisfaction, great longing.

The Tongue: Prophet, Purveyor, Proof

In a paean to Shakespeare on the tercentenary of his birth, Archbishop Chenevix Trench, speaking of Macbeth, asked “Where … is there a sermon on the need of resisting temptation at the outset, of treading out these sparks of hell before they have set on fire the whole course of nature, like that?”88 His question explicitly alludes to the Epistle of James in his indictment of the tongue’s instrumentality in destruction. After acknowledging the tongue’s good governing qualities, James then warns of its fatidic89 potential: “And the tongue is fire, yea a world of wickedness … and setteth on fire the course of nature [or “wheel of birth”] and it is set on fire of hell … the tongue can no man tame. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.”90 Read as a midrashic application of James’s text, the Weïrd Sisters’ words emanate from and issue in “a world of wickedness,” and Lady Macbeth’s rhetoric is the “poured spirits”91 or “deadly poison” that sets in motion the course of nature. Her words exist in concert or tension with cosmic forces; she is confident in the power of her words to accomplish what Fate has already decreed. Like the dagger, her words and those of the Weïrd Sisters simply “marshal’st [Macbeth] the way that [he] was going.”92

Though a Jamesian reading of Macbeth does not accord with the Greek “tragedy of necessity,” the play’s strain of fatalism appears strong. The Weïrd Sisters seem to be soothsayers, protected from accusations of plot-spoiling only because of their equivocal speech. This reading receives support from the definition of the Anglo-Saxon word wyrd (from which weïrd is derived) as “an accomplished fact.” As a verbal noun, however, wyrd implied a “weaving [of] man’s destiny,”93 suggesting a future under construction rather than an already constructed future. Once known as a hostile “bringer of evil and misery,”94 wyrd “gained a twofold development under Christian influence, being used in the sense of God and predestination and in that of the fallen angel or devil.”95 Wyrd is also etymologically traceable to “word,”96 fostering interpretations that posit language as the agent as well as the recorder of past and future human experience. James’s fiery image of the destructive tongue is not fatalistic, for he offers as a solution to all human woe “the word of truth … that is grafted in you which is able to save your souls.”97 In James’s disquisition, the destructive tongue initiates ultimate consequences that are impervious to all but redemptive Grace.

The topic of the tongue is so close to the playwright’s imagination that his midrashic embellishments of James’s claims on this subject are the richest and fullest, with Macbeth’s characterization, plot, and themes limning James’s teaching about the tongue. The play opens not with Scotland’s traitors or Macbeth’s battlefield prowess, but with the conversation of the Weïrd Sisters—plunging the audience into the linguistic murk of paradox, equivocation, questionable prophecy, and irony. They summon tempests and inflict torture in their threat to “do” the hapless sailor of the Tiger. While the sexual innuendo is intended and hideous, more horrific is their use of words to “do” Macbeth. It is by “means of prophecy” that the witches “incite the inclination to evil which is always within man because of original sin.”98

The wicked and fiery tongue initiates the downward course of nature for Macbeth. As a consequence, he is besieged by language itself, and its power proves greater than his own. His mind is “bent to know,” but his intelligence is subverted by his misunderstanding of language. The pivotal third act offers two examples of this dynamic, each generated by Shakespeare’s homophonic play on “witch” and “which.” When Macbeth asks Banquo to attend his banquet, Banquo deferentially replies,

Command upon me, to the which my duties

Are with a most indissoluble tie

Forever knit.99

This is a strained syntactical construction if the intent is merely to display Banquo’s faithfulness and duty to his king, though this is also a rich vein of study in a time of disagreement over monarchical absolutism. If this wording is an instance of Shakespeare’s amphibology, more apprehensible to the play’s audience than to its reader, we can imagine Banquo’s words as they were heard by Macbeth: to the witch(es)100 (“which”), and their prophecies, Banquo and his progeny are eternally bound. This reading explains the effect Banquo’s words have upon Macbeth. He ruminates upon the witches’ “prophet-like”101 promise that Banquo would be “father to a line of kings”102 and concludes his soliloquy with a challenge to Fate, the “indissoluble tie.” The end of this act offers another instance of homophonic confusion. Macbeth inquires of the time. Lady Macbeth’s reply, “Almost at odds with morning, which is which,”103 sounds like “witches witch,” evoking the medieval notion of the witching hour. Now acutely vulnerable to linguistic confusion, Macbeth immediately determines to go early tomorrow “to the Weïrd Sisters.”104 The witching effect emanates from the word/wyrd.

At the end of this harrowing course of nature initiated by the tongue, Mac- beth’s only companions are Seyton and foul words. Instead of “honor, love, obedience and troops of friends” he is left, “in their stead” with “[c]urses, not loud but deep, mouth-honor, breath / Which the poor heart would fain deny and dare not.”105 He resorts to curses (but they are impotent) when told that Macduff has not technically been “born” of a woman:

Accursed be that tongue that tells me so,
For it hath cowed my better part of man!
And be these juggling fiends no more believed

That palter with us in a double sense,
That keep the word of promise to our ear
And break it to our hope.106

Macduff delivers his word-blow (“Macduff was from his mother’s womb / Untimely ripped”) through the mediation of “the [destroying] angel whom [Mac- beth] still hast served,”107 possibly to avoid the effects of a curse uttered even by a cowed and broken enemy.

Prayer: Passion and Pollution

This look at linguistic potency and causality has a more narrowed application in both the Epistle of James and in Macbeth in terms of prayer. James references the prophet Elijah, a paragon who, though “subject to like passions as we are, prayed earnestly that it might not rain, and it rained not on the earth for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.”108 James yokes the word’s efficacy to the speaker’s character and earnestness: “the prayer of a righteous man availeth much, if it be fervent.”109 Prayers avail much in Macbeth, too, though Shakespeare is not only concerned with the prayers of the righteous. Edward’s “holy prayers” and “healing benediction”110 accord with James’s assurance that “the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up.”111 Yet Shakespeare also sets benedictions alongside maledictions: the Macbeths’ prayers to “murd’ring ministers,”112 the stars,113 and “seeling night”114 are as effective in accomplishing mayhem as Edward’s are to heal. Macbeth’s third act closes with an unnamed lord’s promise to “send my prayers with [Macduff],” and Macduff’s last words before confronting Macbeth in the final act take the form of a prayer: “Let me find him, Fortune.”115 These petitions are directed toward antithetical audiences: providential God, diabolical powers, pagan nature, and destiny; yet all are answered. In midrashically amplifying James’s claims about the fervently uttered word, Shakespeare adduces the weight of the history of wyrd especially in its dualistic alignments with the Christian God or the fallen angel. In Macbeth, the fervent “prayer,” to unseen power(s), whether uttered by the unrighteous or the righteous, is manifestly effective upon the events and conditions of this world.

James’s teaching on the power of petitionary prayer is entwined with the injunction to confessional prayer. Both concern a means of relief and release from affliction. James’s words on sickness and healing were “put to particularly heavy use in heated debates among Protestant divines concerning the anointing of the sick”116 in Shakespeare’s time. John Calvin derided as “hypocritical stageplay”117 the Roman Catholic sacrament of extreme unction, a practice supported by the Council of Trent and by references to James’s Epistle. The following verses provide a fuller context of James’s teaching on prayer and sickness and conclude with the verse just discussed:

Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray. … Is any sick among you? Let him call for the Elders of the Church, and let them pray for him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up, and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. Acknowledge your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. For the prayer of a righteous man availeth much, if it be fervent.118

Once again, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth confirm James’s exhortations through antithesis. Shakespeare opens his final act with a “patient [who] more needs … the divine than the physician”119 in ironic contrast to the virtue of patience advocated by James and ignored by the Macbeths. As a counter example to James’s instruction to “acknowledge your faults one to another … that ye may be healed,” the “infected minds” of the Macbeths “[t]o their deaf pillows … discharge their secrets.”120 And, in contrast to his repentant precursor who “very frankly … confessed his treasons, / Implored your Highness’ pardon, and set forth / A deep repentance”121 just before his execution, the deluded and unrepentant Macbeth refuses confession and subjection. His final words are a curse: “Damned be him that first cries ‘Hold! Enough.”122 Lady Macbeth’s final words, an unconscious, somnambulant, deluded “confession,” indicate remorse without repentance.

The Potency of the Word—and Midrash

Shakespeare’s time was full of bloody discord, and words were both sword and shield. Preachers and dramatists contended for the ears of a people hungry for sermons and plays.

The grocers, locksmiths and other virile illiterates, also the persons of quality, who flocked to St. Clement’s to hear [Henry] Smith, were, we must remember, the very men for whose attention Marlowe and Shakespeare were competing.123

Queen Elizabeth eyed gatherings interestingly known as “prophesyings” with distrust, fearing that “they could easily turn into public demonstrations of discontent.”124 The “universally discussed and debated”125 Oath of Allegiance, the extensive disputations about “equivocation” and “mixed speech” during the trial of Father Garnet, and the Act to Restrain Abuses of Players attempted to litigate speech in political, religious, and artistic spheres. So-called minced oaths such as Shakespeare’s use of “sword” as a contraction for “God’s word”126 skirted laws against blasphemy and encouraged polysemy over univocality. King James 1 chafed at the “partial, untrue, seditious, and … traitorous conceits” of the Geneva Bible’s annotations. Desiring the legacy of a peacemaker who conducted “the religious wars [with] the pen” rather than the sword,”127 King James is also chronicled as a practiced dissembler, who promised Parliament that “his tongue should be euer the trew Messinger of his heart”128 while subscribing to Tiberius’ motto that “He who does not know how to dissimulate does not know how to rule.”129

In stark relief, James enjoins honest, unambiguous speech. Alluding to Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, he implores: “But before all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven nor by earth, nor by any other oath; but let your yea be yea, and your nay, nay.”130 There appears to be a “rub” here not only for the politician but also for the playwright whose doing of the word depends upon the imaginative vision of multivocality and ambiguity. Macbeth opens with a flagrant antithesis of “let your yea be yea, and your nay, nay” with the “Fair is foul, and foul is fair” motif, first uttered by the witches and then echoed by the doomed Macbeth. Like the vile bigotry of the witches’ cauldron incantations,131 this indirectness of speech might be understood as being condemned because of the character of the speakers. Yet Malcolm also prevaricates in a manner reminiscent of the motto King James claimed as his own. Macbeth’s accusation that Malcolm and Donalbain are “filling their hearers / With strange invention”132 is contextually false, but it is a not inaccurate description of the way poets and politicians “do the word.” Though motives do not always excuse malfeasance, Malcolm’s deceit, unlike Macbeth’s, purposes to discern rather than impugn. Malcolm’s deception brings the truth of Macduff’s loyalty to the surface. This is also true of the playwright’s “lies”— poetic license, paradox, irony, and so on — artifices that expose artifice. If this seems to contradict the claim that this play is a midrashic illustration of James’s letter, it is important to realize that the rub may not truly exist. It may be a faulty understanding of James’s contextual emphasis. The annotators explain this verse as a prohibition against certain oaths. James cannot mean to equate speaking truthfully with speaking literally. His letter abounds with figurative language such as “the tongue is fire … full of deadly poison”; “the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace”; and his warning to the selfishly rich that their “cankered” and “rust[ed]” wealth “shall eat your flesh.”133 John Calvin attributes the controversy dividing the Church over James 2:24134 to the misuse of language’s imprecision, arguing that “when, therefore, the sophists set up James against Paul, they go astray through the ambiguous meaning of a term.”135

With its fulsome instances of lies, slander, and even prayers to the powers of evil, Macbeth clearly illustrates James’s warning about the tongue’s generatively destructive potential. Less evident is any illustration of James’s claim of the word’s generatively restorative powers. I. A. Richards’s observation that one must think like an “agnostic” or “Manichean” to appreciate dramatic tragedy because “[t]he least touch of any theology which has a compensating Heaven to offer the tragic hero is fatal”136 may explain this omission. James, however, in the same procreative language he uses to discuss the deadliness of worldly desire, writes of restoration and redemption. The means of this grace is God’s word: “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be as the firstfruits of his creatures.”137 When “receive[d] with meekness [this] word that is grafted in you … is able to save your souls.”138 Having heeded instead the wyrd of the Weïrd Sisters, the unrepentant and unredeemed Macbeth, as a midrash of all James warns against, must be damned, dramatically and theologically.

“James does not conclude his letter with greetings and benedictions typical of epistolary endings, but with a summons to action.”139 Similarly, a “basic hermeneutical principle” among midrashists is that “the understanding of a text can never remain simply a state of intellectual agreement. … Understanding shows itself only in action in the world.”140 We cannot know what Shakespeare hoped to accomplish by being a “doer of the word” in the sense of being a poet playwright, but he understood the profound connection between words and actions. To read Macbeth as a midrash of the Epistle of James is to perceive some strong kindredness of a theological, literary, and philosophical basis on the part of the playwright for the epistle writer. This may be summarized as a belief in the causality of salvific truth and confounding lies, and a recognition that words and actions may be feigned but may also be measured for truth—the very definition of drama. It suggests that Shakespeare saw in this ancient writer’s imagery, figurative language and rhetorical stance a combination of mystery and certainty in matters temporal and eternal that invited “conversing.”141 In defining “midrash,” a form of this kind of conversing, Jacob Neusner explains that “What makes the exegesis of Scripture, by Jews and Christians alike, different from the exegesis of Homer or Plato is the conviction of the exegetes that, through their reading they mediated God’s Word to the world and so brought about salvation.”142 Remembering that one of the etymological associations of weïrd is “wayward,” we read James’s closing promissory summons with William Shakespeare, and his tragic version of Macbeth, in mind:

Brethren, if any of you hath erred from the truth, and some man hath converted him, let him know that he which hath converted the sinner from going astray out of his way, shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.143

Cite this article
Judith Anderson, “Doers of the Word: Shakespeare, Macbeth, and the Epistle of James”, Christian Scholar’s Review, 46:4 , 341–362


  1. Luke Timothy Johnson, The Letter of James: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (NY: Doubleday, 1995), 7.
  2. Sophie Laws, The Epistle of James. Black’s New Testament Commentaries (Michigan UP: 1980), 85.
  3. Park Honan, Shakespeare: A Life (UK: Oxford University Press, 1998), 48.
  4. William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Macbeth, eds. Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine (Folger Shakespeare Library, 1992), 5.8.85.
  5. John D. Davis, Davis Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1975), 371. Both the Epistle and Macbeth include fountains, water, vapor (mist), rain, sea, trees, flowers, light, shadows, horses, birds, fire, and the sun.
  6. Douglas J. Moo, The Letter of James (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), 7.
  7. Jacob Neusner, What is Midrash? (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1987), 49.
  8. The Geneva Bible is widely accepted as the translation most familiar to Shakespeare.
  9. Hannibal Hamlin notes similarities to Ludwig Lavater’s 1596 claim, “Divells … sometimes they tell truth.” Qtd The Bible in Shakespeare (Oxford University Press, 2013), 292.
  10. Shakespeare, Macbeth, 1.7.7.
  11. The Epistle of James, http// n=GNV. 4.7-8.
  12. Theodore Spencer, Shakespeare and the Nature of Man (NY: Macmillan Co, 1961), 158.
  13. Shakespeare, Macbeth, 5.2.24-25.
  14. Epistle of James, 2.5.
  15. Ibid., 1:11.
  16. Shakespeare, Macbeth, 5.5.55-56.
  17. Epistle of James, 4.13, 14.
  18. Probably pronounced “Satan,” Seyton is mentioned inconsequentially in Holinshed’s list of surnames newly created at the beginning of Malcolm’s reign.
  19. Hardin Craig, “Motivation in Shakespeare’s Choice of Materials,” Shakespeare Survey, ed. Allardyce Nicoll (UK: Cambridge University Press, 1968), 32.
  20. Moo, 79.
  21. This is not Manicheanism. The devils “tremble” at God’s oneness. Jas.2.19.
  22. Epistle of James, 2.10. Would Shakespeare have known of Augustine’s felicitous use of the term “double love”— of God and neighbor—to describe the two tablets of the Decalogue?
  23. Ibid., 4.4.
  24. Epistle of James, 4.4b.
  25. Ibid., 1.6.
  26. Epistle of James 1.8.
  27. Shakespeare, Macbeth, 5.8.24 “That palter with us in a double sense.”
  28. Ibid., 1.7.91-92.
  29. Epistle of James, 3.9-12.
  30. Shakespeare, Macbeth, 2.2.42-44.
  31. Ibid., 4.3.157.
  32. M. C. Bradbrook, “The Sources of Macbeth,” Shakespeare Survey (NY: Cambridge University Press, 1968), 36.
  33. Shakespeare’s choice of the word “division” rather than, for instance, “performance,” is likely an instance of wordplay.
  34. Shakespeare, Macbeth, 4.3.111-116.
  35. Ibid., 4.1.53-63.
  36. Ibid., 3.2.18.
  37. Epistle of James, 4.8.
  38. Shakespeare, Macbeth, 3.4.169.
  39. Ibid., 5.3.54-55.
  40. Ibid., 5.3.64.
  41. Ibid., 4.3.27-30.
  42. Ibid., 1.2.47-48.
  43. Hamlin, The Bible in Shakespeare, 177-178.
  44. Ibid., 135.
  45. Epistle of James, 1.5.
  46. Shakespeare, Macbeth, 1.5.3.
  47. Ibid., 4.1.157-158.
  48. Ibid., 1.2.26.
  49. Ibid., 5.8.4.
  50. Ibid., 5.8.82.
  51. In the Geneva Bible’s prefatory “Argument” to James, the annotators summarize James’s key points, among them the need to “avoid ambition.” http// James_1164-1168.pdf.
  52. Epistle of James, 3.14-16.
  53. Ibid., 3.17, italics mine.
  54. Shakespeare, Macbeth, 3.1.58.
  55. Ibid., 3.6.31.
  56. Epistle of James, 1.2-4.
  57. Ibid., 1.12.

  58. Ibid., 5.10-11.
  59. Shakespeare, Macbeth, 4.3.107.
  60. Epistle of James, 1.3 (note).
  61. John McNamara, “Chaucer’s Use of the Epistle of St. James in the Clerk’s Tale,” The Chaucer Review, 7:3 (1973): 185.
  62. Shakespeare, Macbeth, 1.3.109.
  63. Ibid., 1.3.143, 147.
  64. Ibid., 1.3.157-158.
  65. Ibid., 1.4.58.
  66. Ibid., 1.5.18.
  67. Ibid., 1.5.65-66.
  68. Ibid., 1.7.1-2.
  69. Ibid., 1.7.34-38.
  70. Epistle of James, 1.4 (note).
  71. Shakespeare, Macbeth, 3.1.66, 73-74.
  72. Ibid., 5.3.28.
  73. Ibid., 5.5.31.
  74. See, for example, James’s condemnation of oppression of the poor in 2.6 and 5.4.
  75. Shakespeare, Macbeth, 3.1.97-101, italics mine.
  76. Qtd. Paul Budra, A Mirror for Magistrates and the de casibus Tradition (Canada: Toronto University Press, 2000), 20.
  77. Ibid.
  78. Shakespeare, Macbeth, 1.2.17. Ross places Macbeth in company with the Roman goddess of war, Bellona a few lines later (li. 62).
  79. Ibid., 1.3.54.
  80. Henry N. Paul, The Royal Play of Macbeth (NY: MacMillan, 1950), 66.
  81. Willard Farnham, The Medieval Heritage of Elizabethan Tragedy (CA: California University Press, 1936), 407.
  82. Wystan Hugh Auden, The Complete Works of W. H. Auden: Prose. 1939-1948 (NJ: Princeton University Press), 258.
  83. Epistle of James, 1.13-15.
  84. Shakespeare, Macbeth, 1.5.4. Raphael Holinshed describes Lady Macbeth with the words Shakespeare attributes to Macbeth. According to Holinshed, Lady Macbeth was “very ambi- tious, burning in unquenchable desire to bear the name of a queen.”
  85. A. P. Rossiter, “Macbeth’s Disintegration” Twentieth Century Interpretations of Macbeth: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Terence Hawkes (NJ: Prentice Hall 1977), 124.
  86. L.C. Knights, “Macbeth” in Twentieth Century Interpretations of Macbeth: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Terence Hawkes. (Prentice Hall, 1977), 101-102.
  87. Epistle of James, 4.1-3.
  88. Richard Chenevix Trench, D.D., Sermons New and Old (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, & Co., 1886), 176, 177.
  89. The etymology of fatidic is fatum ‎(“fate”) + dicere ‎(“to say, tell”).
  90. Epistle of James, 3.6-8.
  91. Shakespeare, Macbeth, 1.5.28.
  92. Ibid., 2.1.54.
  93. Albert Keiser, The Influence of Christianity on the Vocabulary of Old English Poetry (Illinois: Illinois University Press, 1919), 59.
  94. Ibid., 61.
  95. Ibid., 11.
  96. Josiah Willard Gibbs, Teutonic Etymology: The Formation of Teutonic Words in the English Language (New Haven: Peck, White, and Peck, 1860), 138.
  97. Epistle of James, 1.21.
  98. Irving Ribner, “Macbeth: The Pattern of Idea and Action,” Shakespeare Quarterly 10.2 (2012): 151.
  99. Shakespeare, Macbeth, 3.1.18-20.
  100. Though all three witches address Banquo, only the third witch utters the prophecy con- cerning Banquo’s offspring.
  101. Shakespeare, Macbeth, 3.1.64.
  102. Ibid., 3.1.65.
  103. Ibid., 3.4.158.
  104. Ibid., 3.4.165.
  105. Ibid., 5.3.31-32.
  106. Ibid., 5.8.21-26.
  107. Ibid., 5.8.18.
  108. Epistle of James, 5.17-18. italics mine.
  109. Ibid., 5.16b.
  110. Shakespeare, Macbeth, 4.3.178.
  111. Epistle of James, 5.15.
  112. Shakespeare, Macbeth, 1.5.55.
  113. Ibid., 1.4.57.
  114. Ibid., 3.3.52.
  115. Ibid., 5.7.27.
  116. Johnson, The Letter of James, 144.
  117. Jean Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Pub., 2008), 957.
  118. Epistle of James, 5.13-16.
  119. Shakespeare, Macbeth, 5.1.78 italics mine.
  120. Ibid., 5.1.76-77.
  121. Ibid., 1.4.6-8.
  122. Ibid., 5.8.39.
  123. William Haller, The Rise of Puritanism (NY: Harper & Row, 1938), 32.
  124. Susan Ronald, Heretic Queen: Queen Elizabeth 1 and the Wars of Religion (NY: St. Martins Press, 2012), 206.
  125. Paul, The Royal Play of Macbeth 257.
  126. Joel H. Kaplan, “Pistol’s ‘Oath’: Henry V, II.i.101.” Shakespeare Quarterly 22 (1971): 399-400.
  127. James Doelman, King James 1 and the Religious Culture of England (UK: St Edmundsbury Press Ltd., 2000), 89.
  128. Johann P. Sommerville, ed. King James VI and I Political Writings (UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 279.
  129. Qtd. Jonathan Goldberg, James I and the Politics of Literature: Jonson Shakespeare, Donne, and their Contemporaries (NY: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983), 68.
  130. Epistle of James, 5.12.
  131. Shakespeare, Macbeth, 4.1.22-31.
  132. Ibid., 3.1.35-36.
  133. Epistle of James, 5.2-3.
  134. Ye see then how that of works a man is justified, and not of faith only.”
  135. Jean Calvin, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles. Qtd Johnson 143.
  136. I. A. Richards, Principles of Literary Criticism, ed. John Constable (NY: Routledge, 2001), 218.
  137. Epistle of James, 1.18.
  138. Ibid., 1.21.
  139. Moo, The Letter of JAMES, 248.
  140. Gerald L. Bruns,”Midrash and Allegory: The Beginnings of Scriptural Interpretation,” in The Literary Guide to the Bible, eds. Robert Alter, Frank Kermode (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987), 629.
  141. “Conversing” as in writing and thinking about life (see Honan, Shakespeare: A Life, 48.)
  142. Neusner, What is Midrash?, 12.
  143. Epistle of James, 5.19-20. The author gratefully acknowledges the support of her husband Donald, the suggestions offered by the CSR editors, and the comments and encouragements offered by Leland Ryken, Elaine J. Koplow, and Harry Keyishian over the course of this essay’s evolution.

Judith Anderson

Chatham High School
Judith Anderson taught English at Chatham High School in New Jersey for 20 years. She lives in Plainfield, N.J.