This first chapter examines Macbeth's dramatic elements from several different perspectives, considering the play's critical and theatrical heritage, its historically based plot, its textual development, and its poetic and literary patterns. In haste to label Shakespeare a genius, some might overlook the numerous influences that contributed directly or indirectly to his artistry. Elements that may seem unique to Macbeth--its plot, structure, character, and theme--reflect conventions and stories that Shakespeare shared with contemporary dramatists, historians, critics, and their predecessors. Seeing the play in this context does not deny Shakespeare his craft and creativity but gives these qualities meaning within a specific time and place and within a larger literary tradition. By narrowing the focus gradually from a historical perspective to a closer study of the play, the following discussion aims to explore the many ways Macbeth integrates poetry and action into a unified dramatic experience.
Although few would question Macbeth's status as a tragedy, the more challenging task is to identify the play's specific tragic elements according to a clear definition of the genre. Students may