A NORTH EAST MSP leading a campaign to restore Macbeth’s tarnished reputation today unveiled plans for a special trail dedicated to the maligned central character of Shakespeare’s Scottish play.
Earlier this week Alex Johnstone, the Tory MSP, tabled a Scottish Parliamentary motion claiming that Shakespeare’s Macbeth had “misportrayed” the 11th Century Scottish monarch.
And he believes that renewed public interest in Macbeth, sparked by the discovery of the remains of another Shakespearean “villain” Richard III, could herald a mini tourist boom for the towns and villages across Scotland with historic links to the Thane of Glamis.
These include the Aberdeenshire village of Lumphanan where Macbeth was killed in a battle against the forces of the future King Malcolm II, Iona. where the king is believed to have been buried, and Dunsinane, the hill fort in the hills above Perth where Macbeth fought a battle with Earl Siward of Northumberland.
Mr Johnstone unveiled his plans for the new Macbeth trail in the shadow of Glamis castle in Angus were King Malcolm II was murdered when Glamis was a Royal hunting lodge.
He said: “I believe that Macbeth was pretty much maligned by Shakespeare. Now, I have no objection to Shakespeare and he can write whatever he writes, but we shouldn’t confuse our history with his dramatic representation.
“And what I am about here is trying to make sue that we do recognise the real history of Macbeth that happened - much of it in the North east, from Moray where is he thought to have been born to the Battle of Lumphanan in 1057 where he died.”
Mr Johnston insisted that, between being crowned King of Scotland in 1040 and his death, Macbeth had led a very successful reign during a period when Scotland was relatively stable - holding the kingdom of Scotland together against the threat of Viking invasion and conquest.
He claimed: “History would appear to suggest that Macbeth was the good guy - and that people like Malcolm and Duncan were the guys who were on the make. The reign of Macbeth is characterised by paranoia and murder because of Shakespeare’s portrayal. But, set in the context of the time, it was successful and outward looking.”
Mr Johnstone explained that the Macbeth trail would likely be based on a dedicated website, encouraging people touring Scotland to visit key places with links to the life of Macbeth. The trail, using leaflets and signage, could also embrace new technology, such as QR barcodes, to provide additional information.
Her said: “The tourism potential of Macbeth has never been fully explored. Scottish history at that point is fairly well recorded and we can identify the routes that he took, the places that he visited and the sites of the battles he fought.
“We are looking for local authorities to collaborate and assistance from VisitScotland and the Scottish Government. But it is surprising how positive this kind of story can be and we have already had an encouraging response.”
Dr Fiona Watson, the author of “Macbeth: A True Story” and an honorary research fellow in history at Dundee University, welcomed the initiative.
She said “The Scots assassinated Macbeth’s character long before Shakespeare and I’m afraid we have to take the blame ourselves. Politics in Scotland got in the way of the truth.
“But he did end a period of Shakespearean violence in Scotland. He put that all behind him and he went on a pilgrimage to Rome, worked to take Scotland out to the world and into an international context and reigned over a relatively peaceful time in Scotland’s history.
“I think it’s great idea to have this trail. It’s a fascinating period of our history that we are now understanding a lot better.”
Kate Turnbull,a spokeswoman for VisitScotland, said: “The recent discovery of the remains of Richard III and subsequent press and public attention has shown a real appetite for delving into the past and discovering truths about magnificent historical figures. To do the same for Macbeth here in Scotland could have a positive impact on tourism
“The potential to develop trails, tours, events and information in areas associated with this Scottish King, famously immortalised by Shakespeare is considerable and I’m sure visitors from across the world would be interested to find out more about Macbeth - the man behind the character.”