Five Fascinating Facts about Macbeth

A short introduction to the classic play Macbeth in the form of five interesting facts

1. Lady Macbeth’s real name was Gruoch and Macbeth’s real name was Mac Bethad mac Findlaích. Many people know the story of Macbeth: the ambitious Thane of Cawdor, egged on by his wife who taunts him with jibes about his (insufficient) manliness and encouraged by the prophecy imparted to him by three witches, kills the Scottish king, Duncan, while Duncan is asleep in Macbeth’s own castle. Macbeth takes the crown for himself, and tyrannically rules Scotland until Macduff defeats him, killing Macbeth and enabling Duncan’s son Malcolm to be crowned King. But the story as told by Shakespeare is somewhat different from the historical truth. The real Macbeth killed Duncan in battle in 1040 and Macbeth (or Mac Bethad) actually went on to rule for 17 years, until he was killed and Macbeth’s stepson, known as Lulach the Idiot, became king (though he only ruled for less than a year – then Malcolm, as Malcolm III, took the crown). Unsurprisingly, the historical record is rather lacking in witches, and the idea of killing Duncan while the king was a guest in Macbeth’s own home was Shakespeare exercising his artistic licence. Read the rest of this entry

October 6 in Literature: Alfred Tennyson Dies

The most significant events in the history of books on the 6th of October

1600: Jacopo Peri’s Euridice, the earliest surviving opera, premieres in Florence at the Palazzo Pitti. The opera is based on the Greek myth of Orpheus, and more specifically on the Roman poet Ovid’s retelling of it in his Metamorphoses.

1889: Thomas Edison shows his first motion picture. You can watch it here (the film begins at 2:22). Read the rest of this entry

An Interesting Review of The Third QI Book of General Ignorance

The most interesting things about literary classics we learnt from the new QI book

Here at Interesting Literature we’re fans of the BBC TV show QI, hosted by Stephen Fry and created by John Lloyd, the producer of such British comedy classics as Blackadder and Spitting Image. We’re lucky enough to count the makers of the programme among our Twitter friends, and they’ve even cited us as the source for some of the facts in one of their previous books (namely the fascinating fact-filled 1,411 QI Facts To Knock You Sideways). We also love the QI spirit: for those of you who don’t know the show, the idea is to look more closely at widely held beliefs (and ‘facts’) in order to discover how true they really are. A cornerstone of the QI ‘philosophy’ is the notion of debunking misconceptions, something that can be traced back at least as far as Sir Thomas Browne, the seventeenth-century natural philosopher, who is the subject of one of our earlier posts (and who, quite neatly, was the first person to use the word ‘misconception’). Like (named, by the way, after a family from William Faulkner‘s novels), the QI spirit entails examining and then, where necessary, correcting the ‘truths’ we hold so dear. Read the rest of this entry

October 5 in Literature: First James Bond Film Released

The most significant events in the history of books on the 5th of October

1713: Denis Diderot, the co-founder of the Encyclopédie, is born. When Catherine the Great heard that Diderot had fallen on hard times, she agreed to purchase his library and pay him an annual salary.

1840: John Addington Symonds is born. A scholar and poet, Symonds (pronounced ‘simmunds’) was an early champion of male homosexual love at a time when ‘homosexuality’ as a term was only just coming into existence. Read the rest of this entry

October 4 in Literature: Guys and Dolls Author Born

The most significant events in the history of books on the 4th of October

1802: William Wordsworth marries his childhood friend Mary Hutchinson; the couple would live for many years with William’s sister Dorothy. William and Mary would have five children, though three of them, sadly, would die before their parents.

1880: Damon Runyon, author of Guys and Dolls, is born. Well, we say ‘author of Guys and Dolls‘, but the two stories which served as the source material for the popular musical were actually titled ‘The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown’ and ‘Blood Pressure’. The musical premiered in 1950, four years after Runyon’s death. Runyon wrote many tales of gangster life in 1920s America, and one of the characters to feature in his stories goes by the sobriquet ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’. The rock band Elbow would use this name as the title of their fourth album in 2008. Runyon is also often credited with coining the phrase ‘Hooray Henry’ (Runyon provides the dictionary with the earliest use of the phrase, albeit in the form ‘Hoorah Henry’ from 1936). Read the rest of this entry


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