After Queen Elizabeth died in 1603, King James VI of Scotland was named her successor, and he became King James I of England. His new subjects were relieved to avoid civil war and invasion. James I had the distinction of being the first monarch to rule both England and Scotland, and it was his greatest ambition to unify the two kingdoms into a single country, which he wanted to call Great Britain. James was unsuccessful in his efforts to unify Great Britain, but he achieved his second political goal in 1604 when he signed a treaty with King Philip III of Spain, thereby ending a nineteen-year period of intermittent conflict known as the Anglo-Spanish War. Peace made it easier for the English to cross the Atlantic into the New World, and in 1607 the first successful English colony in the Americas was founded at Jamestown, Virginia. James has also gone down in history for authorizing one of the most famous English translations of the Bible, first published in 1611 and still known today as the King James Bible. Overall, the arts flourished under James’s reign and England’s influence continued to extend.
James proved to be a true enthusiast of the theater. Just a few months after assuming the throne, he officially adopted Shakespeare’s company. With the sponsorship of the king, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men became known as the King’s Men. For his part, Shakespeare welcomed the new king with Macbeth, written around 1606.
is set in James’s native Scotland, and the play portrays the king’s real-life ancestor, Banquo, as a good man destined to have monarchs among his descendants.
’s famous witches also appealed to the king’s interests. James had a longstanding fascination with witchcraft, and he considered himself an expert on the subject. In 1597, he wrote a book about witchcraft, Daemonologie, which Shakespeare likely consulted when writing the witches’ spells in
In two later plays,
Shakespeare appears to support James’s desire to unite England and Scotland. Both plays are set in the ancient and semi-mythical period in which England and Scotland had been a single country known as “Britain.” In
the decision to divide Britain into three separate kingdoms has terrible consequences, which some scholars have read as a warning that implicitly justifies James’s vision of unification.