Why Shakespeare’s Macbeth is still as relevant as ever in Westminster

As the government elites dethrone and backstab each other, we see a real-life depiction of the themes explored by the Bard centuries ago

It has been more than 400 years since the Bard penned the tragedy Macbeth. But we see it play out repeatedly in real time - not just adaptations on television and on stage, but in actuality. As the scene-stealing witches and narrators gleefully explain: “By the pricking of my thumbs, Something wicked this way comes.”

Whilst the BBC has been streaming the play “The Tragedy of Macbeth” starring four-time Academy Award-nominated Saoirse Ronan as Lady Macbeth, and students across the UK have been scribbling away for their GCSE English literature exams, something very Shakespearean has occurred before our very eyes. From figurative back-stabbing to dethroning, our government elites have been acting out this tale of woe.

Despite the centuries that have passed, the narrative continues to bring up themes that can often be seen in Westminster. The dark drama tells the story of a Scottish general, Macbeth, who receives a prophecy from three witches that he will become king of Scotland. Encouraged by his wife, Lady Macbeth, he decides to hasten his fate by murdering King Duncan and seizing the throne for himself. Up until this point, there’s no doubt we’ve seen something similar play out.

And it started all the way back in 2016, when the former UK Prime Minister David Cameron (remember him?) stepped down after the country voted to leave the European Union. The first person to pick up the pitchfork was then Home Secretary Theresa May. The second UK female prime minister finally called it quits in 2019 after surviving two no-confidence votes, with the former foreign secretary Boris Johnson standing on the sidelines jubilantly rubbing his hands like a pantomime villain. 

Theresa May, Liz Truss, Rishi Sunak, Boris Johnson and Suella Braverman on top of Shakespeare's Macbeth (Kim Mogg / NationalWorld)Theresa May, Liz Truss, Rishi Sunak, Boris Johnson and Suella Braverman on top of Shakespeare's Macbeth (Kim Mogg / NationalWorld)
Theresa May, Liz Truss, Rishi Sunak, Boris Johnson and Suella Braverman on top of Shakespeare's Macbeth (Kim Mogg / NationalWorld)

Of course like before, his time came to an appropriate end after it was reported he had attended various alcohol-fuelled parties during the Covid-19 lockdown. And he didn’t go away quickly or silently, despite mass resignations and a disgruntled cabinet. Liz Truss, his ever faithful servant, came to the rescue like a knight in matted armour, and survived all of 49 days, less than a mouldy lettuce

Now with Rishi Sunak teetering on the edge, we see another potential usurper. Home Secretary Suella Braverman seems to only be a hit with some of the more fringe elements of her party, as she continues to bolster her anti-immigration policies. According to YouGov, Braverman is only liked by 16% of the public, with 38% disliking her. Macbeth himself, who was teeming with ambition and not at the height of his popularity, said: 

“My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,

Shakes so my single state of man that function

Is smother’d in surmise.”

What has this fallen character got to do with Braverman you say? At this moment, Macbeth is yet to murder King Duncan, but is still consumed with the idea that he may have to carry it out. While Macbeth suffocated in his own doubts, Braverman, on the other hand, appears to be positioning herself for a far grander role. Speaking at the right-wing ‘National Conservatism Conference’ this week, Braverman spouted soundbites that reverberated less like a sitting cabinet minister than that of a leadership contender.

Clearly targeting the Tory right, she said: "Those of us advancing unfashionable facts are beaten over the head with fashionable fictions." She then gave the example of the "ethnicity of grooming gang perpetrators" and "the fact that 100% of women do not have a penis". One of the few references to policy came when she reiterated her comments on migration.

It is perfect timing. Only two weeks ago did we see the Conservative Party completely trip up in the local elections - with Sunak in the firing line. It may not be an out-and-out bloody stabbing, but Braverman appears to have begun poisoning the party’s right-wing base against the current management.

The result of the next general election is clearly up in the air, but if Sunak loses, there may be a challenger ready to oust the king - again. Shakespeare explored the themes of ambition, guilt, fate, and the corrupting influence of power. Perhaps the Bard was a witch himself, knowing we’re doomed to repeat our mistakes.