By Tom Peterkin
Historians and politicians have begun a campaign to rehabilitate Macbeth by claiming that his reputation has been unfairly maligned by William Shakespeare.
A drive to dispel the Scottish king's image as an evil murderer, whose name has become synonymous with bad luck and superstition, has been launched in the 1,000th year since his birth.
A group of eminent historians have persuaded politicians in the Scottish Parliament to sign a motion calling for Macbeth's achievements to be recognised.
They claim that his true character has been assassinated by Shakespeare's representation of an ambitious and ruthless tyrant fatally influenced by his domineering wife, Lady Macbeth.
Far from the Shakespearean impression of a "butcher and his fiend-like Queen", Macbeth reigned wisely over a prosperous, united Scotland in the 11th century and encouraged the spread of Christianity.
To misquote the Bard, Shakespeare's version of Macbeth's life "is nothing more than an illusion. It's like a poor actor who struts and worries for his hour on the stage".
About 20 members of the Scottish Parliament have supported the motion tabled by Alex Johnstone, the Conservative MSP for North-East Scotland.
Historians have joined the campaign, including Prof John Beatty of the City University of New York, who wants 2005 to be declared the "Year of Macbeth".
Unlike in the play, Macbeth did not murder King Duncan while he slept. Although Macbeth may have slain his rival for the throne, the deed was done in the battle of Pitgaveny in Moray in 1040.
After that Macbeth ruled for 17 years - a long reign for any king during the early Middle Ages. And the fact that there was no challenge for the throne when he went on a six-month pilgrimage to Rome suggests that his kingdom was stable and he had the respect of his subjects.
Ted Cowan, professor of history at Glasgow University, said: "One of his earliest obituaries described his time as the fertile seasons and this is the Celtic way of saying that there was good food and the people were happy, so Macbeth was quite a successful king.
"Some of the ancient Highland clans looked to Macbeth as the last great Celtic ruler in Scotland."
James Fraser, of Edinburgh University's history department, said: "You cannot assume that he was a tyrant ruling over a kingdom that hated him, which is the impression you get from the play. There is no evidence for that."
According to the historians, the Macbeth legend promoted by Shakespeare had its origins in the Scottish bardic tradition. Bards under the patronage of the rival royal line started by Malcolm Canmore rewrote history and blackened Macbeth's name to discourage future challenges to the monarch.
Shakespeare drew on these sources when he wrote the play, which strikes fear into the hearts of actors, who refer to it as the Scottish Play.
The curse of Macbeth has struck on many occasions. At the Old Vic in 1937 Laurence Olivier narrowly escaped death when a stage weight crashed down.
Other prominent Macbeths include Sir John Gielgud, Orson Welles, who directed and starred in a 1948 film of the play, and Peter O'Toole, who played the lead in a production that critics described as the worst ever adaptation.
Prof Stanley Wells, the chairman of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust at Stratford, said: "Shakespeare was concerned with writing a drama and a tragedy and would not have known that much about the real Macbeth.
"I can see that people who care about Scottish history might want to emphasise that the Shakespeare play was not an accurate portrayal."