I initially looked up the meaning of this word and found out that it means literally the mouth of River Ness. However, in the play, this castle has been associated with evil and dark images and I was hoping if anyone could comment on some linguistic or semantic element of this very word that would have allowed Shakespeare to do so.

4 Answers 4


I think it is not the name itself but the facts that the name evokes: crimes, fires and the "dark" life of the Middle Ages":


  • Shakespeare’s tragedy ‘Macbeth’ was supposedly based in the earlier 11th century Inverness Castle, the location of Duncan’s murder. The present Inverness Castle may not be witness to anything so dramatic, but as the premises of the Sheriff’s Court it may not be without its own tales of crime and passion.

  • The 11th century Inverness Castle was made of wood and was destroyed by King Robert I. Today the only evidence is a part of the curtain wall and a restored well. It was later replaced by a stone fortress, built in 1548 on Castle Hill by George Gordon. He was the fourth Earl of Huntly and the Constable of the Castle at the time.



  • literally "mouth of the (River) Ness (for which see Nessie), from Inver-, element in place names in Scotland of Gaelic origin, usually of places at the confluence of a river with another or the sea, from Old Irish *in(d)ber- "estuary," literally "a carrying in," from Celtic *endo-ber-o-, from *endo- "in" (from PIE *en-do-, extended form of root *en; see in) + from *ber- "to carry," from PIE root *bher- (1) "to carry" (see infer).



Echoing Josh61's response, I don't feel that there is tremendous significance to the place name other than to add to the play's overall "Scottishness."

We know that the play was written after 1605, thanks to allusions to the Gunpowder Plot. A number of scholars, including Alvin Kernan and A.R. Braunmiller, have suggested that the play was presented as a court entertainment during the state visit of King James's Danish in-laws in 1606. In any case, it is certain that Macbeth represents an attempt by Shakespeare's theatrical company - who had recently been renamed "The King's Men" - to curry royal favor and salute the new monarch and his Scottish origins.

It is unlikely that Shakespeare or many in his ordinary London audience had much direct knowledge of Scotland, so the collection of place and character names are most probably intended more to enrich the overall setting than to convey specifically encoded meaning.

And oftentimes, to win us to our harm, the instruments of persnickety scholarship tell us truths, win us with honest trifles to betray us in deepest consequence...

  • Shakespeare was a genius who quite possibly read extremely widely; I expect he knew much more than he is generally credited for knowing. Feb 18, 2016 at 14:03
  • Despite Ben Jonson's statement that Shakespeare knew "small Latin and less Greek," he apparently read a great deal. In the case of Mactbeth, it's likely he had read (or knew a lot of) Holished's Chronicles.He would have been a phenomenal contributor to ELU!
    – Rob_Ster
    Feb 18, 2016 at 14:17
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    @Rob_Ster - he could handle every single word request by making something up... Feb 18, 2016 at 16:34
  • 1
    @JamesMcLeod - In the case of over half of the 8700-odd single-word requests in the database, he probably did.
    – Rob_Ster
    Feb 18, 2016 at 16:36
  • Holinshed's Chronicles are a very bad source of information about early Scottish history (a lot is 100% made up and much more is dubious), and there is much about that period in Scotland we still don't know. But any answer would have to look at the sources Shakespeare had.
    – Stuart F
    Jul 1, 2022 at 12:03

This website giving the history of Inverness castle says

The site of the modern castle was established by King Malcolm III, who built a stronghold here in 1057 after destroying Macbeth’s castle at Crown Hill.

and spiritofthehighlands.com says

The first castle on this site was an earth and timber one with a ditch and earth ramparts. It was established by David I, son of Malcolm III. Malcolm had destroyed the castle of his rival, Macbeth, at nearby Crown Hill.

This means that the historical King Macbeth did, literally, hold and inhabit Inverness castle. There is no need for a literary interpretation of the name of the castle and the modern city, Shakespeare based the play (very loosly) on the life and career of the historical King Macbeth and the real King Macbeth lived in Inverness castle (it may not have been called Inverness Castle at that time but the city and castle had that name by the 17th century) no other explanation is necessary.

  • Malcolm III is of course a character in the play, the legitimate monarch who becomes king at the end (and would presumably be a hero to King James). The play also omits the tradition that Malcolm treacherously killed Macbeth's son Lulach.
    – Stuart F
    Jul 1, 2022 at 12:11
  • But maintains the tradition that Macbeth was a murderous usurper.
    – Colin Fine
    Jul 1, 2022 at 14:33

I think the city, Inverness, where Macbeth's castle is located connects with the word inferno which means hell. From my perspective this connotation may refer to Macbeth's castle as a living hell due to all the sins he has committed. This also uncovers Macbeth's true state of mind and how his strength and bravery is an important element to the vision of evil thats depicted in the play.

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