Sunday, October 26, 2008


What better way to kick off Macbeth week than by discussing the original play by William Shakespeare. (Later on in the week, I'll be discussing Manga Shakespeare: Macbeth, Something Wicked by Alan Gratz, and Enter Three Witches by Caroline Cooney.)

Here's a link to the play online. (Should you be inspired to read Macbeth this week so you can join in on the fun.) Here's my tip (for what it's worth) on reading Shakespeare...don't stress on the details, on understanding every single word. Think about the big picture. Sometimes it helps to know the frame of a story before you tackle the bard himself. Reading the abridged version in the Lamb's Tales From Shakespeare might help. Or watching a movie version (or stage version). Shakespeare was meant to be seen and heard not read, remember!

That being said, I really enjoy reading Shakespeare now and then. He has a way with words that cannot be denied. And Macbeth is one of his best. There are so many lines and phrases from Macbeth that are part of our culture..."sound and fury"...."something wicked this way comes..." not to mention those famous "double, double, toil and trouble"'s.

While there is very little to admire in most of the characters--especially Macbeth and Lady Macbeth--there is something deliciously dark about the play which makes it perfect reading for this time of year.

So what is the play about? It's all about ambition and greed. It's about desires. We do see humanity at its worst. Macbeth and his wife fail...and fail miserably as human beings. It's one thing to want something, to be jealous, to be envious. It's another to premeditate one murder after another after another after another in the name of "prophecy."

Macbeth was told by three witches that he would become king. How would a person respond to that? How should a person respond to that? Well, if you've got a speck of human decency, you probably wouldn't react like old Macbeth. You wouldn't let your wife manipulate you into committing several murders. Not that I lay all the blame on Lady Macbeth. Macbeth is a weakling of a man, it's true. And her teasing that he isn't all-man, does lead him to make stupid choices. If he wanted to prove he was all-man, that he had what it took to stand on his own two feet...he should have put his foot down, put his wife in her place, and stood up for what was right. He wouldn't have had to be talked into anything. You can almost imagine Macbeth with a little devil (or temptress) on his shoulder. The problem was he had no good angel to counteract those whispers. So once the first murder was committed....well, there was no looking back.

Highlights from the play--mainly focusing on the witches and the so-called "prophecy."

First Witch
When shall we three meet again
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?
Second Witch
When the hurlyburly's done,
When the battle's lost and won.
Third Witch
That will be ere the set of sun.
First Witch
Where the place?
Second Witch
Upon the heath.
Third Witch There to meet with Macbeth.

First Witch
Why, how now, Hecate! you look angerly.
HECATE Have I not reason, beldams as you are,
Saucy and overbold? How did you dare
To trade and traffic with Macbeth
In riddles and affairs of death;
And I, the mistress of your charms,
The close contriver of all harms,
Was never call'd to bear my part,
Or show the glory of our art?
And, which is worse, all you have done
Hath been but for a wayward son,
Spiteful and wrathful, who, as others do,
Loves for his own ends, not for you.
But make amends now: get you gone,
And at the pit of Acheron
Meet me i' the morning: thither he
Will come to know his destiny:
Your vessels and your spells provide,
Your charms and every thing beside.
I am for the air; this night I'll spend
Unto a dismal and a fatal end:
Great business must be wrought ere noon:
Upon the corner of the moon
There hangs a vaporous drop profound;
I'll catch it ere it come to ground:
And that distill'd by magic sleights
Shall raise such artificial sprites
As by the strength of their illusion
Shall draw him on to his confusion:
He shall spurn fate, scorn death, and bear
He hopes 'bove wisdom, grace and fear:
And you all know, security
Is mortals' chiefest enemy.
Hark! I am call'd; my little spirit, see,

Sits in a foggy cloud, and stays for me.


First Witch
Thrice the brinded cat hath mew'd.
Second Witch
Thrice and once the hedge-pig whined.
Third Witch
Harpier cries 'Tis time, 'tis time.
First Witch
Round about the cauldron go;
In the poison'd entrails throw.
Toad, that under cold stone
Days and nights has thirty-one
Swelter'd venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i' the charmed pot.
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.
Second Witch
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg and owlet's wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Third Witch
Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,
Witches' mummy, maw and gulf
Of the ravin'd salt-sea shark,
Root of hemlock digg'd i' the dark,
Liver of blaspheming Jew,
Gall of goat, and slips of yew
Silver'd in the moon's eclipse,
Nose of Turk and Tartar's lips,
Finger of birth-strangled babe
Ditch-deliver'd by a drab,
Make the gruel thick and slab:
Add thereto a tiger's chaudron,
For the ingredients of our cauldron.
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Second Witch
Cool it with a baboon's blood,
Then the charm is firm and good.

Enter HECATE to the other three Witches

O well done! I commend your pains;
And every one shall share i' the gains;
And now about the cauldron sing,
Live elves and fairies in a ring,
Enchanting all that you put in.

Music and a song: 'Black spirits,' & c

HECATE retires

Second Witch
By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes.
Open, locks,
Whoever knocks!


How now, you secret, black, and midnight hags!
What is't you do?
A deed without a name.
I conjure you, by that which you profess,
Howe'er you come to know it, answer me:
Though you untie the winds and let them fight
Against the churches; though the yesty waves
Confound and swallow navigation up;
Though bladed corn be lodged and trees blown down;
Though castles topple on their warders' heads;
Though palaces and pyramids do slope
Their heads to their foundations; though the treasure
Of nature's germens tumble all together,
Even till destruction sicken; answer me
To what I ask you.
First Witch
Second Witch
Third Witch
We'll answer.
First Witch
Say, if thou'dst rather hear it from our mouths,
Or from our masters?
Call 'em; let me see 'em.
First Witch
Pour in sow's blood, that hath eaten
Her nine farrow; grease that's sweaten
From the murderer's gibbet throw
Into the flame.
Come, high or low;
Thyself and office deftly show!

Thunder. First Apparition: an armed Head

Tell me, thou unknown power,--
First Witch
He knows thy thought:
Hear his speech, but say thou nought.
First Apparition
Macbeth! Macbeth! Macbeth! beware Macduff;
Beware the thane of Fife. Dismiss me. Enough.


Whate'er thou art, for thy good caution, thanks;
Thou hast harp'd my fear aright: but one
word more,--
First Witch
He will not be commanded: here's another,
More potent than the first.

Thunder. Second Apparition: A bloody Child

Second Apparition
Macbeth! Macbeth! Macbeth!
Had I three ears, I'ld hear thee.
Second Apparition
Be bloody, bold, and resolute; laugh to scorn
The power of man, for none of woman born
Shall harm Macbeth.


Then live, Macduff: what need I fear of thee?
But yet I'll make assurance double sure,
And take a bond of fate: thou shalt not live;
That I may tell pale-hearted fear it lies,
And sleep in spite of thunder.

Thunder. Third Apparition: a Child crowned, with a tree in his hand

What is this
That rises like the issue of a king,
And wears upon his baby-brow the round
And top of sovereignty?
Listen, but speak not to't.
Third Apparition
Be lion-mettled, proud; and take no care
Who chafes, who frets, or where conspirers are:
Macbeth shall never vanquish'd be until
Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill
Shall come against him.


That will never be
Who can impress the forest, bid the tree
Unfix his earth-bound root? Sweet bodements! good!
Rebellion's head, rise never till the wood
Of Birnam rise, and our high-placed Macbeth
Shall live the lease of nature, pay his breath
To time and mortal custom. Yet my heart
Throbs to know one thing: tell me, if your art
Can tell so much: shall Banquo's issue ever
Reign in this kingdom?
Seek to know no more.
I will be satisfied: deny me this,
And an eternal curse fall on you! Let me know.
Why sinks that cauldron? and what noise is this?


First Witch
Second Witch
Third Witch
Show his eyes, and grieve his heart;
Come like shadows, so depart!

A show of Eight Kings, the last with a glass in his hand; GHOST OF BANQUO following

Thou art too like the spirit of Banquo: down!
Thy crown does sear mine eye-balls. And thy hair,
Thou other gold-bound brow, is like the first.
A third is like the former. Filthy hags!
Why do you show me this? A fourth! Start, eyes!
What, will the line stretch out to the crack of doom?
Another yet! A seventh! I'll see no more:
And yet the eighth appears, who bears a glass
Which shows me many more; and some I see
That two-fold balls and treble scepters carry:
Horrible sight! Now, I see, 'tis true;
For the blood-bolter'd Banquo smiles upon me,
And points at them for his.

Apparitions vanish

What, is this so?
First Witch
Ay, sir, all this is so: but why
Stands Macbeth thus amazedly?
Come, sisters, cheer we up his sprites,
And show the best of our delights:
I'll charm the air to give a sound,
While you perform your antic round:
That this great king may kindly say,
Our duties did his welcome pay.

Music. The witches dance and then vanish, with HECATE

MACBETH Where are they? Gone? Let this pernicious hour
Stand aye accursed in the calendar!
Come in, without there!

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


shelburns said...

I remember reading this in high school, but gained much more understanding by seeing the movie. Never knew there was such a thing as "MacBeth week."

John Mutford said...

I had an opportunity to perform in Macbeth this past June in Iqaluit (not many can say that!) I had a small but fun role (1st murderer), It gave me an even greater appreciation for the play.

Noël De Vries said...

Good post, Becky. I heart Macbeth. Can't wait to hear your thoughts on manga ... I just purchased Classical Comic's Macbeth for the library where I work. Looks fun.