Double Double Toil and Trouble – The Witches of MacBeth

Happy Halloween!

Have you ever wondered how witches obtained their witchy personality traits?

***Crickets chirp***

Ahem.  This is your cue.

“Hey!  Bookshelf Battle Guy!  How did witches obtain their witchy personality traits?”

Oh thank you, Reader.  I thought you’d never ask.

Well, the common conception of a witch is a nasty old hag throwing all kinds of weird ingredients (usually animals or parts of animals) into a boiling cauldron.

We could discuss all day witch-tastic imagery from all sorts of literature but to me, Act 4, Scene 1 of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth stands out.

So park your broomstick and grab your eye of newt, because here are some excerpts and quotes:

SCENE 1 – A cavern – in the middle is a boiling cauldron.

Thunder.  Enter the three witches.

FIRST WITCH

Thrice the brinded cat hath mew’d

SECOND WITCH

Thrice and once the hedge-pig whined

BOOKSHELFBATTLE – So, four then?  The pig in your hedges whined four times?  Why are you hags making this so difficult?

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

BOOKSHELF BATTLE GUY: Pot of poisoned entrails?  That doesn’t sound charming at all.

ALL

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.

BOOKSHELFBATTLE GUY – My condolences, amputated animals.  Apparently witches used to think your parts were magical.

ALL

Double, double toil and trouble

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 eclips,

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.

BOOKSHELF BATTLE GUY – OK, now they’re getting ridiculous.  I don’t even know where to begin.  First of all, allow me to apologize for the racial insensitivity.  What can I say?  This is an excerpt taking from a 1500’s era writer who was writing about ancient witches so it is not like you can really expect a lot of political correctness.  Also, how many babies were getting strangled in those days that their fingers were just apparently readily available to be tossed into witches’ brews?  Those were dark times, my friends, dark times indeed.

ALL

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.

BOOKSHELFBATTLE GUY: – This took place in Scotland, didn’t it?   Where would they have even found a baboon?

ENTER HECTATE to the other three Witches.

HECTATE

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…

HECTATE retires

SECOND WITCH

By the pricking of my thumbs,

Something wicked this way comes.

Open, locks,

Whoever knocks!

ENTER MACBETH

MACBETH

How now, you secret, black and midnight hags!

What is’t you do?

BOOKSHELF BATTLE GUY:  I have no comment, other than I think it is funny that MacBeth openly refers to them as hags.  “Hello, hags!”

Well folks, that concludes my discussion of MacBeth’s witches.  Grab your wolf teeth and dragon scales and toss them into the comment section.

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2 thoughts on “Double Double Toil and Trouble – The Witches of MacBeth

  1. Mei-Mei says:

    Haha I had to memorize the witches’ speech for Brit Lit in high school…definitely still remembered some of it. 😉 Lots of creepy stuff in there…

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