Monday, October 20, 2014

Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble

Scene I [An open place.]
Thunder and lightning. Enter Three Witches.
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.
Thus begins The Tragedy of Macbeth, my favorite Shakespearean play. And here is my burning question:
Why three witches?

The three witches, or "Weird Sisters," are Shakespeare's versions of the Three Fates: Clotho, who spins the thread of your life, Lachesis, who measures it, and Atropos, who cuts it. Indeed, these witches seem to know how to pull Macbeth's strings and influence him along his tragic path. This is shown most strongly in Macbeth's first line upon entering the stage:

Macbeth. So foul and fair a day I have not seen. (I.iii.38)
This directly connects to the witches' famous chant "Fair is foul, and foul is fair./ Hover through the fog and filthy air." (I.i.10) Herein lies one of the thematic undercurrents of Macbeth: Things aren't always what they seem in this place. (I'd bet my bust of Shakespeare...yes, I have one in my home library...that Jim Henson was influenced by this for his movie Labyrinth!)
Three has long been viewed as a "magic" number, and various mythologies have forms of a triad, or triple diety, with each aspect having certain qualities or functions.
Triple Goddess: Maiden, Mother, Crone
So next time you are stirring some eye of newt and toe of frog into your cauldron, make sure you say your incantation three times and think fondly of Master William Shakespeare!
If you are also fond of things not always being what they seem, and you happen to be a fan of Once Upon a Time, you may want to check out my joint article with Teresa Martin in the Once Upon a Fan Origins Archives: Rumplestiltskin's Transformation in Once Upon a Time: Literary Anti-Hero to Hero Archetype.
Oh look, a spinning very Fate-like!
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1 comment:

  1. I haven't read Macbeth yet and I don't want to get spoiled, but what you explain about the witches is fascinating!! Much love!