Saturday, March 10, 2012

Some Witchly Trivia

Macbeth's witches are so familiar in popular culture that they show up in all kinds of reinterpretations, including children's cartoons.

Yet in most productions, much of what was written for the witches is cut because it is extraneous enough that whole segments can be lopped off without leaving holes in the plot structure.  Some experts decry this practice, finding many of Shakespeare's thematic stances in their scenes.  But the witches we know are so easily dispatched for a very good reason. . . they are not entirely original to Shakespeare's first folio text.

One monologue that is almost universally cut from American productions of Macbeth is that of the Witch Goddess Hecate.  Hecate, and many of the oft-cut pieces of the witches' scenes, were lifted from Thomas Middleton's The Witch, incorporated into Macbeth in 1618, along with some songs from the same play, perhaps as much as ten to twelve years after Shakespeare's play was begotten(1603-7). Some experts believe that Middleton and Shakespeare were collaborators, which would perhaps, in part at least,  explain why Middleton's material so easily folds into the play.

The Witch was performed by King's Men, Shakespeare's theatre troupe, as early as 1609 but wasn't published till 1778; it has been said that Shakespeare was a bit jealous of his younger contributor and that he credited himself for Middleton's work and then blocked its publication.  But the Bard's envy does not explain why he had to be dead for 162 years before it could see the light of distribution.

Here's the seldom-heard monologue, where Hecate (usually played by the same actor who portrays Lady Macbeth and believed to have been intended as LM's alterego at the very least) instructs her followers:

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 called 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' th' morning. Thither he
Will come to know his destiny.
Your vessels and your spells provide,
Your charms and everything beside.
I am for th' 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 vap'rous drop profound;
I'll catch it ere it come to ground:
And that, distilled 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
His hopes 'bove wisdom, grace, and fear:
And you all know security
Is mortals' chiefest enemy.

[Music, and a song.]

Hark! I am called. My little spirit, see,
Sits in a foggy cloud and stays for me.

1 comment:

Colette said...

Even Harry Potter got into the Macbeth folklore. It's JK Rowling's favorite Shakespeare play, because she believes that it emphasizes free will as the creator of our destiny. The Wizard Rock Band in the series is called the Weird Sisters, and Rowling has said that the inspiration for the prophesy in the series came from Macbeth. Shakespeare is everywhere!