Have you ever listened to BBC Radio Shakespeare’s opening scene of Macbeth? It’s my favourite Shakespeare opening scene so far! I love the voice harmony and the atmosphere it creates – it makes hair stands up on the back of my neck!
I just finished reading Macbeth. Before this, I knew very little about it even though the title is very familiar. I only knew that there was this man called Macbeth and he met three witches. And Macbeth had a wife called Lady Macbeth, who was an intimidating and hard-hearted figure. ’Lady Macbeth’ has become part of everyday English – so and so speaks like Lady Macbeth. But I didn’t really know what it meant.
Now I do know Lady Macbeth and I realise when people say so and so speaks or acts like Lady Macbeth, they usually mean the person is like Lady Macbeth in the first part of the play, when she persuaded Macbeth to murder Duncan. Because later on, she behaved quite differently. She was clearly not quite as hard-hearted as she wished.
There is a lot one can talk about. For example, the topic of manhood and the definition of what does it mean to be manly. There’s also the topic of sleep. Here are my favourite lines from the play:
Sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleeve of care,
The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
Chief nourisher in life’s feast.
But we’ll only look at the witches and their prophecies today.
First round of prophecies
The weird sisters (i.e. the witches) appeared a few times and they gave mainly two rounds of prophecies. In the first one, Macbeth and Banquo just won a battle and was on their way back to the King, Duncan. The prophecies go like this:
- Macbeth will be Thane of Cawdor
- Macbeth will be king
- Banquo will ‘get’ kings
As soon as the weird sisters disappeared into thin air a group of messengers came from the king and gave Macbeth the title, Thane of Cawdor. Thus the first prophecy became true immediately. That made Macbeth believe the second one would become true too and that led to all the following murders.
The question is, would Macbeth have become king if he didn’t hear the prophecies and didn’t go on murdering people? Has Macbeth chosen his fate or is the fate all planned out for him?
Macbeth believed the first two prophecies but obviously didn’t want to believe the third one nor did he want it to become true. So he summoned the weird sisters a second time to ask more questions. The witches showed him a vision of eight kings coming from Banquo. I’m very curious to know how did this scene look on stage in Shakespeare’s day? The sentences are short and the kings appeared in vision one after another. Surely they didn’t just one by one walk across the stage?
Second round of prophecies
Here are what the weird sisters told Macbeth the second time round:
- Avoid Macduff
- None that are born of a woman can harm Macbeth
- Unless Birnan Wood comes to Dunsinane, Macbeth will be safe
When I read the last one, I immediately had the image of Lord of the Rings in my mind! Did Tolkien get his inspiration here?
And when I read the second one, I thought, oh this is exciting, who’s going to kill Macbeth then? Maybe a woman is going to kill Macbeth? Even his wife? Maybe it’s some wild animals? There might still be wolves around England then.
I was exasperated when I found out Macduff turned out to be a a C section baby! Why does C section makes any difference? Surely Macduff was still born of a woman! That was a bit of a anticlimax for me.
Macbeth in Harry Potter
I love the witches’ lines, probably because they rhyme a bit more. That’s just my level of poetry appreciation!
I happened to re-watch (for the six hundred times) Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban after I finished reading Macbeth. I just suddenly noticed something that I had never did before. You know the scene when the young witches and wizards entered the Great Hall before the feast and there was a choir singing? I was always too distracted by the toads, but the choir was singing ‘double double toil and trouble’, the witches’ lines from Macbeth! That was an exciting discovery. I wonder whose bright idea that was?