What was Christmas Like For William Shakespeare?

Well, Christmas is almost here; soon many of us will be traveling home to celebrate the  holidays with our families, enjoying parties, presents, carols, and decorations. However, our modern traditions weren’t always the norm for people who celebrate Christmas. In the interest of historical curiosity, we here at Shakespearean Student would like to talk a little bit about how William Shakespeare might’ve celebrated Christmas!

As with everything in Shakespeare’s life, many times scholars have nothing but “what if’s” to go on, because few records exist, there were no photos from the period, and very few documents survive related to Shakespeare. He also kept no journals or diaries to record what his life might’ve been like. However, based in the holiday traditions of England that have lingered on to this day, we can surmise what Christmas might’ve been like in the late 16th century.

Part 1: Stratford

Shakespeare was born in 1564, in the town of Stratford-Upon-Avon in the county of Warwickshire England. As I mentioned earlier, Shakespeare would not have known many of our modern Christmas traditions. The Christmas Tree as we know it didn’t come into being until Queen Victoria’s reign, (and she certainly didn’t light hers with electric lights). Victoria also invented the idea of putting presents under the tree. I’m not an expert on Christmas, but my research would indicate that probably Elizabethans like Shakespeare didn’t even give out presents on Christmas Day! Instead, in country towns like Stratford in Tudor times, Christmas was a time of feasting, singing, caroling, and theatre!

 

The Shakespeare family home at Christmas
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The Christmas season in Shakespeare’s day usually extended from Christmas Eve to the twelfth night after Christmas also known as Twelfth Night or Epithany. Common people usually decorated their homes with holly and ivy, and celebrated Christmas Eve by lighting their homes with candles and by burning the Yule log, an ancient tradition dating back over 1,000 years when the Vikings controlled most of England. It was a symbol of light and warmth in the darkest time of the year.

 

Replica of Shakespeare’s kitchen.
Feasting- 

Roast goose was a staple of the common man’s feast at Christmas. In 1588, Queen Elizabeth commanded the whole country to consume geese to commemorate England’s victory over the Spanish Armada. Other traditional fare included plum porridge, beer or ale, and the most celebrated Christmas beverage of all: Wassail!

Wasailing-

The old tradition of caroling comes from an ancient pagan holiday tradition of showing charity to the poor at the winter solstice. People would go door to door asking for alms and occasionally a warm beverage. This ancient practice evolved into caroling and Wasailing!

The word “wassail” is an old Celtic word that means “lambswool,” it refers to the  fact that the drink is covered with a thin foam that looks kind of like the wool of a sheep. It is also derived from the Anglo-Saxon “wassail,” which means “be in health,” so it is simultaneously a drink, a toast, and an explanation of what the drink looks like. 

 Like our modern-day caroling, people would sing and dance going door to door asking for a traditional glass of wassail or a mince pie. A mince pie is a traditional meat pie that is often filled with 12 different ingredients to symbolize the 12 days of Christmas. 
Mince pies were popular  with both peasants and kings, and contains both fruit and different types of meat including rabbit chicken duck and hare.
 Wasailing  also has its roots in ancient pagan holidays and that’s why it’s often accompanied  with a traditional Morris dance, where the dancers are waving handkerchiefs, knocking sticks together and dancing with brightly colored ribbons. This was a great tradition back in the small towns and shires of England and continues to this very day. Below you’ll find a video where you can make some wassail yourself! I Just a note that in this recipe, the cook has left out the alcohol and has also left out the egg which is necessary to create the foamy lambswool. Nonetheless I think it’s a very good recipe and I welcome you to try it for yourself.

Plays

As the mayor’s son, young William had a VIP pass to see all traveling actors who came to town. Shakespeare’s dad would’ve decided who got to perform at the guild halls and local inns, so he and his son would’ve watched private performances of all the shows first. After that, John Shakespeare decided who got to perform, and who would be sent away. In addition to professional troupes at Christmas, craftsmen in Will’s hometown people in Warwickshire would come together and put on a show! These amateur dramatic pieces were known as Mystery Plays.

Mystery Plays got their name from the old meaning of mystery: a trade or skill. Much like modern nativity plays or community theaters, every year all the craftsmen from the town would put on a series of short shows derived from Bible stories at Christmas time, and showcase their crafts as well as their acting talents. For example the goldsmiths were in charge of the Three Wise Men story.

We know that Shakespeare liked these plays because he refers to one in particular many, many times: The play of King Herod. in the Bible, Herod The Great is fearful of the baby Jesus and sends his soldiers to kill any young baby that they can find in the city of Jerusalem. Very often when Shakespeare refers to any of his villainous characters he describes them as Herod-like.

The Mysteries were printed during Shakespeare’s lifetime and people in York, Coventry, and Wakefield England still perform them today! Here’s a video of a little girl who performed in the York Mystery play last year:

I hope you enjoyed this little sojourn into the ancient traditions of the common folk back in Shakespeare’s England. This coming week, I’ll talk about how the queen and court celebrated the Yuletide.

Till next time!

-The Shakespearean Student

Sources:

  1. Historic UK: A Tudor Christmas: http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofEngland/A-Tudor-Christmas/
  2. Shakespeare Birthplace Trust: Christmas At Shakespeare’s Houses: http://www.shakespeare.org.uk/visit-the-houses/whats-on.html/christmas-holidays.html
  3. The Anne Bolyn Files: A Tudor Christmas: http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/resources/tudor-life/tudor-christmas/
  4. Wassailing and Mumming: http://www.whychristmas.com/customs/wassailing.shtml

Why Donald Trump Is Like A Shakespearean Villain

495px-Donald_Trump_by_Gage_SkidmoreWe all love villains from Darth Vader in “Star Wars,” to Ursula in “The Little Mermaid” to the classic characters of literature, we just love villains. These are people of immense power and focus who use their skills of intimidation and persuasion to hoodwink an entire country, empire, or an entire planet sometimes. I feel it’s safe to say though that when confronted with real life with villains we are quite disturbed and hope that their cruelty or destructive schemes will soon be brought to an end.

I’m sure you’ve been hearing in the news how Donald Trump is spreading highly xenophobic dogma about Muslims, and has been getting a lot of backlash in the press and from both political parties. In fact, scholar and activist David Signer has pointed out that Trump fits the profile of a modern-day demagogue on par with such figures as Idi Amin, Hitler, and even the head of ISIS. Is this fair comment, or just sensationalism on the part of the media? A demagogue, according to dictionary.com is somebody who purports themselves to be a man of people somebody who tries to mobilize the public, and claims to be opposing the old guard, but who ultimately uses the prejudice and hatred of the masses to his or her advantage. In other words these are the type of people who want to revolution people like Napoleon, Stalin, and especially Hitler are examples of demagogues.

Does Trump deserve to be lumped in with such a notorious group? He  has been billing himself as an antidote to the people who currently hold the letters of power. He’s polling very well with people who are sick and tired of the current state of our country, which means he does in fact fit a demagogue’s profile. A demagogue isn’t necessarily bad however their potential for evil is unsurpassed. One writer who obsessed over the uses and abuses of power is of course William Shakespeare. Therefore I looked at some of Shakespeare’s greatest villains who all share the traits of demagogues and realize the Trump shares something in common with all of them so here is my analysis of a few of Shakespeare’s greatest baddies, and how they are like our current Republican front runner.

Demagogue number one: Coriolanus, CoriolanusCoriolanus_2013_play[2]

Strictly speaking, this character could be a villain or a hero, depending on who you ask. In the play that bears his name, Coriolanus is a Roman general who wins a great victory fighting Rome’s enemies. Like Trump, Coriolanus’ name is a brand- his real name is Caius Martius, but was awarded a new surname in the Battle of Corioli.

After the battle, Coriolanus tries to capitalize on Rome’s gratitude to make himself Consul and  govern most of the empire. In order to become Consul, he has to court the people, who don’t believe the Roman republic doesn’t represent them. One of the senators, Menenius, compares Rome to a human body, and the senate to a stomach:

MENENIUS

The senators of Rome are this good belly,
And you the mutinous members; for examine
Their counsels and their cares, digest things rightly
Touching the weal o’ the common, you shall find
No public benefit which you receive
But it proceeds or comes from them to you
And no way from yourselves. Cor. I.I

This passage illustrates that, in order for a country to function, the people need to allow the government to distribute power to them. A demagogue like Coriolanus ruins the social contract by trying to get the people to rebel. Signer mentions in his interview that when Trump attacks the body politic with hateful rhetoric, he infects it like an autoimmune disease mimicking this speech in Coriolanus.

Coriolanus and Trump both want to be put in charge, but whenever anyone questions their fitness to govern, they fly into rages, often resorting to childish name calling:

Compare this speech from Coriolanus to Trump, who has been known to call his critics, “liars,” “crooks,” “fat pigs,” ”dogs,” ”slobs,” and “disgusting animals.”

CORIOLANUS

You common cry of curs! whose breath I hate
As reek o’ the rotten fens, whose loves I prize
As the dead carcasses of unburied men
That do corrupt my air, I banish you;
And here remain with your uncertainty!
Let every feeble rumor shake your hearts!
Your enemies, with nodding of their plumes,
Fan you into despair!

Coriolanus hates the common people, but demands that they support him without question. In a sense, Coriolanus is the opposite of a demagogue since he sides with the elite against the common people and the republic that represents them.

Demagogue #2: Jack Cade from Henry VI, Part II

 

Cade is the best example of a man of the people who becomes a corrupt warlord. Like Napoleon and Hitler after him, he rises to power during a time of political unrest- in this case, the civil war known as The Wars Of the Roses. Cade leads a lynch mob who kills everyone with authority over the common people, with particular fierceness against anyone who can read or write. One of Cade’s soldiers utters the famous Shakespearean line: “First thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” This line has become a funny catchphrase because we all want to shake off the chains of the legal system or the political checks and balances we live in, but as Cade demonstrates, when you give into mob rule, tyranny soon follows.

Cade claims to be fighting for the common people, but by the  end of the play, he becomes a full-on dictator:

The proudest peer in the realm shall not wear a head on his shoulders, unless he pay me tribute; There shall not a maid be married, but she shall pay to me
Her maidenhead ere they have it: men shall hold of me in capite; and we charge and command that their wives be as free as heart can wish or tongue can tell (Act IV, Scene vii).

Men like Cade are power-hungry warlords and like Trump, they’ll say anything to attract the most malcontents. To quote Signer, once a demagogue takes over the state,”What they do is they create a substate that is accountable to them alone,” which is why Cade is willing to destroy and pervert all English laws that don’t suit his own selfish goals. Similarly, Trump’s proposal to refuse all Muslim immigrants flies in the face of the US Constitution and the principals of religious freedom that it guarantees.

Richard_III_earliest_surviving_portraitDemagogue #3: Richard III

I hesitate to compare Donald Trump to Shakespeare’s most diabolical villain, the hunch-backed cripple Richard of Gloucester, who murders his way to the crown in Richard III, but Trump’s shameless attacks on minorities to stir up support for his campaign echo Richard’s schemes to slander his opponents (in addition to slaughtering them).

According to David Signer, one tactic that demagogues use is to manipulate the emotions of their supporters, and the time honored way for demagogues to manipulate emotions is to blame all of the old regime’s problems on a common enemy. Trump has blamed our nation’s problems on Muslim and Hispanic immigrants, while Richard blamed many of the kingdom’s problems on the Queen, claiming her relatives were taking coveted positions from “more deserving” nobles, like in this speech where Richard convinces his brother that the Queen arrested him, when it was Richard himself who arrested his brother Clarence:

GLOUCESTER

Why, this it is, when men are ruled by women: ‘Tis not the king that sends you to the Tower:
My Lady Grey his wife, Clarence, ’tis she
That tempers him to this extremity.
Was it not she and that good man of worship, Anthony Woodville, her brother there,
That made him send Lord Hastings to the Tower,
From whence this present day he is deliver’d?
We are not safe, Clarence; we are not safe. Richard III, Act I, Scene i.

The other surprising comparison I can make between Trump and Richard, is that they are both related! According to the website MyHerritage.com, there is a genetic link (albeit small) between Trump and the notorious Richard of Gloucester!

To sum up, when politicians try to turn over the apple cart, puncturing the constitution of our country, and encouraging people to dispense with established political order, the result is a deeply wounded nation and the potential for numerous examples of tyranny and despotism.

Sources:

  1. NPR News: “Democratic Activist Says Donald Trump Fits Demagogue Mold” democratic-activist-says-donald-trump-fits-the-mold-of-a-demagogue
  2. Daily Mail: Royal Connection Between Trump and Richard III: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3220982/Royal-connection-Donald-Trump-distant-cousin-notorious-Richard-III-revealed-s-related-Hillary-Clinton.html

 

Shakespeare Spooky Story #3: The Witch’s Sabbath!

This story is my own invention, but it is based on historical fact and some ideas that could be inferred from Shakespeare’s life and career, composed for Friday the 13th, 2015. I hope you enjoy it.

November, 1603.

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The bell tolled in St. Paul’s Churchyard, stopping the bustling crowd in their tracks. A solemn wind blew through the crowd, like there was some dark magic in the air. Though the old queen had died months ago, all god-fearing Englishmen were still in mourning for her death, and spared a thought for the virgin queen as they passed out the long nave of the church into the yard. William Shakespeare was in mourning as well, but  not for the queen; he was worried about the future of his company; without the queen’s sanction and protection, the theaters might be closed for good this time, (not one of these Newsmongers who gossiped at Paul’s Walk seemed to know how the young King James would take to plays and theater. The young man had had a life more dramatic than anything Will hat put to parchment- mother executed, father murdered, fighting off plots and murder attempts his whole life. “They say his mother’s head whispered a prayer when it was cut off” one of the gossips had told Will. “I heard talk his father was killed by cannon,” another whispered.” Shakespeare began to think of his old play Henry the Fourth, where he himself played the character of Rumor, who spoke with a million tongues, and not one of them true. Suddenly, from over the Bard’s left shoulder, came a slow deep voice that overpowered all the rest: “I heard t’other day the king fears being killed by witchcraft.” The voice came from one of the booksellers in the square.

Woodcut from the witch trial of 1597, in which witches supposedly tried to drown King James I.
Woodcut from the witch trial of 1597, in which witches supposedly tried to drown King James I.

As a writer, Shakespeare often came to St. Paul’s to buy books from the stalls at Paul’s Churchyard. He knew many of the booksellers by name, but he’d never seen this one before. His chest and arms were big as an ale barrow and his beard was grizzled and split into two forks, but what the poet marked in the man most was his piercing eyes- ones that stared at him like fire from an oily taper- quick and dancing, with an excitement as fiery as his own. “Tis true, the king were nearly shipwrecked  as a boy by a coven of witches. 13 there were, always 13. They gathered on Fridays for their cursed Witches’ Sabbaths, and summoned up storms to sink the royal barge. The elder witch spoke to the King at Holy Rood house and told his majesty prophesies. She knew all the privy conversations he had with his wife, though she’d never seen him before! His majesty gasped in wonder and had her hanged and burned.” “Fine tale, said the playwright.” “Aye,” said the fire-eyed seller, but the king fears most of all the Wyrd Sisters, who foretold the deaths of his ancestors at the hands of King Macbeth.”

Shakespeare began to smell a devise- to appease the king, he would write a play honoring James’ noble ancestors and condemning this Macbeth as a villain. Shakespeare knew this kind of historical flattery would work; his tragedy of King Richard III had been a great success and the old queen had made him a courtier soon afterwards. Now he just needed to get his hands on some Scottish history to concoct a new play for the King. “Have you a copy of the Chronicles of England and Scotland?” “Nay, me press be not ready yet for the latest edition. But the best story of King Macbeth is an ancient tome written by the Elder Witch herself. Few have seen it, and fewer live to tell its secrets. If ye travel to Scotland, look for the book in the hands of a woman with hair red as flame, and eyes sea-storm blue.” Shakespeare thanked the man, wrapped himself in his cloak, and left the shop in a huff. The bookseller pondered the poet and smiled: “Wicked flame from wicked smoke. Envy burns black beneath thy cloak.”

Holyrood House or "Holy Cross Palace" as it looked in Shakespeare's day from Calton Hill in Edinburgh.
Holyrood House or “Holy Cross Palace” as it looked in Shakespeare’s day from Calton Hill in Edinburgh.

Over the Christmas holiday, Shakespeare’s company received a summons to court to perform some entertainments before the new King! The Chamberlain’s Men were delighted and Will was quite relieved. The King ordered the players to perform at Holy Rood house in Edinburgh, as his court was still in procession from Scotland to England. “Masters,” Will shouted, “Let us give the new king a taste of our quality, and may he pay handsomely for it!” Will and the other shareholders in the company decided on a series of plays to perform for the king, and began the journey to the wilds of Scotland. On Christmas morning they set up their temporary Tiring house within the great banquet hall for the performance, placing props and costumes behind a series of tapestries.

At suppertime the chamberlain gave word to light the candles within the hall, and signal the actors to perform the play, which Will had selected as King Henry the Fourth; a clever choice by Will since it depicted an old king passing the crown to a young and energetic monarch. As the king and courtiers processed, Will spied through the tapestry a haunted looking young woman at King James’ elbow, dressed in courtly gowns with a green veil on her head. The chamberlain directed everyone to their seats and announced the start of the play. To Will’s annoyance, he addressed the company “Mr. Shaxberd and company,” but there was no time to be annoyed or intrigued. “The play’s the thing,” Will muttered, and took his place backstage.

End of Part I.

Part II

The performance was a terrific success! The king himself applauded and promised to patronize the entire company. All of Will’s dreams seemed to be coming true! That night, as he and the other players were packing their belongings into a wagon and preparing to leave the castle in search of a nice, cheap inn for the night, a pale breathless messenger arrived and informed Will that the King wished to meet with him to commission work for their next court performance. Will dutifully walked back up the battlements and entered the castle.

"The Murder of David Rizzio" by William Allen, 1883.
“The Murder of David Rizzio” by William Allen, 1883.

The servant directed him, not back into the ante-chamber of the Great Hall, but up one of the staircases on the North East tower. This tower housed the royal bed chambers! What on Earth was a mere poet from Stratford doing up here? The servant’s candle cast strange shapes upon the walls and the flame blazed upward like some bronze blade. Shakespeare knew from the gossips that the King’s mother had watched her lover David Rizzio be murdered in this very tower- he was stabbed 56 times by jealous Scottish nobles who wished to marry the queen and take the throne. Gruesome images flickered in the poet’s mind. At last, they came to an archway with four adjacent chambers. Three were heavily guarded by English soldiers with halberds but the fourth was unprotected. Slowly, ever so slowly Shakespeare nodded to the servant, and stalked along the pathway. Before he could nock, the door swung open. Pausing a little, The Bard stepped inside.

v0_master

The room looked like a mix between a library and a crypt with a cold stone wall, a small altarpiece that looked barely used, and several oak bookcases piled high to the ceiling. Once the playwright entered the room, the door shut without warning. He couldn’t see who shut it and the shock put something cold in his blood. Shakespeare’s eyes adjusted to the darkness of the room.Moonlight gave the place a silvery glow, until a shadow came out of the darkness and revealed itself as a woman’s face. Shakespeare could barely make out her features but it was clearly the woman he’d seen in the procession. The Moon made her red tresses shimmer and gleam, as if she were a fairy from one of the dark pools of legend. “I am Princess Elizabeth,” she replied in a voice that seemed more solemn than proud of her royal title. Recovering from his initial shock, the poet bowed low and counterfited his best courtier’s smile. “I am Master Will Shakespeare, at your service.”

“I know who you are. They call you the Bard of Avon. You’ve written sad stories of the deaths of kings, and woven yarns of the fairy queen,” the princess said in a hollow voice that chilled the poet to the core. “When I was little,” said the princess warming slightly, “My mother spoke of how Irish Bards could change their forms, and speak with the spirits of the dead. Sometimes they even outmatched witches who danced with the devil on Friday nights. You seek my family’s patronage?” “Yes”, said Shakespeare tentatively, “And may I prove worthy of such an honor.” “Beware your ambitions,” Elizabeth went on.

“My family has been torn apart by ambitious men. You know I take it that the chamber we stand in was where my grandmother watched her servant die. She lost the crown, and never saw her son again. Death stalks ambition in Scotland. Some say the Devil tempts men to dance with him on nights like this, and signs their name in his book. My ancestor Malcolm fought armies from Hell to keep his crown.” “From King Macbeth,” replied Shakespeare, (his breath finally returned). “I am the keeper of a history of that damned king, but I will not share it with anyone. He sold his soul to a witch to get the crown, and his book is full of spells that curse the reader. I brought you here so that you can lift our family’s curse with your writing. When you get my father’s patronage, do not feed his fears with stories of witches and prophesies or the curse will envelop the throne. Heed my warning, and do not look for the story of King Macbeth.”

As mysteriously as it had closed, the door opened again. The Bard bowed politely and left the chamber. As he left, he saw the Princess kneeling at the shrine at the corner of the room, eyes closed and meloncholy.

End of Part II.

Stay tuned for the final chapter tonight.

Happy Friday the 13th!

The Witches Of Macbeth

Happy Halloween everybody!

Tonight I’d like to discuss some of the spookiest, most enigmatic, and above all WEIRDEST characters in Shakespeare: the Three Weird Sisters in Macbeth.

1. Who are they?

Every production has to answer who the witches are, and many have very different answers. Are they temptress? Are they evil agents controlling Macbeth?Furies trying to destroy Macbeth?

I would argue in their basic form the witches are harbingers of change. Their very name “Wyrd Sisters” refers to an old Anglo Saxon concept of fate or destiny. Whether or not they have any effect on Macbeth mind or soul, they point the finger at him and say “things are going to change for you.” Then, he either makes the choices that determine his fate, or they change his fate for him.

"Macbeth and Banquo First Encounter the Witches," Théodore Chassériau, 1854.
“Macbeth and Banquo First Encounter the Witches,” Théodore Chassériau, 1854.
Macbeth meets the witches on a heath, which means land that is literally out of bounds– the wild, untamed wilderness, which the old Anglo Saxons believed was the lair of many cursed spirits and monsters.  This could symbolize Macbeth’ sin or transgressions, slowly turning into a murderer, usurper, and a tyrant. It could also symbolize the chaos in Macbeth’s life.

What Do They Look Like?

Shakespeare’s descriptions of the witches are highly contradictory- they seem to be floating, yet on the ground, they seem to be women, but they have beards! They don’t look Earthly, but here they are on the Earth. This gives them an other worldly quality that keeps us guessing as to who they are, and helps them tempt Macbeth more easily.

BANQUO
What are these
So wither’d and so wild in their attire,
That look not like the inhabitants o’ the earth,
And yet are on’t? Live you? or are you aught
That man may question? You seem to understand me,
By each at once her chappy finger laying
Upon her skinny lips: you should be women,
And yet your beards forbid me to interpret
That you are so.


MACBETH
Speak, if you can: what are you? (
Act I, Scene iii).

The Witches’ Language:
You know from my earlier posts that the norm for Shakespearean characters is to speak in iambic pentameter- 10 syllable lines of unrhymed poetry that sounds like a normal heartbeat. The witches break these norms- they generally speak in Trochaic Tetrameter- 8 syllable lines with the off beat emphasized. The witches are literally offbeat, and that’s why their speeches are unsettling. Look at the contrast between a normal iambic line like:

“In sooth I know not why I am so sad.” (Merchant Of Venice I,i).

and

Dou-ble Dou-ble, Toil and Tro-ble.

Fire burn and Caul-dren Bu-ble. (Macbeth, Act IV, Scene i).

For more info on the verse forms of the Witches, click here:

The witches also speak their prophesies in a vague, ambiguous manner They like to play with obscuring their prophesies with lines that make Macbeth think one thing, but the opposite is true. The famous example here is when they claim Macbeth will never be vanquished “until Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane Hill.” Macbeth assumes this means he’s invincible, but it actually means that the enemy carry wood from the forrest. This is called Equivocation.

Witches and mythology

Illustration from William Blake's  "Europe a Prophecy," 1794.
Illustration from William Blake’s “Europe a Prophecy,” 1794.
1. During the reign of King James,  the modern witch hunt began; the king was fascinated with witches and even wrote a book called Daemonology on how to identify and destroy them. This was the era where people believed that witchcraft, rather than a pagan religious practice, was a forbidden craft that could only come from a pact with the devil. However, Shakespeare borrows from both Satanic and early pagan ritual in the characters of his witches.

2. Shakespeare took a couple of details about witchcraft from ancient Celtic and Greek mythology. First of all, the use of a cauldron. In Celtic myth, a cauldron is a symbol of rebirth and was sometimes used to resurrect the dead, just as the witches do in IV i. Of course, the ideal time for raising the spirits was on the feast of the pagan god Samhain, at the point where the veil between the living and dead was the thinnest. The feast took place on October 31st, our modern day Halloween!

Illustration of witches and their familiar spirits, 1647.
Illustration of witches and their familiar spirits, 1647.
3. Familiar spirits In Act I, the witches speak to animal spirits called familiar spirits, which call to them and tell them where to go. King James himself wrote about how the witches found and communicated with these spirits.

Hecate.
In Act IV, Hecate, Ancient Greek goddess of magic appears. She is clearly the lord of all the witches, and is very displeased that they are riddling with Macbeth. Maybe not all witches believe in giving out prophesies that can destroy the Scottish monarchy. Hecate was always enigmatic in myths- she was born one of the Titans who opposed the gods, but frequently changed sides. More then being two faced, she was often portrayed as having three faces! Shakespeare refers to her frequently as “Triple Hecate.”

"The Triple Hecate," by William Blake, 1794.
“The Triple Hecate,” by William Blake, 1794.
For more information on this mysterious goddess, consult the video below, (WARNING, ADULT-ONLY CONTENT).

In conclusion, the witches are meant to be ambiguous because the play examines the source of evil- whether it is inspired by other people, or if it comes from one’s own heart. The witches can be either or both, depending on how you want to tell the story, which is why they act and speak in contradictory ways.

New Play of the Month: MACBETH

Just in time for Halloween, I’ve decided to abandon the Julius Caesar posts and spend the rest of the month talking about the most mysterious, most bloody, and most occult play Shakespeare ever wrote- MACBETH.

As you probably know, I already wrote a review of an amazing adaptation of Macbeth called “Sleep No More,” which you can read here. I also mentioned that there’s a new movie adaptation of this play, starring Michael Fassbender, (look at my last post to see the trailer). In future weeks, I’ll create a new play of the month page, and delve into the magic and curses associated with the play.

But for now, here are some nice tidbits from around the internet.

First, a funny comic from “Zounds, Alack, and By My Troth.”

Macbeth, Act IV summary cartoon from "Zounds, Alack, and By My Troth."
Macbeth, Act IV summary cartoon from “Zounds, Alack, and By My Troth.”

Next, a short recap of the play from 60 Second Recap. 

Third, a feminist interpretation of the play: 

And finally, a modern retelling of the play from a BBC series called: “Shakespeare Retold,” starring James Macavoy: 

Enjoy (devilish last).

A Few More Updates

Hi folks!

I’ve now finished my work on Romeo and Juliet, and this October, I’m taking a little time to talk about two of Shakespeare’s spookiest plays- Macbeth, and Julius Caesar. Right now, the Royal Shakespeare Company is putting on a very inventive production of the play, and I’d like to talk a little about this interpretation. You can read about it here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/theatre/theatre-reviews/9317659/Julius-Caesar-Royal-Shakespeare-Theatre-Stratford-upon-Avon-review.html 

You can read my analysis of Julius Caesar here.

Here are some posts I’ve got waiting in the wings:

  1. A spooky Shakespeare Stories related to Julius Caesar, and the assassination of President Lincoln!
  2. Analysis of the speeches in Julius Caesar (podcast, hopefully).
  3. Play of the Month for Macbeth.
  4. Explanation of the curse of Macbeth.
  5. Review of “Haunt Me Still,” the sequel to “Interred WIth Their Bones” by Jennifer Lee Carrel.

Stay tuned!

A Few Quick Updates

Hi everyone!

I know it’s been a while, but I’ve been moving into my new place so it’s been hard to find time for blogging. Anyway, some exciting Shakespeare news out in cyberspace, and I’d like to report on some of the ones that make me really excited!

    1. Sir Kenneth Branaugh, Shakespearean actor, director, and founder of the Renaissance Theater company, is putting on a series of productions, including a production of “The Winter’s Tale” with…. DAME JUDY DENCH! This production will be broadcast in theaters around the country, look for theaters in your area! Here is the official trailer:https://embed.theguardian.com/embed/video/culture/video/2015/sep/10/kenneth-branaghs-the-winters-tale-watch-the-trailer-video

    2. There is a new movie version of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” coming out in the next few months, starring Michael Fassbender (now he and Ian McKellen have shared 2 big film roles!) 
    3. 60 minute Shakespeare
      Title pages of books in the 60 Second Shakespeare series.

      For teachers, there are now condensed versions of Shakespeare plays that might be easier for some students to read: http://www.fivestarpublications.com/shakespeare/sixty.html 

    4. You might have heard of this trend of actors speaking lyrics to pop songs like Shakespearean actors. I’d like to say that, for the record, most good Shakespearean actors know not to talk like prissy weirdos, but that this is absolutely hilarious, especially the one for Gangam Style! http://mashable.com/2015/09/24/15-second-shakespeare/?utm_cid=mash-com-fb-main-link#a6zKE_iemmqn 

Ok, that’s it for now. Tune in for a new podcast, new play of the month, and some new reviews.