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TOPIC: Makbeth

Makbeth 9 years 3 months ago #1230

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Does Makbeth meet fairies or witches?

In a previous post I explored Shakspear and the connection with King James and his little work on Witchcraft.

Now I have the picture of Makbeth's first meeting with the 'witches'. It is from the ‘source’ Shakey would have used for the main elements of the plot – Holinshed’s Chronicles (need to check that – that is what it said on the Internet site I borrowed the picture from).

Now, I don't know about you, but the rather refined looking ladies greeting the Elizabethan 'gents' in the picture above don't quite fit my 'vision' of Macbeth and Banquo's 'black and midnight hags'.

What worries me is that the woodcut might be much closer to Shakspear’s image, and possibly the original production’s costuming, than I would like.

Part of the problem is that I am not sure how to read the picture – there is an iconography here which I am not a party to.

The gent closest to us – Makbeth I’d guess by the way the witches are looking to him – has no armour on – or rather has one symbolic piece, the helmet (possibly a breastplate – but it looks more doublet to me). If he is the victorious body splitting general of Shakspear, he’s had a jolly good wash and got the grooms to work on his horse too. Is the helmet enough to tell the Elizabethan reader this is a military hero? If it is, would it be enough for the Globe’s groundlings?

I notice behind his head is a castle – with some active birds – must be Macbeth’s castle – although they don’t look like Martins to me, more like crows: Does suggest Shakspear looked closely at the picture though.

More crows flying around the ‘castle’ on the top of the head of one of the ‘witches’ too – although these could be clouds. Is that Elizabethan headgear? Maybe not – old fashioned hat? And this one is pretty ugly – broken nose by the looks of it.

Wouldn’t say the others were ugly though – and they don’t look particularly old either – quite smart, upright, well shaped.

I am reminded of Alice Nutter.

For those of you not familiar with the local history of the Pendle area of Lancashire, Alice was hanged for being a witch in the early 17th century: She was something of a lady – comparatively wealthy in fact, and not at all the ‘typical’ Halloween figure. She also just happened to be a catholic, which might have had something to do with the hanging. There were a number of other people (male and female) hanged at the same time – none of them quite of the same social standing.

The clothing on the witches is interesting – looks exotic – the woodcut cutter has taken pains over the patterns on the material – each different, each looking expensive, possibly silk or damask? This would make them stand out to the Elizabethans.

So, ‘from the farthest steep of India’? Spirits of some sort – hence the fairies.

Shakspear gives them beards – there is the slightest suggestion of such in the picture, from the attempt to create shadows. He has us meet them in weather very unlike that of the woodcut – which is quite pleasant. Certainly he takes us further – but how far would he have gone in production?

Nowhere near the broomstick riding cacklers of popular imagination I’d guess.
Last Edit: 4 years 8 months ago by William Shakespeare.
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Makbeth 9 years 3 months ago #1231

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If you want to see the picture, try this:

http://shakespearence.blogspot.com/2007/06/makbeth.html
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Makbeth 9 years 3 months ago #1233

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Here's a Holinshed quote with no mention of beards:
...there met them thrée women in strange and wild apparell, resembling creatures of elder world, whome when they attentiuelie beheld, woondering much at the sight, the first of them spake and said; "All haile Makbeth, thane of Glammis" (for he had latelie entered into that dignitie and office by the death of his father Sinell.) The second of them said; "Haile Makbeth thane of Cawder." But the third said; "All haile Makbeth that héerafter shalt be king of Scotland."

Then Banquho; "What manner of women (saith he) are you, that séeme so little fauourable vnto me, whereas to my fellow heere, besides high offices, ye assigne also the kingdome, appointing foorth nothing for me at all?" "Yes (saith the first of them) we promise greater benefits vnto thée, than vnto him, for he shall reigne in déed, but with an vnluckie end: neither shall he leaue anie issue behind him to succéed in his place, where contrarilie thou in déed shalt not reigne at all, but of thée those shall be borne which shall gouerne the Scotish kingdome by long order of continuall descent." Herewith the foresaid women vanished immediatlie out of their sight.

Find it at:
http://www.clicknotes.com/macbeth/Holin ... in268.html

Regards, Charles
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Makbeth 9 years 3 months ago #1234

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No, not in the description -I do think it was the picture Shakespeare had in mind (although there it is shaddowing) - either that or he is using his actors beards (which means adult males played the roles).
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Makbeth 9 years 1 month ago #1315

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I don't know how much of a difference everyone was drawing between various supernatural beings back in Elizabethan England. This is pre-Tolkien, pre-Dungeons & Dragons. A Fairy is an Elf is a Nymph is a Hobgoblin.
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Makbeth 9 years 1 month ago #1321

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So, the faeries in A Midsummer Nights Dream are the same as the witches in Makbeth?
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Makbeth 9 years 1 month ago #1327

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I think what I meant was more that the supernatural was something to be wary of, potentially dangerous. As Oberon, Titania, and Puck go to show, the fairies of Midsummer are not merely the whimsical, light and airy, playful creatures we now think of when we say "fairy." For the witches to be described by some as fairyfolk - members of the diverse, often malicious woodland spirits - does not seem too out there.
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Makbeth 9 years 1 month ago #1333

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Having lived (and at times still living) with people who have a strong belief in spirits and such like, there is a distinction to be made between the more 'force of nature' supernatural and the downright evil.

Shakey seems to have transfered his fairy picture source and shifted it to a more vicious evil: But it is more a continuum than an opposite.
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Makbeth 7 years 11 months ago #2307

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Mac Bethad mac Findlaích, anglicised as Macbeth, and nicknamed Rí Deircc, "the Red King", was King of the Scots from 1040 until his death.
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Makbeth 7 years 10 months ago #2313

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akfarrar wrote: No, not in the description -I do think it was the picture Shakespeare had in mind (although there it is shaddowing) - either that or he is using his actors beards (which means adult males played the roles).
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That seems to me to be the most likely explanation, given the rigors of the repertory. Perhaps the actors had other roles to consider. If so, Banquo's: "...you should (stress mine) be Women,/ And yet your Beards forbid me to interprete/That you are so." Would have elicited a friendly, knowing guffaw from the spectators. Such a device would have been comfortable for Shakespeare, who continually made use of, throughout his work, the audience's awareness of The Play before them . One more instance of his turning a limitation into an advantage. And the dresses of the woodcut make even more sense in this case. Why not make the most of: Guys with beards in drag?--What a hoot.
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