The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0585 Monday, 12 March 2001
Date: Sunday, 11 Mar 2001 20:25:24
Subject: Re: Macbeth Witches
I'm not a witch, but...
>If you are a powerful and frightening entity, and you ask a fat
>housewife for some of her chestnuts, she will politely give you as many
>as you want. That's not what happened to this witch. She was rudely
>told to get lost.
They may not be as powerful as you may expect them to be. But as in
early modern revenge tragedies, it is a *convention* that revengers do
not take an action that quickly. The longer you wait, the sweeter your
>Even with all three witches contributing, the offended witch still can't
>sink the housewife's husband's ship. She can toss it around, with the
>help of the other two, but it "cannot be lost." If you are powerful and
>want revenge, you get your revenge. You sink the ship.
I want to point out three issues here. First, the first witch's
intention is not to kill the sailor but to *torture* him for "sennights"
(Norton 1.3.21). She tells the other witches that "he shall live a man
forbid" (1.3.20). She intends to "drain his as dry as hay" (1.3.17). She
also intends to prevent him from sleeping, which is my second point --
this is what happens to Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in later scenes. My
third (and last) point is that this speech *may* be a reference to King
James' returning voyage from Denmark to Scotland in 1590. Severe storms
prevented his return to Scotland, pushing the ships back to Denmark,
until they subsided. These storms were blamed on witches. In scotland
general witch hunting started in 1590, and both Scotland and England
passed anti-witchcraft statutes in 1563. In England Parliament passed a
new anti-witchcraft statute in 1604 -- just one year after James'
accession to the English throne. Needless to say, James himself wrote
Daemonology, which was published in 1597.
I could go on and on about Macbeth and James. But for now, so much for
Centre for the Study of the Renaissance
University of Warwick (UK)