Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Macbeth Act IV, Scene 1 by William Shakespeare

Macbeth Act IV, Scene 1

1st WITCH. Thrice the brinded cat hath mew'd.
2nd WITCH. Thrice and once, the hedge-pig whin'd.
3rd WITCH. Harpier cries:—'tis time! 'tis time!
1st WITCH. Round about the caldron go;
In the poison'd entrails throw.—
Toad, that under cold stone,
Days and nights has thirty-one;
Swelter'd venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i' the charmed pot!

ALL. Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.
2nd WITCH. Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the caldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork, and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg, and owlet's wing,—
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

ALL. Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.
3rd WITCH. Scale of dragon; tooth of wolf;
Witches' mummy; maw and gulf
Of the ravin'd salt-sea shark;
Root of hemlock digg'd i the dark;
Liver of blaspheming Jew;
Gall of goat, and slips of yew
Sliver'd in the moon's eclipse;
Nose of Turk, and Tartar's lips;
Finger of birth-strangled babe
Ditch-deliver'd by a drab,—
Make the gruel thick and slab:
Add thereto a tiger's chaudron,
For the ingrediants of our caldron.

ALL. Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.
2nd WITCH. Cool it with a baboon's blood,
Then the charm is firm and good.
--William Shakespeare

Here's one of the more recognizable bits of Shakespeare. Just about everyone has heard at least portions of this scene (quoted in varying levels of accuracy). It's interesting to read, and see just what it was people thought witches were putting into their cauldrons. It makes the witch trials more understandable--if I thought people were actually doing this sort of thing, I'd want to stop them too.

I think it's interesting to look at the rhythm of this piece as well. Most of Shakespeare's plays were written in Iambic Pentameter. That means there's five sets of two syllables--unstressed then stressed. For instance: But soft!/ What light/ through yon/der win/dow breaks? In this scene though, he reverses the stresses so that he's using trochees rather than iambs. Notice the difference: Double,/ double/ toil and/ trouble. The stress on the first syllable of each line makes it seem like more of a plodding chant than his usual flowing lines. He's also cut the normal ten syllables per line down to eight (in the double double lines) or even seven (in most of the others)--leaving off the last unstressed syllable. This leaves a feeling of each line being incomplete somehow, adding to the not-quite-right feeling of the poem.

It's no coincidence that these "weird" sisters changed the meaning of that word to mean "odd or unsettling" rather than "having to do with fate."

PS: I like the bit where "Thrice and once, the hedge-pig whin'd."


  1. Have you seen the Animaniacs version?

  2. Oh yes! I can't find that one on youtube, but they do have the "Alas poor Yoric" from Hamlet, and "If we shadows have offended" from Midsummer Night's Dream in the same vein.

  3. I remember the Yoric one. "Check out Skull Head!"