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«We Three»

The Mythology of Shakespeare’s Weird Sisters

Laura Shamas

The Weird Sisters, from William Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, are arguably the most famous trio of witches in English literature. Shakespeare’s Weird Sisters are a complex trinitarian mythological construction – a unique amalgamation of classical, folkloric, and socio-political elements. This book is an archetypal exploration of the Weird Sisters; by examining this feminine trio through the lens of mythology, new insights about their significance may be understood. The ramifications extend from classical comprehension to twenty-first century pop culture observations related to female trios.

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Table of Contents IX

Extract

Table of Contents Acknowledgments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .ix Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1 Variations On Stage Through Time . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2 Overview: Archetypal Exploration . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3 The Impact on the Modern Definition of Women . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .4 The Weyward Path . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .6 Chapter One: From Goddess To Witch . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .8 Penned By Whom? Questions of Textual Interpolation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .8 Goddesses of Destiny, Nymphs, Fairies and Sibyls . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .9 The Etymology of “Weird” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .14 The Transformation to Witch . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .18 King James I . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .18 Female Witches as Scapegoats: Center Stage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .25 Shakespeare’s Weird Sisters as Tricksters . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .29 Shakespeare, The Weird Sisters and Mimesis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .30 Shakespeare’s Ambivalence Towards Witchcraft in Macbeth . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .32 Chapter Two: Hecate, the Triple Goddess, and Macbeth . . . . . . . . . . . . .34 An Anglo-Saxon/Greco-Roman Cosmology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .35 Artemis/Diana and Hecate . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .37 Hecate and Triangulations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .38 Previous Allusions to Hecate . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .40 Both “Pale Hecate” and “Black Hecate” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .41 The Weird Sisters as Hecate . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .42 Profile of the Weird Sisters’ Scenes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .43 Aspects of Hecate, Scene by Scene . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .50 Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .68 Shamas_Fm.qxd 27/10/2006 19:51 Page vii Chapter Three: Related Female Threesomes in Myths and Fairy Tales . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .70 “Creatures of Elder World”: Related Archetypal Female Trios and Figures . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .70 “Goddesses of Destinie”: Trios Related to Prophecy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .71 Trios Related to Inspiration . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .78 Trios Related to the Underworld . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .79 Related Prophetic and Magical Female Figures in Classical Mythology . . . .82 “Or else some nymphs or feiries”: Fairy Tale Figures . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .85 Conflation of Witches, Fairies and Nymphs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .89 Spinning, Witchcraft, Fairies and the Archetypal Feminine . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .90 Shakespeare’s Weird Sisters and the Number Three . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .94 Final Calculation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .97 Chapter Four: Flourish, Exeunt . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .98 Theoretical Conclusions...

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