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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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Introduction 1

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Introduction “I dreamt last night of the three weird sisters: To you they have show’d some truth.” —Shakespeare, Macbeth, 2.1.21–22 In the twenty-first century, William Shakespeare’s Macbeth remains one of the most produced plays in the English language. Its continued resonance is undis- puted. From American high schools to London’s West End, the play is frequent- ly performed and perennially popular. Lady Macbeth is considered the leading female role in the bard’s master- piece. But Shakespeare chose three other females to begin his tragedy; the Weird Sisters are the first characters we meet in Macbeth. The Weird Sisters are, arguably, the most famous trio of “witches” in English literature. For four hundred years and counting, the Weird Sisters have fascinated and mystified actors and audiences alike, both on stage and screen. Portrayals of the archetypal trio on stage often fall into one of three categories: ugly mortal witches, sexy siren temptresses, or supernatural beings tied to the devil—the three females as evil incarnate. In recent cinema, there have been further transmutations. In Akira Kurosawa’s 1957 Kumonosu jô/Throne of Blood, his Japanese warrior adaptation of Macbeth, the trio was drastically reduced to one old witch in the woods. In Roman Polanksi’s 1971 film Macbeth, the three aged crones have an Act Four nude scene. In Macbeth on the Estate, a 1997 BBC adaptation about drug dealers, criminals and street gangs, directed by Penny Woolcock, the Weird Sisters were played by children. In 2001, Billy Morrissette’s 1970’s era look...

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