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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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Chapter One: From Goddess To Witch 8


Chapter One From Goddess To Witch “Saw you the weird sisters?” —Shakespeare, Macbeth, 4.1.134 The first performance of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth was on August 7, 1606, at Hampton Court (Kernan 71). The first published version of the Scottish tragedy appeared in the First Folio in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare’s death (Muir Arden xiii). Because of this seventeen-year gap between its first performance and its first publication, and because the twenty-one page script of Macbeth is significantly shorter than other tragedies (e.g. it is nine pages shorter than Othello, at thirty pages, and ten pages shorter than Hamlet at thirty-one pages), some scholars have argued that the published version is abridged (Muir Arden xiii-xiv). Penned By Whom? Questions of Textual Interpolation Further, because Hecate’s lines are written predominantly in iambic tetrameter, and the lines of the Weird Sisters are written in iambic tetrameter with a trochaic cadence (Chambers 11), certain scholars have speculated that all four of the female “witch” characters were inserted later, and perhaps not penned by Shakespeare (Muir Arden xxxv). Scholarly debates about authorship and interpolations to the text of Macbeth date from the nineteenth century, and continued through the greater part of the twentieth century. These debates are categorized as arguments of textual “disintegration” by G.K. Hunter (1). Playwright Thomas Middleton “seems to have revised Shakespeare’s Macbeth some years after its first performance” (Carroll xiii); Middleton is thought to have interpolated the songs “Come Away, Hecate!” and “Black Spirits” around 1609-10 (Brooke qtd. in Shafer xiv)...

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