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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 Two: Hecate, the Triple Goddess, and Macbeth 34


Chapter Two Hecate, the Triple Goddess, and Macbeth “Why, how now, Hecate? you look angerly.” —Shakespeare, Macbeth, 3.5.1 To separate further and study the strands of archetypal subsumption, conflation and transformation of Shakespeare’s Weird Sisters, it is important to examine the trio’s complex relationship to the character of Hecate in Macbeth. Since the goddess Hecate is an active character in Macbeth, referenced in dialogue and plot, and the Weird Sisters “answer” to her, her significance to Shakespeare’s Weird Sisters is more immediate than those of subsumed, unseen yet related archetypes.1 According to Robert Bell, in Women in Classical Mythology: Hecate was perhaps the most complex divinity in Greek mythology mainly because she represented a blending of a very ancient worship with one practiced in much later times, indeed historical times. She was originally a Thracian divinity, and when the Olympian succession was established, she was conceived as a Titan. (218) In Journey Through Menopause, Christine Downing writes of the Triple Goddess: Hekate is closely associated with Persephone and Demeter [. . .] She is a great mother goddess associated with fair judgment and with victory in battle and game [. . .]. But elsewhere she is much more restrictedly defined as an underworld goddess. In the Homeric Hymn to Demeter it is Hekate who hears Persephone’s cry as Hades pulls her down into the underworld and Hekate who lights the maiden’s way back to earth and promises to see to it that the agreement whereby Persephone spends part of each year below and part above is...

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