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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 Three: Related Female Threesomes in Myths and Fairy Tales 70


Chapter Three Related Female Threesomes in Myths and Fairy Tales “When shall we three meet again?” —Shakespeare, Macbeth, 1.1.1 In this chapter, key subsumed classical antecedents of the Weird Sisters will be detailed, along with the archetypal associations of related figures—personae who are not directly “present” in Macbeth. Several related characters and motifs from fairy tales will be explored as well as the significance of the number three related to the bard’s Weird Sisters. “Creatures of Elder World”: Related Archetypal Female Trios and Figures Holinshed’s initial description of the Weird Sisters says that the trio came out of the woods wearing “strange and wild apparel, resembling creatures of elder world.” The “elder world” is a primeval construct of ancient tales and archetypes. There are aspects of eleven related mythic female trios and four mythological characters—inhabitants of the “elder world”—who seem to have influenced the creation of Shakespeare’s Weird Sisters. These archetypes are either directly subsumed into Shakespeare’s Weird Sisters, are affiliated with the Weird Sisters through related myth genealogies, or are somehow related to Shakespeare’s characterizations of his “witches.” The trinitarian figures may be grouped into three categories: 1) Trios related to fate and prophecy; 2) Trios who “inspire” action; and 3) Trios related to the underworld. The four mythological characters are related to magic and prophecy. If the Greeks were unable to keep the stories straight of the three Fates, the three Muses, and the three Graces (Miller 61), it is likely that archetypal “cross- pollination...

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