Want to do something frighteningly different for Halloween this year? Read a play by William Shakespeare! Many of his plays are brimming with dark castles, ghosts, witches, fairies, supernatural omens, dastardly deeds, the stuff of dreams and nightmares. The Gothic villain, plotting his nefarious scheme by moonlight and carrying it out under cover of darkness, can be traced back to Shakespeare’s Elizabethan dramas.
Magic and superstition were an important part of the Elizabethan view of life. Many Elizabethans believed that mischievous fairies and evil creatures came out at night. An old Scottish prayer expresses a common fear of the time: “From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties, and things that go bump in the night, Good Lord deliver us.” Shakespeare himself states, “Tis now the very witching time of night, when churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out contagion to this world.”
William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” portrays the classic stereotype of old hags crouched over a cauldron muttering incantations. Shakespeare gathered together all the popular beliefs about witches’ brew from late 16th century England and concocted the classic recipe. Although the strange ingredients do not sound very appetizing, some of them are really names of herbs. Other ingredients were given symbolic names–part of the witches’ code to keep the substances a secret.
A dark cave. In the middle, a caldron boiling. Thunder. Enter three Weird Sisters: “Round about the cauldron go; in the poisoned entrails throw…. Double, double, toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble. Fillet of a fenny snake, in the cauldron boil and bake; eye of newt and toe of frog, wool of bat, and tongue of dog, adder’s fork, and blindworm’s sting, lizard’s leg, and owlet’s wing, for a charm of powerful trouble; fire burn, and cauldron bubble…. Cool it with a baboon’s blood, then the charm is firm and good.”
Click here to find a selection of scary scenes from Shakespeare’s plays. Don’t just read the lines; act them out! Shakespeare was meant to be heard and performed. If you are interested in the rest of the story, go to the library and check out the book, audio dramatization, or movie. The complete works of William Shakespeare can also be found online at http://www-tech.mit.edu/Shakespeare.