Three Line Tales: By the pricking of my thumbs

a cathedral ruin

The battle was over. Mab didn’t know which side was the victor, which the loser and she cared even less. Static fizzed through her wrists, conducted along the nerve endings to settle beneath her thumbnails – the familiar signal evil was approaching.

‘Sorry I’m late,’ said Moll, dusting ash from her sleeve. ‘I was watching the firestorm. Beautiful, the way it cleanses a city.’ She looked round her, at the fallen masonry, the ivy snaking over graffitied walls. ‘Nice. Oh, by the way, Cass won’t be joining us.’

Mab sighed. The two witches just didn’t have the same ring.

***

Written for Three Line Tales.

Despite loving the photo, I wasn’t going to take part in this challenge after reading Jane Dougherty’s TLT – Jane had done such a good job, there could be no better interpretation.

Then for some reason, the Macbeth witches sprung to mind. I thought the derelict cloister would be an appropriate meeting place for their modern counterparts – slightly more sheltered than a ‘blasted heath’.

There’s an interesting analysis of the witches here.

The title is, of course a quote, from the play.

W4W:The Weirdest of the Wyrd

Silhouette of witch riding a broom

Image: Pixabay

 

I was struggling to think of what word to choose for today’s Wednesday Word Tangle. Yes, I know, it’s ridiculous as English has thousands to choose from. But I needed something I’d be inspired by and I was in the mood for something other, something different … Something weird. And that’s when inspiration struck like a well-cast magic spell. Let’s see what

WEIRD 

has to offer.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, weird might now mean ‘peculiar or unusual’, but in the 14th century and later it meant ‘having the power to control fate’, from the Old English wyrd – ‘chance, destiny, the Fates’. It literally means ‘that which comes’.

The dictionary also states that our understanding of the word to mean ‘uncanny’ comes from the phrase ‘Weird Sisters’ to describe the Norns, beings from Norse mythology who controlled the destiny of man and god alike.

Does the phrase Weird Sisters sound familiar to you? Damn well hope so, because it’s from this mythology that our old pal Bill Shakespeare shaped his Three Witches in Macbeth.

If there’s any other single work of literature that’s shaped how we imagine magical ladies, I’d like to hear about it. Their sinister conversations, the use of rhyme, the way they finish each others’ sentences, as if their minds have a supernatural link, all go to making the ‘sisters’ the epitome of corrupting evil.

Shakespeare lays his stall out with these harpies as they open the play.

When shall we three meet again

In thunder, lightning or in rain?

Are there no bright, sunny days in medieval Scotland? No possiblility of meeting on a warm, balmy afternoon for a cuppa and a chin wag? Not really. These crones do like to brew up concoctions, but they’re rather more imaginative than slinging a couple of English Breakfast teabags in a pot.

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 blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and owlet’s wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

All followed by a barrowful of antacids, I should imagine.

As so often happens with Shakespeare, there is an element of currying favour with the monarchy in the play.

James I & VI came to the English throne in 1603. Macbeth was written in 1606 and features the wronged ghost Banquo – who James I was supposedly descended from. James also had a bit of an obssession with witches, having written his Daemonologie on the subject in 1597. Clever old Shakespeare, stirring all of these elements into a witch’s brew which was sure to be popular and gain him some Stewart Brownie points.

In its turn, of course, Will’s Weird Sisters inspired others. There’s a band in the Harry Potter stories called Weird Sisters (though what makes them extra odd is that they’re all men).

My favourite is the Terry Pratchett Discworld novel Wyrd Sisters which follows the witches Magrat Garlick – very wet and New Agey, prone to burning candles and wearing tassels: Granny Weatherwax – hard as her own hobnail boots, exponent of ‘headology’ and prone to riding in the minds of passing wildlife: and Nanny Ogg – terrible mother-in-law, flirt, drinker and singer of lurid songs like A Wizard’s Staff has a Knob on the End.

If any doubts remain as to whether Wyrd Sisters might be a nod to the Bard …

As the cauldron bubbled an eldritch voice shrieked: ‘When shall we three meet again?’

There was a pause.
Finally another voice said, in far more ordinary tones: ‘Well, I can do next Tuesday.’
© Terry and Lyn Pratchett, 1988

 

 

 

Books in the Blood # 13: How to make teenagers love Shakespeare

Sandals? In Scotland? The man was clearly deranged. Image: Pixabay

Sandals? In Scotland? The man was clearly deranged.
Image: Pixabay

There’s no more attractive sight than seeing a man in costume. Well, certain costumes. Not clown ones with massive feet and red noses and the whole scary white make up thing.

I was thinking more along the lines of historical costume. There were just certain periods in history when fashion got it right so far as accentuating the finer points of the male form goes.

A while back my husband went to a big work do. As the party was fancy dress and the theme Pirates, the staff were able to hire clothing from a stage costumiers and my husband came home with a beautiful 18th century style frock coat, complete with brass buttons and braid and breeches to match. And a tricorn hat. To say he looked dashing was rather an understatement. I tried to persuade him to hire it for an extra few days over the weekend, but he demured. Coward.

It’s not just 18th century costume either.

Anyone remember Blackadder? Course you do. Remember Rowan Atkinson’s transformation between series’ one and two? He went from a snivelling dweeb with a bowl haircut and an outrageous selection of positively aggressive codpieces in the first series to an Elizabethan gallant, all trimmed beard, black doublet and hose and pearl drop earring in the second.

Now, I’m sure no one would ever class Rowan Atkinson as a heart throb. One of Britain’s greatest comedy actors? Yes. Sexy? No. Not until he was strung into that black velvet. Or is that just me? (No – it’s definitely my mother as well.)  

Which kind of brings me to this week’s Books in the Blood:

SHAKESPEARE PLAYS.

I loved Shakespeare at school – eventually.

But you see, people start the study of Shakespeare all wrong.

We’re introduced during those turbulent, troublesome teenage years, when your body’s like a chemistry set, a frightening jumble of hormones shaken together in all the right quantities to produce mental instability on a cosmic scale. And the way schools ease us into the works of the greatest British writer, with his themes of social climbing, cross dressing, regicide, suicide and murder, murder, murder is by showing us the text first.

Clearly, I get this. As a lover of words I know that what makes Shakespeare great, what makes him endure through four centuries and presumably into the distant future for as long as man exists, are his use of words, his prose and poetry, the way he describes the human condition.

I get this. But I’m not sure most teenagers do.

What teenagers get is difficult (occasionally impenetrable) language, loaded with Classical, mythological and medieval references they don’t recognise and jokes that just aren’t. They and their classmates have to take on roles, to read the text in class and if there’s anything less romantic than a self-conscious fourteen-year-old stumbling through

If I profane with my unworthiest hand

This holy shrine, the gentle sin is this:

My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand

To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.

while his mates are laughing and lobbing spit balls at him, I don’t know what is.

But I have a radical solution.

Before teachers hand out text books, before teen eyes settle on a single letter of the great man’s work, before the kids have had the chance to feel bamboozled, flummoxed, lightminded or just plain bored by the Bard experience …

TAKE THEM TO A LIVE PERFORMANCE FIRST

Shakespeare wrote plays. Plays which were meant to be performed and watched and gasped at and laughed through. They were NOT meant to be read and analysed, line by line, couplet by couplet, in one hour chunks in enclosed, dusty classrooms with the lure of sunshine and break time taunting you through the window.

Let them feel that adrenalin rush of a live performance. Preferably take them to see a tragedy, because all that intrigue, sex and violence that accompanies Macbeth, Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet tick every box in the teen brain stem. Let them hear swords clash, see the actors stumble and spit their lines and argue and kiss.

The students won’t understand every line. They will miss some of the references. But they might just leave the theatre with an initial good impression of Shakespeare. Then at least when they do look at the texts they might remember that sword fight, that kiss. The text might make more sense and they might realise Shakespeare isn’t boring.

And as they plough through iambic pentameter, they might remember the dashing hero in the doublet and hose too.


Every time I discuss Shakespeare I share alink with Desperately Seeking Cymbeline – and today will be no exception.