Horror Scenes in Shakespeare: The Witches of ‘Macbeth’

It’s true that Shakespeare isn’t usually associated with horror, but there are a number horror and macabre scenes in his plays that are genuinely creepy and very dark.

So, this ’spooky season’, I’ll be sharing those scenes with you via Shakespeare Nerd.

As I noted in a post last week, the first scene of Macbeth is my favourite opening scene among all the plays, so that’s a great place to start.

Shakespeare Nerd

Often referred to as the Weird Sisters, the witches of ‘Macbeth’ open the play with a powerfully macabre and horrifying scene. There is a cauldron in the middle of the cavern, around which the witches dance and recite the list of ingredients in the potion they are making. 

Just reading the recipe is enough to make one’s skin crawl – and we are nowhere near as superstitious as Shakespeare’s original audiences. 

In 1606 when the play is thought to have first been performed, audiences then would have both living memory and current knowledge of witch trials and persecutions, and would have been very wary of anything to do with witches and magic.

Shakespeare knew what we was doing, though. James I had been king of England for a few years, and  did not enjoy universal popularity among his English subjects. By portraying the witches and Macbeth as evil, he was…

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Strange Inspiration.

As a writer, inspiration can come from anywhere.

Last week, as my friends and I were sitting in a shopping centre food court, I watched a young boy carefully picki his nose, eating the booger, and follow it with a chicken nugget. He did this at least three times,

At a table nearby, another young boy watched too, with disbelief and horror written all across his face.

The scene amused me, and I filed a mental note about it. Did the second boy never pick his nose, I wondered, or was he just appalled by the thought of eating it?

As I was driving home, a story came to me.

It seems fitting that it is a macabre story, given that it is October and Halloween will soon be upon us.

However, when I went looking for a copyright free image of a kid with their finger up their nose, I couldn’t find a single one. You would think that with the world-wide resources of the internet at our fingertips, things like that wouldn’t be so hard to find. There were stock images available, but I generally refuse to use those because, like all Indie authors, I’m on a budget and that seems like a luxury to me.

One Facebook post later, my cousin came to the rescue. Her young son was only too happy to stick his finger up his nose for the camera, and now he’s my little hero. He loves creepy stories, so I’ve promised to write one for him. I just have to wait for a little more strange inspiration to come my way.

He’s a natural! Image by Geanette Saad. Used with permission.

I hope you enjoy The Final Blow.

Image by Geanette Saad 2019. Used with permission.

“How many times do I have to tell you not to pick your nose?”

Sam sighed. All he wanted to do was dislodge those crusty bits that stabbed the inside of his nostrils every time she made him blow into a tissue, and remained there stubbornly regardless of his efforts with the tissue. Those things hurt, and they didn’t let go on their own.The best way to remove them was gently, with his favourite finger, and then flick them into the bin.

She should just be thankful he never wanted to eat it. He didn’t understand how other kids could. Just the other day when they had gone out for lunch he had watched another boy in the restaurant eating his booger off his finger before picking up a chicken nugget and eating that. He shuddered at the thought.

“You don’t know…

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Why This Australian Enjoys Halloween

As an Australian, I get very mixed responses when I tell people I enjoy Halloween. 

Some see it as an opportunity for the community to share in something fun. In my town, the local Scout group organises the trick or treating so that the kids are supervised. Anyone wanting the kids to visit them for treats must be registered and checked out first. One of the local cafes sets up a House of Horror for everyone to enjoy, free of charge, and various other businesses run promotions. 

Most Aussies, however, respond with something like “Ugh, It’s so American!” or “It’s just more commercialism!” 

While it’s true that Halloween hasn’t historically been a big part of our culture in Australia, most are surprised to discover it’s not an American thing at all. It actually originated as a Celtic celebration of Samhain in Ireland, and from there spread to Scotland, Wales, England and France. In a strange coincidence, the British who landed in Australia in 1788 thinking they owned the place also originated in those places, so there’s that. 

My first real experience of celebrating and embracing Halloween was in Canada, where it was all about community and celebrating the season, rather than commercial opportunism. It was wonderful. People decorated their homes and yards as a sign to kids that they were welcome to visit on their trick or treating routes. People in the streets wished each other a happy Halloween. We visited an apple orchard that offered hayrides and a corn maze, in addition to picking your own apples and enjoying the fare of the kitchen. October was a time of festivity and community amidst the changing of the season and the anticipation of winter’s arrival, made all the more cheerful by the brightness of pumpkins decorating shops, streets, gateposts, homes, and anywhere else people chose to put them. 

Sure, the shops sold more chocolates and toys designed to give to kids who came knocking. But why can’t that be seen as a boost to the economy, rather than soulless exploitation of shoppers? If people don’t want to join in the celebration, they are not obligated to do or buy anything at all. 

It is fair to say, though, that the growing popularity of Halloween in Australia is the result of the predominance of American TV and movies on Australian screens. People can complain about Halloween all they like, but until they’re willing to stop watching all the American shows and films they tune into religiously each week, or binge watch on weekends, it’s quite a hypocritical objection to raise. You can’t complain about your neighbour’s kids dressing up to go trick or treating if you can’t pause the latest episode of ’The Haunting of Hill House’ or ‘Riverdale’ to answer the door. 

Ultimately, people can make their own choices. There’s no obligation to join in, but there’s also no need to be supercilious about it. 

I’ll be celebrating Spooky Season all month, and joining in the Halloween festivities in my town again this year.  And I’ll be loving every moment of it. 

Oh, I Do Love To Be Beside The Seaside!

It’s term break here in Australia, which provided an opportunity for my best friend and me to kidnap each other and escape for a quick break.

I so enjoy these little getaways. It’s time to just spend together, away from the demands of work, family, and other obligations. What was an off the cuff idea the first time is set to become a tradition because we recognise how beneficial it is for us both.

On our first mutual kidnapping we went inland to Daylesford for the day. This time, we headed to the seaside town of Queenscliff, Victoria, where I booked an overnight stay at a fantastic place called Ruby’s.

We had a wonderful, relaxing time — and I even got some writing done!

An Aussie Maple Leaf, adrift on the wind...

Queenscliff is a town on the southern end of the Bellarine Peninsula, near where Port Phillip Bay enters Bass Strait.

Queenscliff has a lovely small-town feel to it, even though it’s only a half hour’s drive from Geelong. There is a very real sense of leaving the rat-race behind and stepping into a friendlier, more relaxing existence.

It is a town with lovely old buildings and churches, and a wide main street lined with boutique shops, cafes and restaurants, including two ice-cream parlours, two old-fashioned candy stores and — best of all — two book shops!

On the cliff above the beach is a lighthouse built from local basalt in 1881, and a historic fort that is still in use as the base of the Air Force Cadets.

There are some great spots to sit and watch the boats, including the ferry to Sorrento at the southern end of the…

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Do I Owe My Love of the Gothic and Macabre to My Childhood TV Habits?

I have always credited The Addams Family and The Munsters with feeding, if not inspiring, my early love of the Gothic and the macabre, but I never really thought about how much Scooby Doo fit that same genre in so many ways until I read this great article on CrimeReads.

I was certainly watching those things on TV before I was reading anything Gothic. I think my first Gothic read was Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ when I was maybe 9 or 10.  

Scooby Doo was always one of the cartoons I enjoyed, and I still say “Rut Roh!” in my Scooby voice when I have a feeling things are about to go badly. 

I guess it’s fair to say that some of the TV I watched definitely did normalise the Gothic for me during my childhood, and opened me up to the darker side of storytelling. 

I hope you find this article as interesting and enlightening as I did. 

How Scooby Doo Revived Gothic Storytelling for Generations of Kids

Misquoted Shakespeare: “Bubble, Bubble Toil and Trouble”

I have more than one friend who likes to stir a pot of whatever they are cooking and say in a witchy voice: “Bubble bubble, toil and trouble…”

At times – usually when it is someone I don’t know well – I choose to be diplomatic and just let them go. They’re having fun. 

When it’s a friend who I know will not be offended, I have told them gently what the correct line is, and given them a few extra lines to use when the family asks, “What’s for dinner?” “Eye of newt and toe of frog” is a family favourite in my own kitchen, with “fillet of a fenny snake” a close second.

When I asked one of them if she knew she was quoting Ducktales, not Shakespeare, she took it in her stride and immediately switched to a voice that sounded almost exactly like Donald Duck. It was most impressive, and I should have been less surprised by that given that we’ve done theatre together. 

Still, it is a quote that people do get wrong.

In the opening scene of Macbeth, he witches actually say “Double, double, toil and trouble, / Fire burn and cauldron bubble”  as the refrain of their song about making a potion in the cauldron in the centre of the stage. 

My favourite opening scene among all Shakespeare’s plays, this is a passage that is super cool and super creepy at the same time. Despite the fact that the witches are brewing something potent, the song concludes with a witch declaring that “something wicked comes” when Macbeth enters. It’s a powerful statement of how dark and deadly the central character of the play will turn out to be. 

Absurdity.

Am I missing something? Is there a new ‘Absurdity’ genre of stories that are not intended to make sense? 

I have read two books this week that promised much but delivered nothing other than almost complete bewilderment. They didn’t make sense at all. 

Yet both had received four and five star reviews. I have absolutely no idea how. 

Surely a basic requirement of writing a story for someone else to read is that it needs to make sense? It needs to mean something, to communicate an idea, or to at least not leave the reader perplexed.

I don’t understand how those books are meant to be enjoyable.
If someone else likes them, that’s great, but they are not for me.

Woulda Coulda Shoulda.

One of the biggest battles I face as a high school English teacher is the plague of “would of”, “could of” and “should of”. 

These incorrect terms have arisen from the corruptions of “would’ve”, “could’ve” and “should’ve”. Of course, those are contractions of “would have”, “could have” and “should have”.

The irony is that people use “would of” instead of “would’ve” because they think they are speaking or writing better English. 
However, using “of” instead of “have” is never correct. 

If you really want to set yourself apart from the masses, this is a great place to start. Say it correctly and write it correctly. Join the resistance, and lead by example. 

Downtime!

Today was glorious.

A drive in the countryside was exactly what I needed to blow off the cobwebs and breathe some fresh air.

And now? I’m going to read for pleasure.
Decadent I know.

For more pictures of where I drove… click here.

Misunderstood Shakespeare: The Balcony Scene

Pretty much anywhere you go, whoever you talk to, if they know only one thing about any play by Shakespeare, it’s the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet. It’s possibly the most famous scene ever written. 

There’s just one problem with that:  there was no balcony. 

That’s correct. 

There. 
Never. 
Was. 
A.
Freaking.
Balcony. 

In the script, the stage direction is clear: JULIET appears above at a window. 

Not a balcony. A window. 

You can read the entire scene and see that not once is a balcony mentioned. 

I don’t know who invented it, but it was a killer idea that I bet Shakespeare would wish he had thought of, were he still alive today. 

Of course, directors can stage a play however they like, and make use of whatever structures and sets the theatre provides.

Filmmakers can do likewise, but one must keep in mind their tendency to just change whatever they want. Hollywood is notorious for that. The mayhem that comes from mass misunderstanding occurs when directors think they know better than the author, and when people watch a movie instead of reading the book.

It makes people and their assumptions about the original text wrong, and leaves them marinating in their wrongness until their wrongness is so commonly accepted that most people think it’s right. 

It just goes to show that what your English teacher always said is true: there really is no substitute for reading the book.