This is the very painting of your fear


Well it’s nearly Halloween, and that can only mean one thing. Staying indoors and eating all the sweets you bought “for trick-or-treaters”…

On the other hand, since I have just finished re-reading Wyrd Sisters, Macbeth is muchly on my mind. I think this has to be the most creepy – and the most supernaturally charged – of Shakespeare’s plays*.

Personally, I think any production in which the witches aren’t pant-wettingly terrifying just isn’t trying hard enough. As Banquo says, their appearance is not attractive – “So wither’d and so wild in their attire, That look not like the inhabitants o’ the earth”. Their hobbies leave much to be desired (“FIRST WITCH. Where hast thou been, sister? SECOND WITCH. Killing swine.”) So too does their choice of ingredients – “Finger of birth-strangled babe Ditch-deliver’d by a drab” is particularly unappealing, although “grease that’s sweaten From the murtherer’s gibbet” is scarcely less so. And fortune tellers are always a bad idea.**

These witches aren't really "the very painting" of my fear...

These witches aren’t really “the very painting” of my fear…

That's more like it!

That’s more like it!

Then there’s Banquo’s ghost (poor Banquo – all he did was be in the wrong place at the wrong time and he got “twenty trenched gashes on his head, The least a death to nature” for his pains.) When he turns up, he shakes his “gory locks” at Macbeth, his “horrible shadow” glares at Macbeth who says “Take any shape but that, and my firm nerves Shall never tremble”. I feel much the same, and I didn’t kill him…

I'm not convinced this Banquo is quite bloody enough, but OK.

I’m not convinced this Banquo is quite bloody enough, but OK.

But the biggest horror in Macbeth is Lady Macbeth, who frets that her husband is “too full o’ the milk of human kindness”. She begs to be filled “from the crown to the toe top-full Of direst cruelty” and tells Macbeth, when both are steeped in Duncan’s blood “My hands are of your color, but I shame To wear a heart so white.”

I know what Halloween costume I would choose to wear…

Not scary to look but properly the stuff of nightmares...

Not scary to look at but properly the stuff of nightmares…

* That is, if you discount all the stupid fairy shenanigans in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which I try very hard to do. In fact, I try to discount the whole play, although I suppose I’ll have to get round to it at some point in the next nine-odd years.

**Always. No exceptions. Not a single one.

2 thoughts on “This is the very painting of your fear

  1. Ah, what a grand post. Yes, the three witches and their meeting has to be one of the creepiest Shakespeare scenes going. And quotable, of course. Even I can remember ‘When shall we three meet again? Thunder, lightening or in rain?’ ‘When the hurly burly’s done. When the battle’s lost and won.’ That was probably filled with woeful misquotes, but close, I think.
    Macbeth has to be my favourite Shakespeare play. I like a tragedy and the Macbeth’s are such a memorable couple – not one you’d want living next door, but … Hamlet’s brilliant, of course, but the huge death count – at the end especially – always struck me as edging towards slightly daft.
    Thanks for the link.


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