“The Scottish/Classical Hybrid Witches in ‘Macbeth'”

Whalen, Richard F

Publication date:


Grade 12


“The Scottish/Classical Hybrid Witches in Macbeth” is a scholarly article that delivers in-depth analysis of the mythological sources of the Weird Sisters, the way that Shakespeare constructed these characters through dialogue, and the role these characters have on “Macbeth.” “The Scottish/Classical Hybrid Witches” explains how the Weird Sisters can be seen as possessing qualities of both folkloric Scottish witches and the Fates of classical Greek drama and mythology. Whalen provides close analysis of the scenes in which the Weird Sisters appear. He argues that the mixture of low comedy and mythic elements and the switching between registers within scenes reinforces the audience’s impression that Macbeth has allowed himself to become deceived. This text engages with past works of literary scholars and also provides a close reading of a single significant feature of the play.


Of all the texts in my text set, this text is probably the furthest reach in terms of readability (outside of reading “Macbeth” without any guides or supports). A significant deal of history, scholarly criticism, and mythology is thrown at the reader, with the assumption that the reader will have some familiarity with the references the author is making. Banquo and Macbeth are compared as “foils” without the author explaining the meaning of a “foil” in literature. The text also interprets complicated features of the play such as hybridized cultural references in characterization, shifts of register in dialogue, and the paradoxical idea of “self-deception.”

Use in Class

This text would be independent guided reading pertaining to Act 1 Scene 3. It is meant to be the greatest “reach” text for students in terms of readability. However, its analysis of mythological and folkloric links might be of interest to students who would want to connect “Macbeth” to other traditions and works of literature. While other readings provide broad background or cover a major theme, this essay narrows in on the specific qualities of a particular element of the play. This text can be a springing board for looking at lines of dialogue and asking why the witches speak more comically at the beginning of Act 1 Scene 3 than they speak when delivering the prophecies to Macbeth and Banquo. How does the variation in portrayal shape our impression of the witches and of Macbeth?

Unit Focus

Language Arts

Submitted by Julia Katz

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