The Shakespeare Project: Macbeth Act V

A little over a year since I read Macbeth and posted on the first four Acts, and I realise I hadn’t done my post on Act V, so am doing it now. Reading Macbeth was part of my attempt to read through Shakespeare’s plays which I haven’t really read (except ones at school; and other than that the Charles and Mary Lamb versions; my plans are here), and writing posts act by act (or sometimes two acts at a time) as I go along. Macbeth is only the second play I picked up, the first being A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I will be reading others as well. But first, to wrap this one up.

After hearing prophecies of his future from the wyrd sisters, and having the first (his becoming Thane of Cawdor) come true on its own, Macbeth with much encouragement from his wife, decides not to leave the second prophecy, of his becoming the King, to fate and make it come true. For this, he must rid himself of the King, Duncan, and so he does; the blame falls on the king’s sons and they escape with the result that Macbeth becomes King. But evil deeds have many consequences, as Macbeth soon learns. For one, as we see in all murder mysteries, once Macbeth has crossed the line, he does not stop; Banquo and his son are his next targets (and later Lady Macduff and her children), and while Banquo’s son Fleance escapes, Banquo does not. But these aren’t the only ones, for Macbeth’s actions have effect on himself too, as sleep is taken away from him, and Banquo’s ghost appears to haunt him. Also, he is increasingly making plans to which he no longer makes Lady Macbeth party. Meanwhile the witches have found him unworthy of their prophecies and decided to mislead him while Malcolm, the king’s son, and Macduff prepare to battle Macbeth who they know has come by the throne wrongfully.

Act V opens in Dunsinane, where a doctor and a waiting-gentlewoman (attending on Lady Macbeth) are having a conversation regarding Lady’s Macbeth current state. The waiting woman is unwilling to go into all the details other than the fact that Lady Macbeth has been sleepwalking, but we learn them soon enough, for the she sleepwalks in front of the doctor. And so we see that it is not only Macbeth whose mind has been affected by his ill deeds but also his lady, who now cannot sleep without having a light besides her; and worse, during her state of sleepwalking is constantly washing her hands, for in her mind the blood of the king cannot be washed away [‘who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him‘]. She continues to talk about this, going on to also reveal that Banquo has been buried and cannot leave his grave. The doctor realises the gravity of the revelations saying both that she has a disease beyond his powers to cure, and that she needs a priest more than she does a doctor.

Lady Macbeth Sleepwalking by Johann Heinrich Fussli
via wikimedia commons: Henry Fuseli / Public domain:
The Birnam Oak (what remains of the Wood)
via Wikimedia Commons: W. L. Tarbert / Public domain

In the scene that follows, we are taken a little away from Dusinane, to the country where soldiers are assembling, among them, Meneteith, Caithness, Angus, and Lennox, who discuss the progress of the English army (Malcolm and Macduff had escaped there for help) lead by Malcolm, his uncle Siward, and Macduff, all burning with revenge. They also discuss how Macbeth is fortifying his castle, and beginning to feel the blood of his enemies on his hands. His orders may be being followed but none bear him any love. The soldiers, meanwhile are proceeding towards Birnam Wood, the very wood of the witches third prophecy.

Back at the Castle in Dunsinane, Macbeth is reflecting on the two prophecies the witches had made on his being undefeatable until Birnam Wood moves, and also that he cannot be defeated by any man born of a woman. He is thus rather confident of victory, when a servant comes in to report of the soldiers that are gathering to battle him. Macbeth is confident of securing his reign, but realises that the things he should normally have had in old age–like honour, love, obedience, and loyal friends–are things he never will. Meanwhile the doctor who has been attending Lady Macbeth arrives to tell Macbeth that his lady is haunted by visions, something that she must heal herself. Macbeth, preparing for battle, asks him whether he can find anything to cure the disease that afflicts his country; the poor doctor wishes himself far from Dusinane.

As we rejoin Malcolm, Siward, and others in Scene IV, they have arrived at Birnam Wood. Here Malcolm decides that every soldier must break off a branch from the wood and carry it in front of him so as to conceal how many people they actually have; and with this decision, one of the witches’ prophecies comes true for with the soldiers, the Wood actually begins to march.

Macbeth, prepared for battle, gives orders for banners to be hung, still confident that his castle is strong enough to withstand any siege. As he speaks, a woman is heard crying, and on inquiring, he learns that the queen is dead, to which he cynically retorts that this was something bound to happen, for life is no more than an illusion. To make matters worse for him, a messenger comes in informing Macbeth that he has seen the forest begin to move. Macbeth stunned threatens the poor man with death should he be found lying, but his confidence has begun to be shaken. He raises the alarm while on the other side, the army moves forward, Macduff directing the blowing of trumpets to announce ‘blood and death’.

The battle commences, and in the confrontation between Macbeth and young Siward, the latter is killed. Macbeth once again feels confident for no one born of a woman can being about his death. Meanwhile Macduff, whose family Macbeth has had killed, is keen to face him and only him in battle, while Siward (the elder) and Malcolm become more confident of victory. Macbeth does not wish to face Macduff or kill him for he feels the guilt of having killed his family, and boasts of the fact that he cannot be killed by any man born of a woman, only to learn to his horror that Macduff’s mother could not bear him naturally. Macbeth, his confidence shaken further, is not prepared to surrender, and the fight begins. Siward learns that his young son has been killed but is proud that he died well while Macduff enters with Macbeth’s head, hailing the new King.

Shakespeare’s version of Macbeth had its basis in Holinshed’s chronicles which dated to 1587, and differs from the history of the real-life Macbeth (who ruled from 1040 to 1057). In the theatre world, the play is believed to be cursed (here).

Macbeth might well have decided to commit a crime to realise his ambitions, but little does he realise when he takes that first step (despite all his qualms) what this will lead to–not only more conspiracy and murder, but his own guilt driving him nearly to to edge even if not over, and not only that, the achievement of his dream not giving him and pleasure or happiness. Lady Macbeth who seems colder and more cruel than her husband, for she is unwavering in her resolve, with not even the slightest hesitation at what she is going to do also pays the price, not consciously but in her subconscious, unable to sleep or wash off the blood of the dead from her hands. But even after finishing the play, I’m still not able to decide whether I find either of them better or worse than the other. Or why indeed the witches picked Macbeth, or was it only that they merely did only tell what was going to occur rather than making him act a certain way–they put temptation in his way but the choice to act on it was his own. But then why did Hecate think him undeserving? Was it that the prophecies would have come true, with more positive consequences had he chosen not to act so?

So many questions; still, I enjoyed my reading of this one.

How do you like Macbeth (the play)? What did you think of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth–did you think her more sinister, or was he worse, or both equally bad? And the events that took place, merely fate playing out or the consequences of choices made? Looking forward to your thoughts!

Find my posts on Act I (here), II (here), III (here), and IV (here).

The Shakespeare Project: Macbeth Act IV

Once again a post under The Shakespeare Project (read about that here), this time on Act IV of Macbeth, which is my current read. My posts on Acts I, II, and III are here, here and here. Please note that unlike the usual posts on this blog, my Shakespeare-related posts are not spoiler-free so read on only if this doesn’t bother you. 

In the last Act, Macbeth had done away with Banquo and his son Fleance in an attempt to remove what he perceived as threats to his power, since it was Banquo’s sons who were foretold to be kings after Macbeth and not his own. But instead of setting his mind at rest, this only serves to haunt him further as Banquo’s ghost appears to him at his banquet and he begins to babble and even let out more than he should. We also learn that the others haven’t quite been fooled by Macbeth’s pretenses, and are preparing to take action. Meanwhile Macbeth has planned to consult the weird sisters once again.

And this is how Act IV opens. The scene is once again in the witches’ realm–a cavern with a boiling cauldron, and thunder in the background. Before Macbeth arrives on the scene, the witches are at work, brewing a spell with the, one poem which (or at least lines of which) comes to mind on thinking of Macbeth: “Double double, toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble” .

Into the cauldron go an assortment of gruesome ingredients, from the typical eye of newt that we’ve come to expect in witches potions to even some mummified flesh and a couple of questionable (rather non-PC) ones. But once the charm is ready, Hecate once again appears on the scene and praises their efforts. Just as they sing around the cauldron, as Hecate has told them to do, Macbeth appears on the scene. Of course, his arrival has been sensed as the witches speak out another of Macbeth‘s (the play’s) iconic lines, “By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes”.

Macbeth enters , and soon demands that his questions be answered no matter what. The witches agree but also ask him whether he wouldn’t rather have the answers from their “masters”. Macbeth agrees, and yet another ghastly ingredient is added to the potion. With this, an apparition–an armed head appears.

Macbeth Consulting the Vision of the Armed Head by Henri Fuseli (1793) via wikimedia commons

This apparition tells him to beware of Macduff, but as he tries to question it further, the witches stop him and another apparition, this time a bloody child is conjured up. This tells him that no one born of a woman will be able to kill him, and disappears. He then seems reassured that he won’t have to kill Macduff to keep himself safe but decides all the same to do so, to be doubly sure. The final apparition, a child with a crown on his head and a tree in his hand tells Macbeth that he will be undefeated till Birnham Wood marches to fight him at Dunsianane Hill. Macbeth now feels that there is no real threat to his power since such a thing could never happen–after all woods don’t move, do they? (But didn’t Hecate say something about tricking Macbeth into believing that there is no real threat. Hmm…) But Macbeth is still not satisfied and wishes to know whether Banquo’s sons will reign. But the witches stop him from going further. Yet, he is shown a vision of eight kings, all of whom seem to be Banquo’s descendants.

The witches confirm that this is true and vanish, while Macbeth calls to whoever is outside. Lennox appears in response, and claims that he hasn’t seen the weird sisters. He however, reports to Macbeth that Macduff has fled to England. Macbeth now plots to seize Macduff’s castle and have his wife and children killed.

John L Prtichard as Macduff by Richard James Lane, printed by Jeremie Graf, published by John Mitchell, after Alfred Edward Chalon, hand-coloured lithograph, published 17 December 1838, via wikimedia commons

And so, in the second scene, we find ourselves in a completely different setting, Macduff’s castle. Here a conversation is taking place between Lady Macduff and Ross, and she asks him what Macduff has done that has made him flee the country, remarking that even if he isn’t a traitor his leaving the country has made him look like one. She is, and rightly so, angry that he has left the country, leaving his wife and children behind for he has put them in danger, while he himself is away safe. Ross tries to convince her that her husband is wise and noble, and is doing what is required, but the reader can’t help but agree with her–Macduff may well have done what he thought right, but knowing Macbeth, he should have ensured that his family was safe too.

Macduff by Dorothy Carleton Smyth [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Ross also takes his leave, as Lady Macduff continues to lament her and her son’s situation. She tells her son that his father is “dead” which is what happens to traitors. The boy doesn’t believe that his father is dead and at the same time observing that there are more traitors than honest men in the world, and they would be fools to have the honest men hang them. Meanwhile a messenger enters to warn them of the danger on the way, but he is too late as the murderers arrive, the first killing her son and the second following her off stage, as she tries to escape.

In the final scene of this Act, we find ourselves in yet another setting, in England in fact, where Malcolm and Macduff are having a conversation. They are of course discussing Macbeth, and Malcolm is unsure whether Macduff is in earnest or merely trying to offer him as a “lamb”. He even questions why Macduff has left his poor wife and children there if he really does oppose Macbeth. Macduff merely laments the fact that good people are afraid to face Macbeth, who will end up enjoying all he stole. Malcolm however tries to say that Macbeth, despite all his evil is better as King than he would be for he has many flaws. Macduff continues to try to convince him but in vain, or so it seems. But it turns out that Malcolm was only testing his integrity; he really does want to serve his country, and in fact informs Macduff that there are ten thousand soldiers ready for battle.

Meanwhile Ross arrives and speaks of how Scotland is no longer the land that they knew, with no happiness, only sorrow. He informs Malcolm that there are many who want to rebel; that Macbeth’s army is in preparation; and that his presence would give the rebels inspiration. Before this Macduff has inquired about his family and Malcolm simply said that they were at peace; but now he passes on the news that the castle was attacked and everyone, Macduff’s wife, children, and all the servants killed. Macduff is naturally horror-struck and hurt, but one can’t help but wonder why he didn’t consider the possibility knowing how Macbeth was in the first place. The others give him courage and they prepare for battle.

In this Act, I felt the scene with the witches was once again my favourite while the situation with Lady Macduff and her children gave one a lot to think about. I loved the atmosphere of the entire scene with the witches, the thunder, the bubbling cauldron with the quintessential witch-y ingredients, bloody and frightening apparitions and more prophecies. (And I still wonder how they did the… special effects in Shakespeare’s day). Once again their prophecies have ensured that Macbeth wreaks more havoc, this time for Macduff’s family, though he really had no reason to this time, since their prophecy was that he was safe. The only conclusion we can draw is that Macbeth has crossed the point of no return with the first murder (murders, in fact, since he also did away with the guards), and now nothing will stop him from carrying on.

As far as poor Lady Macduff was concerned, one can’t help but feel for her since her husband, noble though his motives may be, had essentially left her helpless and with no protection whatsoever. That too in the time in which they were living. And Ross too did nothing to take her to safety. Macduff to my mind didn’t deserve the slightest pity on this account, because he should have foreseen it or something like it. Even if he loved his country more, I don’t think this excused what he did. After all, did he not owe anything to his wife and children?

Anyway, for Macbeth, his doom is imminent. Act V will of course tell us how. Let’s see how the witches prophecies come true.

What did you thing of this segment? Did you enjoy the scene with the witches as much as I did? Looking forward to reading your thoughts.

The Shakespeare Project: Macbeth Act III

The Shakespeare Project is simply me reading Shakespeare and writing about it, act by act. My introductory post about it is here. This of course, as you can see from the title is my third post on Macbeth. The first two, on Act I and II, respectively, are here and here.  Please note that these posts are not spoiler free. Just to recap, so far, Macbeth and Banquo, victorious in battle encounter the weird sisters on the heath, where they foretell that Macbeth will be Thane of Cawdor and then King, while Banquo’s children will be kings though he himself will not.

Macbeth and Banquo Meet the Witches
Source: John Wootton [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

When the first of these prophecies comes true, Macbeth begins to have foul thoughts, and plots to kill the King, Duncan to realise the second of these prophecies without leaving matters to fate. He is weak however, and his resolve wavers constantly, but the formidable Lady Macbeth is there to steer him towards his goal. And so Macbeth murders the King and also his two guards who he successfully blames for the deed. He is crowned King while King’s sons have escaped and ended up being suspected as the true culprits. However, while Macbeth may have made the witches’ prophecies come true, he has already begun to be haunted by his deeds.

The 1994 Penguin ed.

The third Act opens with Banquo reflecting on how Macbeth has achieved all that the witches prophesised, but Banquo suspects that Macbeth is responsible for all of what has come to pass and has certainly not played fair in achieving what he has achieved. Macbeth now enters the scene and commands Banquo to attend a banquet that is planned for later that evening, while also inquiring into Banquo plans for going out riding that day, and whether his son Fleance accompanies him. Clearly, he isn’t simply “making conversation”, and has an ulterior motive in finding this out.

As soon as Banquo leaves, Macbeth’s true thoughts are revealed to us. He begins to think that there is no point in being King if his position were not secure, and if the witches’ prophecies were true, then all that he has done to secure the throne for himself, will end up benefiting Banquo’s sons. And since he can’t let that happen, he decides to challenge fate, charging two murderers with the task of doing away with Banquo and Fleance. And that too is done, by convincing these men that Banquo is responsible for their fate.

Macbeth and The Two Murderers by H.E. Selous

In the next scene, in conversation with his wife, Macbeth confesses that he is still being plagued by nightmares, and that his mind is not at rest. But he also tells her that he cannot be at peace while Banquo and Fleance are alive. He asks Lady Macbeth to be nice to Banquo at the banquet, but refuses to tell her what he has planned until the deed is done. 

In the third scene, we find the two murderers whom Macbeth has sent to kill Banquo. They are joined by a third, also sent by Macbeth but without their knowledge (I wondered at this point whether the third man was supposed to kill them once the deed was done). The three waylay Banquo and Fleance, and kill Banquo but Fleance manages to escape.

Macbeth in the 1916 film
Source:Unknown author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Now we find ourselves back at Macbeth’s castle, where the banquet is prepared and Macbeth and Lady Macbeth enter with nobles and attendants. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth welcome the guests and bid them to enjoy themselves. In the mean time, the first murderer returns and informs Macbeth that Banquo is dead but Fleance has gotten away. This naturally shakes him, but he is still happy that Banquo is dead. Lady Macbeth now has to remind him to be attentive to his guests, and Macbeth, back to his pretence begins to comment on how Banquo has still not appeared. Ross remarks that this means Banquo has broken his promise.

Banquo’s Ghost
Source: Théodore Chassériau [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

But just then, Macbeth notices the table is full, but Lennox, another noble insists that there is an empty seat. Banquo has kept his promise after all, even if he has now become a ghost. Macbeth begins to babble while his Lady tries to calm him down and make his excuses to his guests. When Macbeth does finally come to his senses and begins to entertain his guests, proposing a toast to the “missing” Banquo, the latter reappears, causing Macbeth to react once again, wishing the hallucination away.

When Lady Macbeth finds she is unable to get him to stop hallucinating, she sends their guests away. Macbeth, however, continues to be haunted by his thoughts, convinced that the guilty (himself) will be brought to justice. He decides to seek out the witches the next day, and learn the worst that is to befall him.

And so we return to the witches. But before Macbeth arrives, the sisters are chided by Hecate for having revealed their prophecies to one so undeserving. She also decides to work some spells which will give Macbeth illusions, and trick him into thinking that he is above everything, and this will prove to be his downfall.

The Three Witches
Source: William Rimmer (American, 1816-1879) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In the final scene of this Act, we find ourselves back at the palace witness to a conversation between Lennox and another Lord. They discuss Duncan’s death for which Donalbain and Malcolm were conveniently held responsible, as may Fleance be for his father’s death, for he fled the scene. Macbeth as they have realised has been handling things far too well. We also learn that Macduff has made his way to England where Malcolm also currently is, and is seeking help from the King to restore to Malcolm what Macbeth has stolen from him. Macbeth is preparing for war, while Lennox hopes that Duncan will return soon to free them from the tyrant, as they now refer to Macbeth.

So it seems that Macbeth’s downfall is imminent, with many things bringing it about. The witches, Hecate, specifically is planning some spells which will have this effects. Macbeth’s own conscience, if one can say that he has one, seems to be making sure that the truth will be revealed from his own lips before long, and is torturing him rightly for what he has done. And the others in the Kingdom aren’t as blind to what has been happening or as naive as to fall for his pretences any more. 

It was interesting in this Act to see Macbeth’s conflicting thought processes. On the one side, he is well aware that it is his ill deeds that are responsible for his nightmares and all that he is facing, while on the other, he continues to do more and more, this time also killing Banquo (even if not by his own hand) at the same time well aware that one ill deed leads to others. He knows why he is going through what he is, the throne has not brought him the pleasure that he perhaps supposed, yet he is getting drawn deeper and deeper in. Now, he doesn’t even made Lady Macbeth privy to his plans, even though she continues to give him courage and support him. But she isn’t as much “in” things as she was initially. Is Macbeth going to end up losing the support he has from her too?

A puzzle that this Act throws up is the true identity of the third murderer, which has been the subject of some discussion, theories ranging from the Thane of Ross to Macbeth himself (see wikipedia here).

Macbeth is now all set to seek out the witches for the second time (first actually since on their first meeting, it was they that sought him out). He wants to learn the worst, but Hecate has other plans in store for him, plotting to bring about his downfall rather than help him. The next Act will tell how that pans out!

Macbeth is truly turning out to be a very complex character. What do you make of him? Do You have a theory on who the third murderer was?

The Shakespeare Project: Macbeth Act II

This is the my second post on Macbeth, part of my Shakespeare project (read about that here). My post on Act I is here. These posts are not spoiler free so please don’t read on if this bothers you.


Macbeth cover.jpg

In the first Act, the weird sisters had revealed two prophecies to Macbeth, and when the first of them came true on its own, he had decided to take some steps, no less than doing away with the King, Duncan, to ensure that the witches’ second prophecy also came to pass, rather than leave it to chance. He had some qualms about his plans and his thoughts, but Lady Macbeth takes it upon herself to convince him that he must indeed take those steps, if he is to achieve what is written for him.


Macbeth and the Witches

Source: Folger Shakespeare Library [CC BY-SA 4.0 (

In the opening scene of Act II, we find Banquo talking with his son Fleance. It is past midnight they realise for the moon has long set. Banquo says that he is tired but unable to get any sleep because of the nightmares that plague him–clearly, a result of their encounter with the witches. Macbeth arrives on the scene, and Banquo inquires of him why he isn’t in bed either, informing him that the King has long retired for the night, and also of the fact that Duncan is very pleased with the hospitality he has received and given gifts aplenty for the household and servants, as well as for his hostess. One can’t help thinking while reading that neither poor Duncan nor Banquo have the least idea what Macbeth and his Lady’s true feelings and intentions are towards him. Banquo also brings up the matter of the three witches, to which Macbeth replies that he doesn’t wish to discuss them at the moment but would like to talk about them with him later. Banquo is prepared to support Macbeth in whatever he does so long as he can do it with a clear conscience. Macbeth clearly has no such compunctions.

Meanwhile Macbeth begins to see a dagger with the handle pointed towards him, as though indicating or prodding him towards what he should do. He ponders over evil nightmares and the deeds of witches and over the murder that he must commit, finally setting off to actually do the dastardly deed.

The next scene opens with Lady Macbeth speaking about how the servants who were to be standing guard at Duncan’s door are drunk and drugged, and thinking that Macbeth must by now have done the deed. Macbeth’s voice is then heard, and she wonders whether the servants have awoken and their plans have been foiled. But her doubts are soon set to rest as Macbeth comes in and tells her that he has, in fact, killed the King. He tells her about how the servants did wake up, but then went back to sleep again.



Macbeth, Lady Macbeth and the Murder of Duncan

Source: Henry Corbould, wikimedia commons.


Macbeth kills Duncan.jpg

Macbeth Kills Duncan

Source: Louis Rhead [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

But Macbeth’s own sleep is not so certain anymore. He has already begun to hear voices, ones that foretell that he, Macbeth has murdered sleep, and that he shall now have no more sleep. He tells Lady Macbeth this, but she feels he is becoming weak, cowardly, and telling him to gather himself together, wash away the evidence, and think like this no longer. Macbeth is now too scared to return to the scene of the crime and smear the sleeping guards with blood as they had planned, so Lady Macbeth takes charge. Now there are sounds of knocking scaring Macbeth some more. Lady Macbeth who is back now after putting blood on the guards’ hands tells him once again to get his wits together, and change into his nightgown so that no one will suspect them of any wrongdoing.


Macbeth and Lady Macbeth after Duncan’s Murder


The scene changes and we meet a porter, who remarks on all the sounds of knocking that he has been hearing around. Once again he hears knocking, and imagines various people who might have been knocking at the door–a farmer? a tailor?. But before long, there is knocking at the actual gates (not mere sounds) and Macduff and Lennox, two noblemen enter. They are told by the Porter that all of them (the servants I assume) have been drinking till late, and expounds on the (mostly unsavoury) effects of drink.  Macbeth arrives and says that the King is not awake as yet, leading Macduff and Lennox to the King’s door as Duncan had commanded Macduff to wake him at a certain time. Lennox comments on how rough the past night has been, and some ill omens and sounds that he heard of. Macduff in the meantime had found the King murdered and comes out to tell the others the news. Horrified (Lennox, at least), Macbeth and Lennox raise the alarm. Lady Macbeth feigning ignorance, and Banquo also arrive, and are told the news.


John Langford Pritchard as Macduff

Source: Richard James Lane, printed by Jérémie Graf, published by John Mitchell, after Alfred Edward Chalonhand-coloured lithograph [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Macbeth who seems to have gathered courage again, puts on the perfect act, saying how he should have himself died before hearing such news. Malcolm and Donalbain, the King’s sons are also told, and it is also revealed by Macbeth himself (with great pretense of regret) that he has dispatched the King’s guards who were found with blood all over  them. So not only has Macbeth done away with the King, he has also very neatly dealt with any possible threat that may have come from their revelations. He tries to justify himself for doing so. Lady Macbeth is carried out of the room, obviously feigning shock. Malcolm and Donalbain decide to leave going to England and Ireland, respectively, fearing that soon the daggers will be drawn against them.

In the final scene of this Act, Ross, another nobleman enters with an old man, discussing the horrific happenings of the night that has passed. Ill omens seen and ill happenings that followed are spoken of. Macduff enters, and the murder is discussed once again, Ross bringing up the matter of the two dead servants, saying that Macbeth should not have killed them. It turns out that since Malcolm and Donalbain fled the castle, they have made themselves the prime suspects in their father’s murder. So it seems that Malcolm, who had been named heir, is no longer a ‘thorn’ in Macbeth’s path, and has more or less removed himself from there. And so the witches’ second prophecy comes true as we find out Macbeth has already been named the King.

So in this Act, ill thoughts have been converted to ill deeds. While in the first Act Macbeth and Lady Macbeth were merely contemplating murder, in this one, they have gone past the point of no return putting their plans into action, Macbeth himself having killed the King. They have also managed to successfully shift the suspicion on the guards, and without their intending it, through Malcolm and Donalbain’s not-very-well thought out actions, suspicion has fallen on them, not even a hint of it touching Macbeth and his Lady.

But while they may have been successful in their plans, Macbeth isn’t a particularly strong character, and other impacts of his deed are beginning to tell on him, fear setting in, and voices beginning to haunt. Will he indeed have no sleep no more? The first murder committed, Macbeth soon after commits two others–the two poor guards lose their lives for no other reason than the threat they could possibly pose to Macbeth. On the one side, he seems to be falling to pieces, but on the other, he gathers himself together and puts on an innocent face whenever needed.

This Act was away from the realm of the witches but darker perhaps than their world with conspiracy, betrayal, and murder, and ill omens all around. Of course, the voices that begin to haunt Macbeth add to the atmosphere, making it darker and definitely a touch creepy. The effect of these would probably come through better watching the play performed rather than simply reading it.

What I wondered about (in fact also in the first Act) was about Macbeth and Lady Macbeth as characters. Macbeth seems to have qualms about what he is about to do, sometimes seems to lack the courage to do it (is even given the courage to proceed by Lady Macbeth), but he still does always go ahead and do what he has planned. When it comes to committing murder, he readily commits not one but three murders. Lady Macbeth is certainly the stronger character in many ways, she has made up her mind and is able to stick to it. I wondered though whether Macbeth’s doubts are indicative or some little conscience that he has left or whether one should see it as a sign of hypocrisy, as Macbeth merely trying to make himself seem better in his own eyes by having those doubts, for he might have fears but when it comes to doing the deeds, he has had no hesitation. He may have fallen to pieces, but when it comes to pretending before others that he is innocent, he betrays not a hint of fear.

What do you think? Is there a better character among the two, or do you think them equally bad/ equally human? What about this Act in general? What are your thoughts? Looking forward to hearing all about them.




The Shakespeare Project: Macbeth Act I

The Shakespeare Project is all about me reading Shakespeare, Act by Act, and posting my thoughts on it as I go. Usually, I read (and write on) one Act every other week (my introductory post on this feature is here). It has been a while since I picked up this project, but since I had planned to read Macbeth next, October seems the perfect month to get started. [I ended up starting this very late, but still have at least managed to get started this month.] This post does contain spoilers, so don’t read on if this will bother you.


1884 Macbeth poster

Source: By W.J. Morgan & Co. Lith. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


The opening scene, in fact, is just so fitting for a Halloween read, with thunder and lightning in an open place where the weird sisters (incidentally, and I only ‘discovered’ this when I started to write this post, ‘weird’ or ‘wyrd’ in this context means ‘fate’ or ‘destiny’ and not what we understand in the modern context, as supernatural or even sometimes, otherwise ‘than normal’ (shmoop/wikipedia)), the three witches have gathered and are asking of each other, when they will meet again. They decide to do so after the war, upon the heath, which is where they will meet Macbeth.

Weird sisters-Johann_Heinrich_Füssli_019.jpg

The Witches in a Painting by Fussli

Source: Henry Fuseli [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


A much prettier version

Image Source: Daniel Gardner [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In the next scene, we find ourselves in a camp near Forres where the King of Scotland, Duncan is with his sons Malcolm and Donalbain, attendants, and nobles. The battle has just come to an end, a bleeding sergeant is speaking to the King and informs him of Macbeth’s selfless bravery on the battlefield, and defeat of the rebel, Macdonwald. Macbeth, incidentally, is not only a general, but also kinsman to the King. The thane of Ross arrives on the scene, speaking of the defeat of the King of Norway. Duncan decides to execute a traitor, the thane of Cawdor, and gives that title to Macbeth. Ross is charged with delivering this good news to Macbeth.

Now, we return to the heath, that very same heath where the Witches had planned to waylay Macbeth. On the heath, there is once again thunder, and definitely a tone of the mysterious, and perhaps a touch of the scary. The witches discuss where each of them have been–one apparently has been killing swine, the other was refused chestnuts by a sailor’s wife and is planning revenge upon the sailor (‘vicarious liability’?). But honestly, is just simply to get back at her by getting at him, or does one read more into it?

Arthur Rackam 1909 three witches Macbeth Banquo.png

Macbeth and Banquo waylaid by the Witches

Image source: Arthur Rackham [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Anyway, as their conversation progresses, Macbeth and Banquo arrive. The first words (this again I noticed only thanks to the mention on shmoop) that Macbeth speaks, “so fair and foul a day” link up to the witches initial observation, “fair is foul, and foul is fair”, so perhaps they were merely foretelling what was to come. It is Banquo who first seems to notice the witches and can’t quite make them out for they look like women, yet they have beards. As Macbeth inquires who they are, the witches hail him, as thane of Glamis, then thane of Cawdor, and as “king hereafter”. Banquo asks the sisters to predict his future as well as they have done for Macbeth. The witches greet him too, and make some more complicated predictions, calling him “Lesser than Macbeth, and greater“; “Not so happy, yet much happier“, and that his children shall be kings but not he himself. Macbeth questions them about where these predictions are coming from, for although he is the thane of Glamis, the thane of Cawdor is very much alive. But the witches vanish, leaving Banquo to wonder whether it is something they have eaten (“insane root“) that has taken their reason prisoner.


And another of Macbeth and Banquo with the Witches

Image Source: Théodore Chassériau [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

As Macbeth and Banquo discuss what they’ve just been told, Ross and another nobleman, Angus arrive, and give Macbeth the news, proving the witches’ first prophecy true. Now Macbeth’s thoughts have begun to turn to the rest of those prophecies, asking Banquo whether he doesn’t hope that his children would be kings, as the sisters foretold. And he is also imagining to himself whether the other prophecy would also come true, but those thoughts at this stage seem horrid to him and leave him feeling rather uncomfortable.

We’re back at Forres now, but at the palace. Cawdor has been put to death, having confessed, and repented his deeds. Meanwhile, Macbeth arrives, and Duncan acknowledges that more is due to him than he is giving, to which Macbeth replies, claiming that his service and loyalty are payment in itself (are they, considering his thoughts, one wonders?). Banquo too, receives praise. Duncan also announces that his son Malcolm will be his heir, naming him the Prince of Cumberland. Macbeth thinks this over observing that this is an obstacle in his path, his thoughts once again in dark places.


Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth

Image Source: John Singer Sargent [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The scene shifts again, and the fifth one in this act sees us now in Macbeth’s castle where we finally meet the formidable Lady Macbeth, who has received a letter from her husband, telling her all about the witches’ prophecies, and of the greatness that lies ahead for her. A messenger comes in just as she has read the letter, and informs her that the King will spend the night at their castle, and that Macbeth has sent someone ahead with this information. Lady Macbeth wishes that all compassion and remorse, all the qualities of a woman leave her, and she is able to be cruel as will be required of her, if all that is predicted is to be achieved. Macbeth soon arrives, and Lady Macbeth pretty much tells him that Duncan might well be coming to the castle that night, but will not be leaving the next morning. Unlike her husband, she doesn’t seem to have had any hesitation in deciding what to do, and takes charge of the situation.

Duncan has now arrived with his sons, noblemen, and attendants, looking forward to a pleasant visit in the castle that many birds have made their home. He greets his “honored hostess”, little knowing what she has planned for him, and Lady Macbeth responds warmly extend her welcome and thanks.

Still in the castle, in the final scene of this Act we once again witness a conversation between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, who are talking over the details of their conspiracy. Macbeth is planning to do away with Duncan, yet also taking over the reasons that make it wrong for him to do so, he being not only the king’s kinsman but also his host. Duncan’s goodness and humility will ensure that the news of the awful deed they are about to commit spreads all over, and all of this is causing Macbeth some hesitation in doing what he plots to do. He wants to back down and not proceed, but Lady Macbeth tries to talk him out of his fears. She is quite ruthless compared to Macbeth and claims that she would dash her own baby’s head against a wall had she so sworn to Macbeth to do so. While Macbeth still fears failure, she points out that if they have courage, they won’t fail. She plans to get Duncan’s servants drunk and place all the blame on them. Macbeth is now convinced and agrees to use the servant’s daggers and cover them with blood so that all the blame falls on them, telling his wife to continue to pretend to be a friendly hostess, so closing the first act.

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.jpg

Image source: By Elizabeth Shippen Green Elliott [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

So, in Macbeth we are plunged into a world of morality, power, ambition, conspiracy, intrigue, murder, and betrayal. Almost from the start, the moment the witches make their prophecies known to Macbeth, and the first of them proves true, Macbeth is considering ‘murder’ straightway while outwardly still speaking of loyalty as its own reward. While the first prophecy, of his becoming the thane of Cawdor may have come true on its own, he does not want to leave the second–power, kingship–to chance and is actively plotting his path to attain it, wanting to do away with King Duncan and also his heir Malcolm (though he hasn’t plotted the second quite yet). He has some hesitation, initially at least a little repulsed by the awful thoughts entering his mind, and later when plotting with his wife, hesitant because of fear more than for propriety or morality, although he brings up these reasons for being so. Lady Macbeth on the other hand, has no such compunctions. She has not the slightest hesitation, and is prepared not only to do what it takes, but also give her husband the courage (and support) that he needs to achieve their ambitions.

One question that came to mind was what made the witches pick Macbeth–was it that they were merely foretelling what would happen, and therefore didn’t really ‘pick’ him as such? Or was it that they knew he was so corruptible that the slightest hint would get his mind working? Banquo too has heard those predictions, but he is not paying as much heed.

Overall, I am enjoying the whole atmosphere of the play, which as I’ve been saying from the beginning, is just perfect for the season. [I wonder how they did the thunder and lightning effects in Shakespeare’s day?]

Also, I’d plain forgotten that ‘the cat in the adage’ was from Macbeth!

Macbeth has started off on the path to power, and perhaps to his own doom. I can’t wait to read the next act to see what happens next, and whether their plans as to Duncan move forward quite as smoothly as they imagine they will. And what of Malcolm and Donalbain?

Have you read Macbeth? What are you thoughts on this Act? Looking forward to hearing all about them!




The Shakespeare Project: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Acts IV and V

This is my final post on A Midsummer Night’s Dream under the Shakespeare Project, a series in which I am reading Shakespeare’s plays, act by act, and writing out a summary and some thoughts on this blog. More about the Shakespeare Project here. My Posts on Act I, II, and III of the play are here, here, and here. I chose to cover Acts IV and V together in this post mostly because Act IV is a rather short one, and so it made more sense to do the two together. The usual spoiler warning once more–unlike my other posts and reviews on this blog, the ones under the Shakespeare Project are not spoiler free so read on only if this doesn’t bother you or you are familiar with the play.

Act IV opens with a rather well-known scene from the play, one that’s been a subject of plenty of art, and one that I always think back to when someone mentions the play. And that is of Titania sitting with Nick Bottom, still with his ass’s head, and being waited upon by Titania’s fairies.

Landseer titania and bottom.jpg

Landseer’s Titania and Bottom (1848-51)

Source: Edwin Henry Landseer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

rackam bottom and titania.png

Arthur Rackam’s version, though you can hardly see Titania unless you really stare.

Source: Edwin Henry Landseer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons



And this one by Eleanor Fortesque Brickdale

Source: Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale [Public domain or No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons


By Joseph Anster Fitzgerald

Source: By John Anster Fitzgerald (Titania and Bottom, John Anster Fitzgerald) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

But anyway, Titania, Bottom, and her fairies are in a part of the wood where our two Athenian couples are fast asleep still under the fairies’ spell, with Bottom making small demands on his attendants, calling for his head to be scratched (not still having realised what has happened to his head) and a honey-bag for himself and oats to much on, and such. Oderon and Puck watch on but then almost suddenly, Oberon tells Puck that he has already confronted and taunted Titania for her folly, and claimed the little changeling, which she simply handed over, and that he is now going to take off the spell. He proceeds to do this, also commanding Puck to release Nick Bottom from the magic. Titania awakes believing that she has been in some awful visions where she was ‘enamour’d of an ass’. They leave with plans to attend and bless the weddings that are to come, and with Titania asking Oberon to tell her all of what occurred in the wood.

Oberon and Titania Act IV

Oberon and Titania (Act IV) by Thomas Stothard (1806)

Source: Yale Center for British Art [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


As they leave, Theseus enters that same part of the wood with Egeus, to hunt, only to discover the four young people lying asleep there. The wonder how this has come to be. Theseus also recalls that this is the day Hermia is to give her answer as to whether she will marry Demetrius or give up her life or take the veil, as per the old Athenian law. On waking up, Lysander tells Theseus and Egeus, of his and Hermia’s plans and about not knowing how the they came to be there at which Egeus is expectedly furious. But Demetrius soon confesses that while he came to the wood, Helena in tow, in pursuit of Lysander and Hermia, he knows not by what magic, his affections for Helena are once again restored and for Hermia, ‘melted as the snow’. Theseus then informs Egeus that he overrides the latter’s will and decrees that the two couples will be married alongside himself and Hippolyta later in the day.


Theseus and Egeus Find the Young People (Frank Howard 1827)

Source:  via Wikimedia Commons

Short though this Act is, there is plenty happening. As our young Athenians leave the wood, still unsure what happened the preceding night, Nick Bottom comes to as well, the spell on him also broken. The scene shifts to Quince’s house in Athens.

Here Quince the carpenter, Starveling the tailor, and Flute the bellows-mender are wondering where Bottom has disappeared to, and that he is the only person in Athens, among the handicraftsmen who can play Pyramus. In the meantime, Snug the joiner enters to inform the others that the weddings have taken place. And suddenly, Bottom too arrives, refusing to tell the others what befell him in the wood (though in scene one he has decided to get Quince to write a play of it, called Bottom’s Dream),  but asking them to get ready, for their play ‘is preferr’d‘.


Pyramus and Thisby (Frank Howard, 1927)

Source: See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

And so begins the final Act of the play. The only scene in this Act unfolds in Theseus’ palace. Our three couples, Theseus and Hippolyta, Lysander and Hermia, and Demetrius and Helena are married, and looking forward to the entertainments planned for them. From the list given him by Philostrate, master of the revels, Theseus picks the Athenians’ play, despite Philostrate’s attempts to discourage him. Our players then put on their performance, the speaker of the prologue, in particular bungling his lines, and the others, Pyramus and Thisby among them, with much much melodrama in their final scenes. Their clumsy performances are the source of much humour (again something that would have better effect seen than read, except the prologue perhaps which is as much fun to read), and lead to some sarcastic comments from Theseus, Lysander, and Demetrius. While Hippolyta finds their performance silly, and is a tad bored, Theseus seems willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, and to allow his imagination to see them as they see themselves. The performance ends with a rendering of the Bergomask dance, for the nobles refuse to view the epilogue. And our own play closes with the fairies coming in to bless the house, and children to come, and Puck addressing the audience asking them to think of it all as but a dream, if it should have offended.


The fairies showering their blessings

Source: By Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

Fairies blessings.png

And another of the fairies blessing the house by Arthur Rackam (1908)

Source: Arthur Rackham [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In these final Acts of the play, of course, almost all the players, Titania,  Lysander, and Nick Bottom have the spells on them taken off, and things are put to rights again. Titania and Oberon are reconciled, out two couples are in a situation that works out best for them, and our Athenians are able to finally perform the play that they have been working hard on.

I must say, while I enjoyed the play overall, this last part, particularly the resolution of all their problems felt like it fell a little flat. Oberon has got his wish of having the changeling in his entourage but we aren’t really shown how this was brought about, merely being told about it. And when Titania is brought out from the magic of the potion, she is simply reconciled to Oberon, and doesn’t bring up the subject of the child at all. That part felt a bit unsatisfying. Particularly since it feels as if the whole point of Titania taking on a strong stand against her husband at the beginning (an opposite to Helena, who is so self-deprecating), fizzled out at the end. When we came to the two pairs of lovers, things come across as somewhat better, a more satisfactory resolution of their troubles, though in their case too, I though Egeus’ reaction not strong enough. He has to of course, accept his sovereign’s command, but he doesn’t seem terribly affected by the fact that Demetrius’ feelings have so magically changed.


The Prologue (1914)

Source: By Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

The last act was of course, a great deal of fun, though as I said, the humour, more of it dependent on the the actual performance–the exaggerated gestures, clumsiness, and the wrong pauses when delivering the dialogues–would be far funnier performed than read. (Incidentally, I only noticed on this reading, that the lines they deliver in the final performance are different from what they practiced, at least don’t include the former, so  no flowers of ‘odious savours sweet‘ here). Still I enjoyed the prologue, the mix ups in the names (Pyramus and Thisby agreeing to meet in ‘Ninny’s’ tomb, instead of Ninus’, for instance), the actors stopping amidst their lines (Bottom, really) to explain to the audience, that such and such is in fact a cue, and of course, Theseus, Demetrius, and Lysander’s observations while the play is acted out. Like this little part of the scene

Moonshine: This lantern doth the horned moon present;

Demetrius: He should have worn the horns on his head.

Theseus: He is no crescent, and his horns are invisible within the circumference.

Moonshine: This lantern doth the horned moon present; Myself the man-i-the’-moon do seem to be.

Theseus: This is the greatest error of all the rest: the man should be put into the lantern. How it it else the man-i’-th’-moon?

So all in all this was a fun read, plenty of humour and light-heartedness throughout but with a few more serious themes touched upon, like love and jealousy, self-respect, ‘obedience’/subservience and strength (from women’s pov), despite the slight bit of dissatisfaction I felt at the end.

If you read this one, and/or have been following all of the posts on this play, do let me know how you’re liking these posts, and any thoughts on the play, on the characters, on any of the themes that I’ve picked up on, or missed.

I’m also in the process of picking which play to read next–Macbeth may be, or the Two Gentlemen of Verona, or perhaps Pericles. Let me know which one you have like to see posts on next!




The Shakespeare Project: A Midsummer Night’s Dream Act III

This is the third of my posts on A Midsummer Nights Dream and indeed under my Shakespeare Project on this blog. Find out what the Shakespeare Project is all about here. Unlike the other posts on this blog, this and others under the Shakespeare Project are not spoiler-free. These posts are not reviews but brief summaries with a few thoughts.  Act I and Act II are here and here. So read on, if you are familiar with the play or don’t mind spoilers, and do leave feedback on the post itself and/or on the play.


Cover of the 1908 Doubleday ed.

Source: Arthur Rackham [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Act III sees the third set of our central players–the amateur actors from Athens–enter the woods to begin rehearsing Pyramus and Thisby (which story (from Ovid) incidentally inspired  Romeo and Juliet). Scene I of this Act, which shows us their rehearsal, is as a consequence a source of much humour. The players first debate whether the sword with which the lovers ultimately kill themselves might frighten the ladies in the audience, and then on the same possible impact of the ‘lion’, deciding to make the actors open with a ‘prologue’ informing the audience that Pyramus is not really Pyramus, but Nick Bottom, and the lion not a real lion 🙂 After resolving other problems that they have of how they would bring in the wall through a chink in which Pyramus and Thisby communicate and the moonlight under which they communicate into the palace, they finally begin to rehearse their lines bungling them up a bit, with Pyramus declaring

‘the flowers of odious savour sweet’

to which an exasperated Quince prompts ‘Odours, odours’, and Thisby promising to meet Pyramus at “Ninny’s (rather than Ninus’) Tomb’, and saying ‘her’ lines all at once, with no pause at the cues to allow Pyramus to reenter the scene.


The Athenians Rehearsing (while still in their house though)

Source: Arthur Rackham [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Unknown to them, their antics have a spectator, and that is none other than Puck or Robin Goodfellow, Oberon’s jester. As Nick Bottom exists the ‘stage’ awaiting his cue to reenter, Puck has found an ideal candidate for Titania to ‘fall in love with’, and affixes (though out of the audience’s and thus the reader’s sight) an ass’s head on Bottom’s. This has the effect of scaring away the rest of Bottom’s troop, who suspect something evil at play. Puck is adding to this by frightening them some more, leading them ‘through bog, through bush, through brake, through brier‘ , and assuming different forms (from hog to headless bear) and producing different sounds to make sure they are scared away from the wood. Bottom, however, thinks that this is all knavery on part of his friends and they are attempting to scare him, and make an ass of him, little realising that he has indeed been turned into an ass of sorts. He begins sing on top of his voice to prove that he isn’t in the least afraid.

Bottom sings

Bottom sings (Alfred Fredericks, 1874)

Source: By Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons.

Titania is awakened by this song, and immediately falls in love with Bottom. She directs her fairies to serve him–to ‘feed him with apricoks and dewberries, With purple grapes, green figs, and mulberries‘, to ‘fan the moonbeams from his sleeping eyes‘ while he sleeps, and to fetch honey and make candles from beeswax so that he has light. Bottom on his part, makes the acquaintance of the fairies, leading to a few more smiles with him telling Cobweb, ‘if I cut my finger, I shall make bold with you‘ and Mustard Seed, ‘I promise you your kindred hath made my eyes water ere now‘. Titania claims to be enamoured of Bottom’s voice but all the same wants her fairies to silence him as they proceed to their sleeping place.

Titania orders her fairies.jpg

Titania orders her fairies to serve Nick Bottom

Source: By Daderot [Public domain or CC0], from Wikimedia Commons


Bottom and the Fairies (Joseph Noel Patton)

Source: Joseph Noel Paton [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Meanwhile, Oberon is wondering how his plans re Titania are playing out, and Puck comes in to tell him just how well he has fared, pleasing Oberon. But the second task assigned to him, of putting the juice of the purple flower in the eyes of Athenian youth, Puck hasn’t got right, ‘And laid the love-juice on some true love’s eyes‘. But Puck isn’t displeased by his mistake, though it was a genuine one, and is all set to enjoy the effects, after Oberon puts some of the flower juice into Demetrius’ eyes, while directing Puck/Robin to bring Helena to the place where he lies by illusion or charm

‘Then will two at once woo one.

 That must needs be sport alone.

And those things do best please me

That befall preposterously’.


Of course, Oberon has found Puck’s mistake out because Demetrius has walked into that part of the wood, followed by Hermia, who believes Lysander has been murdered by Demetrius, for why else would he leave his sleeping Hermia alone in the wood. Demetrius admits he wouldn’t mind doing away with Lysander but insists he has nothing to do with it, while Hermia, after a few more strong words chiding him for testing her patience leaves, and Demetrius settles down to rest. This is when Oberon puts some of the purple flower’s juice in his eyes.

Now Lysander and Helena appear on the scene, Lysander still wooing Helena under the juice’s spell, while Demetrius awakes and also begins to do the same. Both Helena and Hermia, who reenters the scene are confounded. Helena persists in believing that Lysander and Demetrius, with Hermia’s involvement are mocking and scorning her. Hermia, on the other hand, is first astonished by Lysander’s declaration of love for Helena, then begins to accuse her of stealing Lysander’s affections, passions running so high that Hermia is almost prepared to strike Helena, even to gouge out her eyes.


Demetrius (Ross Alexander), Lysander (Dick Powell), Helena (Jean Muir), and Hermia (Olivia de Havilland) from the 1935 film

Source: See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Oberon, who has been watching, chides Puck for his negligence, while Puck defends himself by claiming that he hadn’t enough of a description to know which young Athenian was being talked of. Oberon wishing to put things to rights, charges Puck with leading Lysander and Demetrius away, and putting the juice of the antidote into Lysander’s eyes, ‘To take thence all error with his might‘, while he himself goes to his queen to get the little Indian child into his possession before he supplies her with the antidote and restores peace once again.

Oberon and Puck.jpg

Oberon and Puck (from the Poetical Works of Thomas Hood, 1880)

Source: By Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

Puck, assuming Demetrius’ and Lysanders’ voices in turn, lures Lysander and Demetrius, who soon tired fall asleep, as do Helena and Hermia. He then puts the antidote into Lysander’s eyes, so when they next awake, Lysander’s love for Hermia will be restored while Demetrius will continue to love Helena, and so closes this Act of the play.

This Act had both laughter and drama–the laughter of course coming from the Athenian band rehearsing their play, from and from Bottom’s song (the song itself isn’t as such funny, but one can’t but imagine Bottom’s rendition to be loud and exaggerated, making it so), and introduction to Titania’s fairies. The rehearsal brought a few smiles to my face, but I think the effect would be much more funny when acted out. Still it is fun to imagine the troop of ‘actors’ trying to anticipate any untoward impact that their performance could have on the audience, muddling up their dialogues, and being scared out of their wits by Puck’s antics (this last bit, very slapstick).

Bottom singing.jpg

Bottom singing  (1888): One can’t help but think this will be funny

Source: By Julius Hoeppner (1839-1893) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

With our four lovers, on the other hand, things took a much more dramatic turn. Helena feels she is being mocked, Hermia knows not what is going on, while the two men are under the power of magic professing their love for the woman who happened to be in front of them when they opened their eyes. It was interesting (yet human) that Helena brings up her childhood friendship with Hermia and the times spent together when rebuking her for what she thinks is the three playing a trick on her, scorning her, when herself she though nothing of it when she betrayed Hermia’s secret  to Demetrius. Helena does eventually confess her wrong but she isn’t above accusing Hermia of being a ‘vixen when she went to school‘, and with being fierce ‘though she be but little’. Another glimpse of human nature or perhaps of love, when it takes precedence over all else, where no other relationship seems to remain sacred and beyond attack. Hermia and Helena are not beyond attacking each other–physically or verbally–beyond accused each other of vile deeds or temperament.

Also in this segment, Hermia has found herself in the position that Helena has occupied all this time, of the one reviled by Demetrius and Lysander and not one who is in a position to scorn, Perhaps that is one reason for all her equanimity (so far) being lost, for all the negative side of her character and temperament coming to the surface.

The misunderstanding and drama for the four lovers at least is almost at an end, for we know that when we next see them, the spell will be broken. But will we find either of the girls sorry in the least for their conduct? Do we expect them to be so, or was it simply ‘natural’ that they’d fight ‘tooth and nail’ (quite literally, in fact) for their love, and thus against everyone else? I have’t quite made up my mind on that question. What do you think? Do leave a comment and let me know.

In my next post, I will probably cover both Act IV and V, since together, they’re just about as long as Act III.

The Shakespeare Project: A Midsummer Night’s Dream Act II

This is the second of my posts on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, part of the Shakespeare Project that I started on this blog earlier this month. Read what that’s all about here. The first of these posts on Act I of this play is hereThe summary and discussion below does contain spoilers so please bear that in mind when you read this.


Act II opens in the fairy realm, where Puck or Robin Goodfellow comes upon a Fairy, one of Titania’s entourage. Puck incidentally also appears in a much later collection of stories (two, in fact) Puck of Pook’s Hill (1906) and Rewards and Fairies (1910) by Rudyard Kipling, where he appears to two children, Dan and Una, and tells them stories from different periods of English history, many a time, through the voices of the characters themselves who he brings into the present.

puck of ph.jpg

Puck (right) in Puck of Pook’s Hill–Illustration by H.R. Millar

Source: By Harold Robert Millar (1869-1940)Restoration by Adam Cuerden [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Anyway, back to the actual play now–the first scene opens with a conversation between Puck and Titania’s fairy, in which we learn of Puck’s mischievous nature, which leads to some interesting consequences for our other characters, particularly the humans. Besides being a jester of sorts to Oberon, King of the Fairies, Puck is also a prankster, playing pranks like pretending to be a three legged stool, which disappears just when the ‘wisest aunt’ is about to sit on it, toppling her over, and such. We also in this conversation learn of the dispute between Oberon and Titania, over a little Indian boy, who Titania has in her care, as the boy’s mother was her friend, a ‘vo’tress’ of her order  and Oberon wishes to have as his page in his entourage. The quarrel is of course not so simple either with both parties having cause to complain of infidelities by the other in the past.

Oberon and Titania

Oberon and Titania from the 1935 Film

Source:By Gilbert Seldes –, Public Domain,

Oberon and Titania themselves come onto the scene, where they quarrel once again.  Oberon tries to convince Titania to give up her little page, who for him is but a ‘changeling boy‘ for which Titania has no cause to ‘cross her Oberon‘. Titania of course will not, ‘Not for thy fairy kingdom‘! and leaves. But Oberon is angry, and plots his revenge (wanting to ‘torment’ Titania). He directs Puck to fetch a certain flower, ‘before, milk white, but now purple with love’s wound‘ (a consequence of cupid’s arrow hitting it), which maidens call ‘love-in-idleness’. If the juice of this flower is squeezed into sleeping eyelids, the person will fall madly in love with the first creature he or she sees when he or she awakes. He plans to squeeze some of this into his Queen’s eyes while she is asleep so that she falls for some vile creature she lays her eyes upon–‘Be it on lion, bear, or wolf, or bull, On meddling monkey or on busy ape‘, and since he has the antidote as well, he hopes this will lead her to hand the page over while she is under it’s influence.

Just as he is making his plans, into the woods walks Demetrius with Helena in tow. By this point, Helena has told Demetrius of Hermia’s elopement (or her plans, anyway) and Demetrius has come in pursuit of Lysander and Hermia, and doesn’t want Helena to follow but she is adamant, and will continue to follow, come what may, caring neither for her name nor that Demetrius doesn’t care for her (or as he claims that he is ‘sick when I look on thee‘), prepared even to be treated as a dog kicked by its master. (Definitely wanted to give her a good shake or a couple of hard smacks but I’ll come back to that later).

Helena and Demetrius.jpg

Helena follows Demetrius-Alfred Fredericks (1874)

Source: By Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

Anyway, Oberon has overheard this conversation and feels for the ‘sweet Athenian lady‘ ‘in love with a disdainful youth‘ and directs Puck to squeeze some of the juice in this youth’s eye’s such that the next thing he spies will be the lady. But Puck must recognise him by his Athenian garments, and has no name or other description to go by. So when he does go looking for the Athenian youth, he comes upon not Demetrius and Helena but Lysander and Hermia. The latter two have lost their way in the wood and have settled down to sleep at night, but are sleeping apart from each other at Hermia’s insistence. Puck believes this indicates that this is the couple who don’t love each other, and by a honest mistake and no trick squeezes the magic juice into Lysander’s eyes (and really, with the idea that it is Hermia that he will see when he wakes).

Titania, queen of the fairies, has gone to another part of the wood with her entourage, and after assigning her fairies various jobs, is sung to sleep by her fairies. Drawn as I am to nature descriptions, this was one of the most beautiful scenes of this instalment for me to picture:

‘I know a bank where the while thyme blows,

Where oxlips and the noddling violet grows,

Quite over-canopied with lush woodbine,

With sweet musk-roses, and with eglantine,

There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,

Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight’


Titania asleep in the Woods by Arthur Rackham (1908)

Source:  [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

And it is here that Oberon heads and squeezes some juice into her eyes wishing that she will wake only when some vile creature is near her.

Meanwhile Helena and Demetrius pass by the place where Lysander and Hermia are resting, Demetrius still trying to shake off Helena which he manages to do, but with the result that it is she who comes upon Lysander and ends up waking him, and becoming the object of his affections. She of course, is unaware that magic is at work here, and feels she and her plight is being made a mockery of–not wanted by the one she loves and being ridiculed by one who is pledged to another. Lysander, under the spell heads off in pursuit of Helena, leaving Hermia alone. Hermia is in despair and wishes to find Lysander or her death immediately, and so closes this Act.

As in the first instalment (though I am not starting with the first thing that popped out at me), the thing, or rather character I can’t help commenting on is Helena. For someone reading (or writing) in this century, one can’t help but wonder why this person has absolutely no self-respect of any kind. May be on the one hand, one can see her love as so deep that she cares for nothing but her beloved, one can even accept that she continues to care for him when he doesn’t for her, but when she continues to follow (‘stalk’) him when she is clearly not wanted, and consents to be treated as a reviled object just so she can be close to him, it begins to get beyond the limits of acceptable.

And here is where I also found myself contrasting her and Titania, who does love Oberon, but isn’t willing to part with the little boy for his mother’s sake, and for her sake she looks after him. And there is Helena, quite willingly betraying her friend, for the sake of one who cares nothing for her. So if she is reviled and feels herself ridiculed, one might even think she deserves it.

When I wrote on the first Act of this play, it was the negative side of love, in terms of Hermia’s break with her father, Theseus’ wooing of Hippolyta with the sword, and Helena’s betrayal that I felt stood out. But this time around, part of the same lines of events was that other emotion that is (in a way) associated with love jealousy–Oberon is seen as feeling that even by Puck besides being accused of it by Titania. And apart from that quarrel about the little boy, one can clearly see other jealousies on both sides–each accuses the other of betrayal, including with Theseus and Hippolyta. Helena too, is seething with jealously as in the previous Act, wondering what it is that Hermia has or does that she doesn’t, including the secret of her bright eyes.

Then of course is the first thing that popped out at me. The little changeling boy, who isn’t named. I had completely forgotten, though I probably shouldn’t have that he was a little Indian boy. This has in fact been the subject of at least one m.phil thesis (only the abstract is available here). But it is interesting to think of this and the references to the ‘spiced Indian air’ and the (exotic) images these would have conjured up. There are complex questions of race and of imperialism thrown up and there has been writing on that (again only a preview here but a blog here) but I am not getting into those aspects. His role isn’t all that much, though he may be the pretext for their quarrel (which I realise now goes much deeper) but he does get us thinking about the explorers back then and about the search for and finding of India, and about the many colours and wonder the idea would have created.

But all of our players are still not in the wood. The Athenians rehearsing Pyramus and Thisby are still to enter the wood, and we do know some of what lies ahead for them. But all that in the text Act, and next post!

The Shakespeare Project: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act I

So, this is my first post under the Shakespeare Project, and this one is all about the first Act of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The Shakespeare Project is all about me reading Shakespeare’s plays, one act at a time and posting about them. My plans and the intro are here. 

A warning though, unlike my posts/reviews in general, these  are not going to be ‘spoiler-free’–I thought I’d mention this at the start in case this bothers anyone.


First Quarto Printing (1600)

Image source: By William Shakespeare, Richard Bradock and Thomas Fisher (printers) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is of course, one of Shakespeare’s comedies, written in 1595/96, and I chose to start my journey into Shakespeare with this one because it is one of my favourites, being light-hearted, comic, and with elements of magic, fairies, and mischievous sprites. (In a sense it fits with this months theme too but this isn’t really why I picked it).

The play opens in Athens in the palace of the Duke, Theseus (yes, the one who killed the Minotaur, but that part isn’t important here), where preparations are on for his wedding to Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons. Theseus wishes for all Athens to celebrate, telling Philostrate, Master of Revels, to go

Stir up the Athenian youth to merriments

Awake the pert and nimble spirit of mirth

But amidst these plans, in walk a group of Athenians seeking Theseus’ intervention in their problems. One Egeus appears with his daughter Hermia, Lysander, and Demitrius bringing  a complaint against Hermia, who is going against his wishes. He wants Hermia to marry Demetrius but she is in love with Lysander and will marry only him. Egeus accuses Lysander of bewitching his daughter’s heart and seeks to exercise ‘the ancient privilege of Athens’, to ‘dispose of’ his daughter as he deems fit.

Before Theseus.jpg

Egeus with Hermia, Lysander, and Demetrius before Theseus (Alfred Fredericks, 1874)

Image source: By Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

Theseus, of course,  wants to hear Hermia’s side of the story as well. Hermia admits her love for Lysander, and refuses to fall in with her father’s wishes despite being well aware of the consequences. Under the ancient Athenian law, she must either forfeit her life or enter the cloister for her ‘disobedience’. But Hermia is prepared to do accept this fate. Thesus, however, gives her time till the “next new moon”, his own wedding day, to think it over.

Meanwhile Demetrius tries again to pursue his suit and Lysander his own, the latter claiming better right for being the beloved of Hermia, but Egeus won’t relent. When Theseus has left the room, with Egeus and Demetrius in tow, Lysander proposes a plan. He and Helena must elope to the house of his aunt  who lives “seven leagues” from Athens and beyond the clutches of Athenian law, and there it is that they will marry. Hermia is of course willing and promises to meet Lysander the following night in the woods outside of Athens from where they will proceed to his aunt’s house.


Hermia and Lysander by John Simmons (1870)

Image source: By Sotheby’s, New York, 04 May 2012, lot 72, Public Domain,

They, however, confess their plan to Hermia’s friend Helena, and it is by this person whom the trust that they are betrayed. Helena, who is thought as ‘fair’ as Hermia in Athens, is in love with Demetrius who returned her affections till he set eyes on Hermia, and left Helena heartbroken. Despite this, Helena is still is all set to tell him of Hermia and Lysander’s plan.

Hermia and Helena.jpg

Lysander, Helena, and Hermia (I think) (Alfred Fredericks, 1874)

Image source: By Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

Meanwhile the second scene of this act takes us to very different quarters. In the home of Quince the carpenter, have gathered Bottom the weaver, Snug the joiner, Flute the bellows-mender, Snout the tinker, and Starveling the tailor, who are setting out to prepare an entertainment for Theseus’ wedding. They plan to stage a play of Pyramus and Thisby and here they are gathered to distribute the parts. Bottom is as enthusiastic about acting as Theseus about the wedding and is prepared to play all the parts, be it Pyramus (which he is actually given), Thisby, or even the Lion. But of course, only one part is given to each, and the players too plan to meet in the woods outside the city to rehearse their play the following night, by moonlight, so that they can rehearse in peace and their devices are not known by other Athenians.

So it is that these first couple of scenes set the stage for what is to come, all that plays out in the woods outside of Athens. We are introduced to three parallel story lines, that of Theseus and Hippolyta’s wedding, that of the lovers’–Lysander, Hermia, Demetrius, and Helena, and that of the Athenians preparing for their performance of Pyramus and Thisby. All three are of course all firmly within the human realm. We are yet to enter the world of magic and the fairie, and the mischief that it brings.

Writing about this play in the twenty-first century, of course, one can’t but comment on the first scene and the ancient Athenian law, under which a child, a daughter is nothing more than her father’s property, to be ‘disposed’ of as he wishes, her own as a human being of no consideration. But what one can also see is Hermia herself, strong enough to voice her own opinions in that situation, to not only oppose her father’s wishes when they are against her own, but also able to do this before the Duke–probably not the easiest thing to do in the time and circumstances. So I see strength, courage, and firmness of resolve (though one could also probably see this as obstinacy). What is less clear in the situation is Egeus’ reasons behind his preference for Demetrius–for as Lysander points out there is nothing that makes him less worthy (‘My fortunes every way as fairly ranked‘).

Helena is in some ways, also puzzles one, yet not really so. She is clearly hurt and upset and heart-broken, for it is not that her love for Demetrius was unrequited–he wooed her and won her heart only to break it. But her grudge typically is not against Demetrius who she continues to love but Hermia, whose beauty she blames for stealing Demetrius away from her. So it is her, her playfellow, who must pay the price and not the inconstant Demetrius, even though she herself has done nothing to encourage him. She wishes to look better in his eyes, and there is probably also some thought of revenge behind her acting as she does.

And then there is Nick Bottom. The impression one has of him in general (from memory that is) is of one of this bunch of amusing amateur actors, a tad silly, who is unwittingly involved in the fairies’ quarrel and is made a bit of fool of. But here in this scene, we do see a different side of him, of an amateur actor who is really enthusiastic about his acting. He is assigned to play the role of Pyramus ‘for Pyramus is a sweet-faced man’ but is keen to also take on the parts of Thisby and the Lion, to show off his skills and move his audience (‘That will ask some tears in the true performing of it: If I do it, let the audience look to their eyes‘; ‘Let me play the Lion too: I will roar, that I will do any man’s heart good to hear me‘). Quince, who is in charge doesn’t agree and insists that he play Pyramus alone, but I thought it interesting to see a different side of Bottom.

Of the themes of the play, it is love of course that is at the centre, that between Theseus and Hippolyta, who look forward to their wedding, Lysander and Hermia, which hasn’t received the consent of Egeus, Helena’s for Demetrius which seems to have become one-sided as is Demetrius’ own affection for Hermia. The play is, of course, the source of the famous quote, ‘The course of true love never did run smooth’. But what I couldn’t help wondering was how much negativity and conflict is associated with ‘love’ in this play as well. Theseus and Hippolyta love each other but the start apparently was in battle (‘I woo’d thee with my sword‘–I hope I’m interpreting that correctly), Lysander and Hermia’s love has caused ill-will with her father, Demetrius with his ‘new’ love breaks Helena’s heart, and Helena’s love for Demetrius has led her to betray her friend.

Another thing that stood out to me in this act was how much the moon is talked of. Theseus, when expressing his inability to wait the four days that remain foe his own nuptials remarks,

four days bring in another moon:

but, O, methinks, how slow This moon wanes!

She lingers my desires like to a step-dame, or a dowager

The amateur actors plan to con their parts by the next day and meet by ‘moonlight’, but it is Lysander who refers to her the most poetically in what I though were some of the most beautiful lines in this segment.

Tomorrow night, when Phoebe doth behold Her silver visage in the watery glass

Decking with liquid and pearl the bladed grass,

(Incidentally, this also got me to finally clear up my doubts about the name Phoebe, since I thought it should mean sun (like Phoebus Apollo) but it does mean moon as a a by-name to Artemis/Diana.)

Those were the few thoughts that came to mind reading these scenes. Now of course, with our major players headed to the woods, one must see what unfolds there when the fairies enter the scene. That post (Act II) should be up the week after next!


The Shakespeare Project: Reading the Bard of Avon


Image source:  [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This is of course all about me reading Shakespeare. It isn’t that I haven’t ever read Shakespeare, but I’ve read only selected plays and many of these years ago. Last I read Shakespeare,  I didn’t actually even read him but simply revisited the Charles and Mary Lamb version (which, by the way, does an excellent job of introducing one to his works). I keep planning to pick up a play and read it but haven’t got down to doing this for years.

So to remedy this, and also to get myself to actually read some of those plays that I still haven’t read, I’m starting this, The Shakespeare Project. Through this, I plan to pick up plays, one at a time, read them, and while not necessarily ‘review’ them (can’t be that presumptuous), put a few thoughts down. And since I don’t want this to be too taxing (yes, I know each play isn’t all that long) either, what I plan to do is really to read just one act at a time, write a post about it (a brief summary about what happened, my thoughts), and then move on to the next one. To start off with, I’ll do this twice a month. So while it will take me a couple of months to read a play, it doesn’t really matter because at least I’ll be reading them. From time to time, I’ll also include a sonnet or two.

So while the idea of course is to read more of the plays that I haven’t actually read, I’m starting off by breaking the rules, and picking up one that’s a favourite to kick this project off–A Midsummer Night’s Dream–fairies, magic, misunderstandings, mischief, and lots of fun. My first post should be up sometime this weekend.


What are your favourite Shakespeare plays? Do you prefer the Comedies, or the Historical Plays, or the Tragedies?