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Shakespeare & Beyond

Toil and trouble: Recipes and the witches in 'Macbeth'


The witches in Macbeth may seem like otherworldly creatures. They often speak in weird little rhymes: “Fair is foul, and foul is fair!” (1.1.12) They talk in riddles: “Lesser than Macbeth but greater!” they say of Banquo (1.3.68). They look like a cross between men and women: “You should be women,” muses Banquo, “And yet your beards forbid me to interpret/ That you are so.” (1.3.48-49) They appear to be nothing more or less than a trio of scary genderfluid poets, wandering about while spouting verses on the desolate Scottish moors.

But in fact, Shakespeare’s witches, like nearly all witches of Shakespeare’s time, have their roots in the kitchen more than in the study. In seventeenth-century England, accused witches were most frequently housewives, and often poor or middling ones. Such women commanded few esoteric bodies of knowledge. Their domain centered around the hearth: pots and pans, knives and spoons, foods and drinks, and the animals that lived in or around their houses.


Love this!

Norine Colby — September 20, 2018

How thick of me not to realize that the witch’s traditional grimoire, or spell book, likely began as the humble cook book!

Beverly J Hollenbeck — January 4, 2019

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