Odds and Dead Ends : The Best of The Bard: Why ‘Macbeth’ should be considered Horror

Anyone who says that Shakespeare is classy, refined, and ‘proper’, has clearly never read him. Sure he had his moments of genius, but then he also wrote Titus Andronicus, which contains tricking someone into eating their sons, and ends its three hours with fourteen people dead. Romeo & Juliet has a higher human body count than Halloween (Mercutio, Tybalt, Paris, Juliet, Romeo, and Lady Montague makes six for The Bard, and Judith, the truck driver, Annie, Paul, and Linda make five for John Carpenter). Yet of all his works, Macbeth might be the most mad, terrifying, and downright horrific story he told, and I firmly believe it deserves a higher place in horror fans’ hearts.

            Firstly, a recap for those who don’t know your classics. Macbeth, a general in King Duncan’s army, is told by three witches that he will become Thane of Cawdor, and eventually King. When Macbeth is granted the title ‘Thane of Cawdor’, he plots with his wife to kill Duncan, thereby fulfilling the prophecy. In panic, believing his deed to have been discovered, he sends an assassin to kill his friend Banquo, who might suspect him, after which he hallucinates and is driven into madness during his rule. Meanwhile, a rebel army from England led by Macduff rises up against him, whom he initially does not fear as the witches tell Macbeth that he can’t die ‘“until/ Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill/ Shall come against him.”’ (an impossibility, for trees, can’t walk), and that he can’t die from someone born from a woman. The final scenes see Lady Macbeth driven mad by guilt, and Macduff’s army chop down branches from Birnham wood and carry them in front of them as protection and camouflage. At a final confrontation, Macduff, who was born by C-section, kills Macbeth, and brings peace to the land, and fulfills all the prophecies.

            There are so many points in Macbeth which appear in horror/sci-fi vocabulary and iconography. The three witches are the most obvious, and their lines have filtered into the common tongue without us being aware of it. ‘By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes’ of course gives us Ray Bradbury’s title to his famous novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes and combines with their ‘Double, double toil and trouble,’ speech to make the song sung upon entering Hogwarts in The Prisoner of Azkaban film.

            Let us not forget, however, that their prophecies also bring up that age-old question of free will vs. determinism. Would Macbeth have still become king, been killed by Macduff, etc, had the witches not given him their prophecy? Was their act of prophesying itself fate, or could it have been averted? Therefore, is there something even more malevolent behind the witches, conspiratorially so, which encouraged them to speak to Macbeth and Banquo, and therefore set events in motion? So many stories extend off this question, asking if a foretold fate can be actively avoided, from cheap thrillers like 2019’s Countdown, to the vase scene in The Matrix, to Scrooge’s pleading with the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come at his gravestone, ‘“Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they the shadows of the things that May be, only?”’ Philip K. Dick’s novella The Minority Report is based around a man running a company which predicts crime being told he himself will kill someone.

            Then there’s the urban legend that the play itself is cursed. Shakespeare apparently based some of the lines for the witches off actual witches who lived nearby, and in retaliation, they cursed the play, so that it became unlucky to refer to it as ‘Macbeth’, and has become known in acting circles as ‘The Scottish Play’ instead. Exorcising demons as a result of saying the name is still done by superstitious performers, and not doing so will cause bad luck to fall on the production. Blackadder The Third has great fun at this expense in a memorable skit.

            And let’s ignore for brevity’s sake the appearance of Hecate, Greek Goddess of witchcraft and magic and the moon, etc, to the three witches in Act IV. Because that’s just going overboard, and we all know how horror movies love to use Greek myths and legends (see Robert Eggers’s The Lighthouse, and The Pale Man in Pan’s Labyrinth for more information).

            The play is so dark and gloomy, filled with paranoia and murder, that to ignore how it set the stage for horror stories to come would be remiss. With eight dead by the end (not counting off-screen deaths), the play has a high enough body count to keep any horror fan happy. Conspiring in dark castle hallways to commit regicide by the dead of night is straight gothic, and let us not forget that murder in castles is pretty much where the whole thing started, as Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, the original gothic novel, has this in spades.

            And finally, at a feast in Act III Scene IV, Macbeth sees the ghost of Banquo, his friend whom he has had assassinated. At first, accusing others of setting it up as a prank, he is led away, raving and cursing, Lady Macbeth feigning the excuse that he has been prone to fits of madness since childhood. We’re never told whether this ghost is really a phantom or a figment of Macbeth’s overworked imagination, but considering he’s already hallucinated a dagger in Act II Scene I (“Is this a dagger which I see before me, The handle toward my hand?”) it is likely. Yet Shakespeare’s already used one of the most famous ghosts in literature, that of Hamlet’s father on the battlements, years before, so his use of supernatural elements isn’t unknown. And we’ve all seen and read films and stories which hinge on our interpretation as to whether the ghosts are real or not (Jacob’s Ladder, It Follows, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Turn of the Screw; you can come up with your own thousands more examples), which is further proof how the tradition follows on into our modern genre.

            Macbeth has all the violence, superstition, curses, hallucinations, omens, atmosphere, and madness to last a horror addict for a lifetime. It is filled with those little moments that, over the years, millions have been inspired by, creating the network of iconography which helped the gothic stories of the 18th century, the penny dreadfuls of the 19th century, and the cinematic explosion of the genre of the 20th. Film critic Mark Kermode quotes The Exorcist author William Peter Blatty as saying that the play is about ‘the numbing of the moral senses’, and if there’s ever a phrase which applies to horror, I don’t know of it. Macbeth is not just for the classroom; it’s for a horror addict’s life.

Article by Kieran Judge

Twitter/Instagram: kjudgemental

Freaky Foodies: From The Vault – Morbid Meals – Three Witches’ Stew

EXAMINATION

There are many superstitious actors who will tell you about various curses of the theatre. Like how they can’t wish each other good luck, but rather “break a leg”.

The most famous, however, may be to not say the name of The Scottish Play. This is brought most humorously to light on an episode of Blackadder The Third.

To honor the Three Witches, all items in this stew come in threes. We’ll be making this in our magic cauldron (called a pressure cooker).

ANALYSIS

Servings: 9 serving bowls

Ingredients

3 Tbsp of oil

Three meats
1.5 lbs bone-in mutton/lamb shank
1.5 lbs bone-in beef/veal shank
1.5 lbs gammon joint or ham hocks

Three seasonings
1 Tbsp kosher or sea salt
1 Tbsp ground black pepper
1 Tbsp smoked paprika

Three aromatics
3 leeks (or 1 onion), chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced (or 1 Tbsp minced garlic, or 1 tsp garlic powder)
1/3 cup of all-purpose flour

Three herbs
3 bay leaves, fresh or dried
6 sprigs of oregano  (or 1/2 tsp of ground oregano)
9 sprigs of thyme (or 1 tsp dried thyme, or 3/4 tsp of ground thyme)

Three brews for the stew
9 oz Scottish ale (like Kilt Lifter)
6 oz Oat stout
3 oz Triple Malt Scotch whisky

Three leafy greens
1 bunch of kale
2 scallions, chopped
3 ribs of celery, chopped

Three roots
3 wee neeps (turnips or small rutabagas, or 3 parsnips), chopped
6 carrots, chopped
9 young tatties (waxy or fingerling potatoes)

Three pints of water

Apparatus

  • Pressure cooker, 7-quart

Procedure

  1. Chop all of the veggies first and set aside in the groups listed above.
  2. Pour 3 Tbsp of oil with a high smoke point (like corn or peanut, or even ghee or  clarified butter; canola is the lowest smoke-point oil you should use) into the pressure cooker. Turn heat to high.
  3. Cut the lamb and beef into large chunks (save the bones) and season with salt, pepper, and paprika.
  4. When the oil begins to shimmer, brown the lamb and beef on all sides. Remove and set aside.
  5. Reduce heat to medium. Saute the leeks/onion and garlic for about 1 minute. Add the flour and stir to combine.
  6. Deglaze with the ale. Then add the stout and scotch.
  7. Place the bones into the cooker first, then add the meat back, and then the rest of the ingredients. Top with 3 pints of water, or as much as you need to just fill under the Max Fill line.
  8. Return the heat to high. Close and lock the lid. Cook on high until pressure valve whistles or rattles, then turn heat down to low and cook for about 33 minutes under pressure.
  9. Remove the bones, bay leaves, and herb sprigs. Meat should be tender and the veggies supple. Ladle into bowls and allow to cool before serving.

DISSECTION

We are using about 1.5 pounds of bone-in meat each because we want the bones for the stock. Once cooked, we’ll have about 3 pounds of meat.

If you don’t have a pressure cooker, you can use a large crock pot and cook on high for 333 minutes, or about 5 1/2 hours. It is much harder to make what is essentially the stock this way, however.

POST-MORTEM

Definitely serve with whisky or ale or stout. Can’t decide? How about a whisky barrel-aged ale?  Or a Half and a half?

Morbid Meals – Three Witches’ Stew

EXAMINATION

There are many superstitious actors who will tell you about various curses of the theatre. Like how they can’t wish each other good luck, but rather “break a leg”.

The most famous, however, may be to not say the name of The Scottish Play. This is brought most humorously to light on an episode of Blackadder The Third.

To honor the Three Witches, all items in this stew come in threes. We’ll be making this in our magic cauldron (called a pressure cooker).

ANALYSIS

Servings: 9 serving bowls

Ingredients

3 Tbsp of oil

Three meats
1.5 lbs bone-in mutton/lamb shank
1.5 lbs bone-in beef/veal shank
1.5 lbs gammon joint or ham hocks

Three seasonings
1 Tbsp kosher or sea salt
1 Tbsp ground black pepper
1 Tbsp smoked paprika

Three aromatics
3 leeks (or 1 onion), chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced (or 1 Tbsp minced garlic, or 1 tsp garlic powder)
1/3 cup of all-purpose flour

Three herbs
3 bay leaves, fresh or dried
6 sprigs of oregano  (or 1/2 tsp of ground oregano)
9 sprigs of thyme (or 1 tsp dried thyme, or 3/4 tsp of ground thyme)

Three brews for the stew
9 oz Scottish ale (like Kilt Lifter)
6 oz Oat stout
3 oz Triple Malt Scotch whisky

Three leafy greens
1 bunch of kale
2 scallions, chopped
3 ribs of celery, chopped

Three roots
3 wee neeps (turnips or small rutabagas, or 3 parsnips), chopped
6 carrots, chopped
9 young tatties (waxy or fingerling potatoes)

Three pints of water

Apparatus

  • Pressure cooker, 7-quart

Procedure

  1. Chop all of the veggies first and set aside in the groups listed above.
  2. Pour 3 Tbsp of oil with a high smoke point (like corn or peanut, or even ghee or  clarified butter; canola is the lowest smoke-point oil you should use) into the pressure cooker. Turn heat to high.
  3. Cut the lamb and beef into large chunks (save the bones) and season with salt, pepper, and paprika.
  4. When the oil begins to shimmer, brown the lamb and beef on all sides. Remove and set aside.
  5. Reduce heat to medium. Saute the leeks/onion and garlic for about 1 minute. Add the flour and stir to combine.
  6. Deglaze with the ale. Then add the stout and scotch.
  7. Place the bones into the cooker first, then add the meat back, and then the rest of the ingredients. Top with 3 pints of water, or as much as you need to just fill under the Max Fill line.
  8. Return the heat to high. Close and lock the lid. Cook on high until pressure valve whistles or rattles, then turn heat down to low and cook for about 33 minutes under pressure.
  9. Remove the bones, bay leaves, and herb sprigs. Meat should be tender and the veggies supple. Ladle into bowls and allow to cool before serving.

DISSECTION

We are using about 1.5 pounds of bone-in meat each because we want the bones for the stock. Once cooked, we’ll have about 3 pounds of meat.

If you don’t have a pressure cooker, you can use a large crock pot and cook on high for 333 minutes, or about 5 1/2 hours. It is much harder to make what is essentially the stock this way, however.

POST-MORTEM

Definitely serve with whisky or ale or stout. Can’t decide? How about a whisky barrel-aged ale?  Or a Half and a half?