Tag Archives: Shakespeare

Witches Three

Because I’m not going to make it to Scotland this summer (or Fall, probably) I have been perusing the various sites and reviews devoted to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art’s current exhibition, Witches and Wicked Bodies, to see if I can find witchcraft images that I haven’t seen before. The depiction of witchcraft from the Renaissance on is a compelling visual and cultural topic: I can’t believe there hasn’t been an exhibition before this. I have a whole portfolio of images that I use in my various courses, and rely heavily on the analysis in Charles Zika’s great book: The Appearance of Witchcraft: Print and Visual Culture in Sixteenth-century Europe (for the best analysis of the really provocative prints of early sixteenth-century artist Hans Baldung Grien) as well as the sources and images available at another ongoing Scottish(digital) exhibitionThe Damned Art: Witchcraft and Demonology. Witchcraft has been serious business in Scotland, from the days of King James VI’s Daemonologie (1597) to the present.

WitchesOnlineVersion

Looking through the images from these various sources, I am struck by the rule of three:  how very often witches are depicted in a group of three, as in Henry Fuseli’s 1785 iconic image of the Three Weird Sisters from Macbeth on the exhibition poster above. Fuseli’s image is easily explainable: it is based on Shakespeare’s three prophetic sisters which is in turn based on those of Holinshed’s Chronicle, which is in turn based on the traditional threefold warnings of doom. But even before Shakespeare’s time, witches are often found in parties of three, perhaps to depict a closed and empowered circle, the smallest coven or conspiracy, or a demonic inversion of the Holy Trinity. The Scotland show features several witchcraft themes, Macbeth and magic circles (as well as witches in flight and devilish rituals) which highlight the power of three. But then what about good things come in threes or third time’s a charm?

Three Witches Molitor 1489p

Three Witches Flowers 1619

John Runciman

NPG 6903; The Three Witches from Macbeth (Elizabeth Lamb, Viscountess Melbourne; Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire; Anne Seymour Damer) by Daniel Gardner

William Blakethe Triple Hectate1795

Three Witches Rackham1911

Three Witches Belfast

Three Witches depicted in: Ulrich Molitor’s lamiis et phitonicis mulieribus (1489) and The Wonderful Discoverie of the Witchcrafts of Margaret and Phillip Flower (1619), Ferguson Collection, University of Glasgow; John Runciman, Three Satyrs’ Heads, 18th century, National Galleries of Scotland; Daniel Gardner, The Three Witches from Macbeth (Elizabeth Lamb, Viscountess Melbourne; Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire; Anne Seymour Damer, 1775) National  Portrait Gallery, London;  William Blake, The Triple Hectate, 1795, National Galleries of  Scotland; Arthur Rackham’s Three Witches/Gossips, 1911, from The Ingoldsby Legends of Myth & Marvels; the Weird Sisters in last year’s production of Macbeth at the Lyric Threatre in Belfast, Northern Ireland. No Goya—too scary!


Band of Brothers

Because I’ve been rather engrossed in the Hundred Years War this past few weeks as I prepped for my summer graduate course on late medieval and Renaissance Europe, I’ve been thinking more about the Battle of Agincourt than, say, D-Day. And so for this Memorial Day weekend, a moment of remembrance and reflection, I thought I’d look at Shakespeare’s famous “band of brothers”/St. Crispin’s Day speech, with which King Harry rallies the troops just before battle in Henry V. “Band of brothers” is a familiar phrase to us now, because of Olivier and Branagh and Spielberg, but did it always have resonance? What did it mean when an actor first uttered these lines in 1599 or 1600, and after?  From this day to the ending of the world, But we in it shall be remember’d; We few, we happy few, we BAND OF BROTHERS; For he to-day that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile; This day shall gentle his condition. And gentlemen in England now a-bed Shall think themselves accursed they were not here, And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks That fought with us upon Saint Crispin day.

STC 22289, front endleaf 3v- A1r, t.p.

Band of Brothers Lambeth Palace Library

Title page of first printed version of Henry V, Folger Shakespeare Library; Agincourt illumination, Lambeth Palace Library.

Of course Henry did not really utter these lines; Shakespeare wrote them for his late Elizabethan audience, tapping into their burgeoning nationalism in the decade after the defeat of the Spanish Armada, while Spain was still a very real threat. So when England was threatened again, do these words reappear? The Napoleonic Wars immediately come to mind, when an even more glorious national hero than King Henry V–Admiral Nelson–used the “band of brothers” analogy on several occasions, most notably in reference to the great victory against the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile in 1798. While Nelson was referring to the ship captains under his command, the phrase took on a more egalitarian and nationalistic meaning in the celebratory aftermath.

Band of Brothers Battle of the Nile

Band of Brothers BM

Contemporary prints of the “Glorious Battle of the Nile” and Admiral Nelson and his band of brothers, British Museum.

At about the same time the Battle of the Nile was waging on the other side of the world, Philadelphia statesman Joseph Hopkinson was penning a poem that later became the lyrics to the so-called first American national anthem, Hail, Columbia. Hopkinson’s’ chorus proclaimed:  Firm, united, let us be, Rallying around our liberty, As a Band of Brothers joined, Peace and safety we shall find. My brief search through the sheet music collection of the Library of Congress gave me the impression that this song was far more popular in the nineteenth century than the Star Spangled Banner, which eventually became the national anthem in 1931. Before, during, and particularly after the Civil War, the phrase “band of brothers” was used in speeches and published materials in both the North and the South, cementing its American usage.

Band of Brothers Hail Columbia 1798

Band of Brothers Memorial Day Card 1909

The Favorite New Federal Song, Adapted to the Presidents March, Library of Congress Music Division; 1909 Memorial Day souvenir card.

Back in Britain, the phrase was still Shakespearean, and most definitely one inspiration for Winston Churchill’s famous “the few” speech given in 1940 in the midst of the Battle of Britain, when Britain was most definitely standing alone: Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. I would expect (but didn’t really have enough time to confirm) that the band of brothers theme was used to emphasize the bond between British troops and their allies, both in the Commonwealth and outside, as the “we’re in this together” message is artfully employed in wartime propaganda.

Band of Brothers together William Little 1941

Band of Brothers Back to the Wall

Two examples of British wartime propaganda from the great exhibit at the UK National Archives, The Art of War:  “Together” by William Little, 1940 & “Back against the Wall” by Illingworth, 1941.

It’s no accident that Sir Laurence Olivier chose to produce a stylized film version of Henry V during the war, indeed, the project was partially funded by the British government and originally dedicated to the “Commandos and Airborne Troops of Great Britain the spirit of whose ancestors it has been humbly attempted to recapture”.  And there is the direct connection between Shakespeare’s romanticized war and an all too real one. I do recall the inclusion of Shakespeare’s words in Spielberg’s and Hanks’ Band of Brothers (as well as Stephen Ambrose book on which it is based), but it doesn’t matter; by this point in time,  the title says it all.

olivier-henry-v

A fifteenth-century manuscript brought to life/film:  the recently-restored Henry V (1944).


Calm before the Storm

Despite the all-Irene coverage in the media, it was bright and sunny here in Salem yesterday, all calm before the storm.  I took a bike ride around the city, and it was business as usual.  I did not see a mass exodus of boats from the harbor, though one of my favorite annual events, the Antique & Classic Boat Festival at Hawthorne Cove Marina, was canceled along with lots of other weekend activities.  The coming storm does look huge and destructive, but late summer hurricanes are generally not that much of a threat to the North Shore, as the entire Gulf of Maine is protected from southern storms (as opposed to noreasters) by the presence of Cape Cod.  Even the New England Hurricane of 1938, the standard by which all other hurricanes are judged here, left the coast north of Boston relatively unscathed compared to the devastation in southern and western New England.  Here is a late eighteenth-century  Italian view of a very protected northern New England coast, from Grace Galleries:

Antonio Zatta, Atlante Novissimo, 1778

And here are some very random images of the last Friday in August in Salem, beginning with my garden.  The white “David” phlox has been hanging on forever, but I expect the storm will bring it down a bit.

Boats in and out of the water at the Hawthorne Cove Marina, off Derby Street.

The arrival of the Salem Ferry from Boston. The Ferry’s Sunday schedule is canceled.

The beach at Juniper Point in the Willows.

I love this little shop, which has been the site of a succession of short-lived businesses.  We’ve been waiting for this “amazing pizza” all summer!

The audience in the garden at the Salem Athenaeum, awaiting a production by Rebel Shakespeare.   “The Tempest” was advertised, but we got “The Taming of the Shrew” instead, which was just fine.  The players.


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