Three Misremembered Quotes from Macbeth

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Although we don’t know the exact date of William Shakespeare’s birthday, he was baptised on April 26th1564. It is believed that he was probably born on April 23rd, and so every year, on this date, people celebrate National Shakespeare Day.

We’ve recently added word lists to help you get your head around spelling the names of the characters in some of Shakespeare’s plays. If you’re studying Shakespeare at school or university, you might want to check these out before an exam:

Today, we’re looking at three quotes from Shakespeare’s Scottish Play that are famous for being misremembered.

  1. Bubble bubble toil and trouble” / “Hubble bubble toil and trouble”
    The Weird Sisters are the first to appear on stage in Macbeth, and are some of Shakespeare’s most iconic characters.

    Act 4 opens with the three witches around a cauldron, casting spells and brewing a potion. Throughout the scene they repeat:

    “Double, double toil and trouble;
    Fire burn and cauldron bubble.”

    One theory as to why this quote is so widely misremembered is because of an episode called Much Ado About Scrooge in Disney’s Duck Tales, in which the three witch characters say:

    “Bubble, bubble you’re in trouble;
    Leave this island on the double!”
  2. “At one foul swoop”
    Upon hearing the terrible news that his wife and children have been murdered, the character Macduff says:

    "All my pretty ones?
    Did you say all? O hell-kite! All?
    What, all my pretty chickens and their dam
    At one fell swoop?"

    Given that the audience know that the slaughter of Macduff’s family was ordered by his friend Macbeth, it is understandable that many people mishear the word 'fell' as 'foul' - what, after all, could be fouler than having your friend’s wife and children killed?

    When he says ‘fell’, however, what Macduff actually means is ‘fierce’ – he doesn’t know who the perpetrator is yet, but he’s comparing them to a vicious bird (the red kite) swooping down to kill its prey.

    When people use the phrase ‘at one fell swoop’ today, they are describing something that has happened in a sudden, single action.
  3. Lead on, Macduff!”
    When Macbeth and Macduff finally clash at the play’s climax, Macbeth says:

    “Lay on, Macduff,
    And damned be him that first cries, “Hold, enough!””

    Here, rather than trying to provoke Macduff into making the first move, Macbeth is being more literal and simply telling him to fight. Since Shakespeare is so wonderful at characterisation and wordplay, it’s no wonder we imagine this moment to be more complex than it actually is!

If you enjoyed this article, why not take a look at some of our previous posts about Shakespeare:

You can also find all the community word lists featuring Shakespeare here.

Have a great week!

28 Apr 2015
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One of the students has put in a huge amount of effort in completing Spellzone at least 3 times a week since his arrival with us in January. Looking at his scores after the latest GL testing, his standardised score has risen from 99 to 131. This is a truly phenomenal result. I just wanted to share the best result I have ever seen.

Terrie Penrose-Toms, Casterton College