Tag Archives: Macbeth

“American Gods” by Neil Gaiman: Issue 04

I recently had a discussion with my wife regarding the founding of the United States. We came to the conclusion that, although many Americans like to think the country was founded upon the principles of freedom, it was actually commerce and enslavement that were the driving forces that led to the founding of America. With that still fresh in my mind, I came upon an interesting passage while reading this installment of Gaiman’s “American Gods” series.

The important thing to remember about American history is that it is fictional. It is a fine fiction that America was founded by pilgrims seeking the freedom to believe as they wished. In truth, the American colonies were as much as dumping ground as an escape. In the days when you could be hanged in London for the theft of twelve pennies, the Americas became a symbol of clemency, of a second chance. Transportation, it was called: for five years, for ten years, for life. You were sold to a captain and shipped to the colonies to be sold into indentured servitude–but at least you were free to make the most of your new world.

Another part of this comic really interested me was the three sisters. Gaiman based his three characters on the Slavic myth of the two sisters who watched the stars for a sign that the universe was about to end.

In Slavic mythology, the Zorja (alternately, Zora, Zarja, Zory, Zore = “dawn”; Zorza in Polish, Zara-Zaranica (Belarusian: Зара-Зараніца), Zvezda, Zwezda, Danica = “star”) are the two guardian goddesses, known as the Auroras. They guard and watch over the winged doomsday hound, Simargl, who is chained to the star Polaris in the constellation Ursa Minor, the “little bear”. If the chain ever breaks, the hound will devour the constellation and the universe will end. The Zorja represent the Morning Star and the Evening Star.

The Zorja serve the sun god Dažbog, who in some myths is described as their father. Zorja Utrennjaja, the Morning Star, opens the gates to his palace every morning for the sun-chariot’s departure. At dusk, Zorja Vechernjaja—the Evening Star—closes the palace gates once more after his return.

(Source: Wikipedia)

In Gaiman’s retelling of the myth, he adds a third sister. It seems that Gaiman did this to also tie in the mythologies of the triple goddess, the three fates (Moirai), and possibly the three witches from Macbeth.

You wanted to know what I was looking at. The Big Dipper. Odin’s Wain, they call it. The Great Bear. Where we come from, we believe that it is a thing, not a god, but a bad thing, chained up in those stars. If it escapes, it will eat the whole of everything. And there are three sisters who must watch the sky, all the day, all the night. If he escapes, the thing in the stars, the world is over.

So far, I really love this series. Even though the artwork is a little weak, the quality of the writing makes up for it, and then some. I think I will have to reread the original text of American Gods at some point when this graphic series is finished.

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Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: Issue #6

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Another excellent installment in this arc! I keep thinking that the creative team cannot possibly keep up the quality of the writing and artwork, but yet with every issue I am astounded and impressed.

This issue is based upon a discussion between three familiars: Salem, the cat; and Nag and Nagaina, two cobras. They share the tales about how they were all once human but were transformed into animals. These tales of transformation comprise the issue.

What is so brilliant about this story is that it makes reference to numerous stories and folk tales that are part of our culture. There are allusions to Shakespeare, Hawthorne, Kipling, the Arabian Nights, pirate folklore, and so on. So what this short installment in the graphic series manages to achieve in just a few pages is demonstrate how stories cycle through our history, that our society and culture is guided by the stories that have been retold through generations.

As with so much great literature, you can read this without knowing the references to “Hamlet” and “Macbeth” or having never read “Rikki Tikki Tavi” and still enjoy it for the sheer elegance of the3 writing and the evocative artwork. But having knowledge of these texts adds another level of depth to the tale, making it interesting to a literature nerd like myself as well as being an entertaining read for the average reader.

There is nothing I love more than stories that serve as portals to literature, opening the vistas of the literary world to people who may not have been exposed to it. This is definitely one of those portal tales, or gateway drugs, enticing you into the wonderful world of art and the imagination.

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Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: Issue #5

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It’s been nine long months since the last installment in this series. I had pretty much given up on it. But lo and behold, on my last visit to Comic Envy, there was a new Sabrina issue in my folder. It felt like Halloween came early.

It was worth the wait! Sabrina is so dark, so well written and illustrated, so steeped in the occult, there is really nothing that compares to it.

In this installment, Sabrina is placed on trial for alleged sins against the Satanic Church of Night. The trial is presided over by none other than Aleister Crowley. Sabrina is forced to undergo cruel tests to prove her innocence, reminiscent of Puritanical tests administered during the colonial witch trials.

After Sabrina’s “innocence” is established, she undertakes the dark rite of necromancy to raise her dead boyfriend, Harvey. The scenes of the rite are visually chilling and the text is as dark as the imagery.

The witches set about their grim task. First, a symbol representing the gateway between life and death is grooved into the dirt with a snapped-off branch. The branch is symbolic of the Tree of Life, as well as the pole Charon, ferryman of Death, uses to cross the River Styx. Next, a set of the dead person’s clothes is laid out on the ground, over the symbol. So that when the revenant comes back, they may cover their nakedness. Then five candles are lit and positioned around the clothes, so that there is light guiding the dead back to this plane of existence. Then, Sabrina is given the dread Demonomicon, and she recites the diabolical incantation: “…corpus levitas, diablo daminium, mondo viciim…” (The Demonomicon being a sister-book of the unholy Necronomicon.) The infernal dance comes next, and the chanting… “…for you who sleep in stone and clay, heed the call, rise up and obey, pass on through the mortal door, assemble flesh and walk once more…”

The spell works, but there is a very dark twist. Sorry, no spoilers here. You will have to purchase a copy and read it yourself.

One last thing I want to say about this issue. Superimposed over the main story is the enactment of Macbeth by the high school. It works spectacularly! I cannot emphasize enough how well the corresponding scenes connect to and add depth to the overarching storyline. It’s nothing short of brilliance in the genre of graphic horror.

“By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.”

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Unholy Trinity: The Number Three in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”

MacbethThe last time I read Macbeth was in college, so I was long overdue to read it again. It is the perfect Shakespeare play to read during the month when the veil between worlds is thinnest. I was barely into the play when I decided what I would be writing about: the symbolism of the number three in the play.

Before looking at the text, I want to provide a little bit of historical information which I think is important to understanding the meaning of the number three in Macbeth, which I refer to as the unholy trinity. During the time when Shakespeare was writing, England was experiencing profound social upheaval, which was the cause for much concern. The primary cause for this concern was the Elizabethan belief that what happens on earth is a reflection of what is happening in Heaven, or, “on earth as it is in heaven.” So the displacement of the nobility by the merchant class, and the fact that the traditional patriarchal rule of England was now controlled by an unwed woman, led many to speculate that the realm of the divine was also being turned upside down and that unholy beings were possibly assaulting the divine throne of God. This idea is key in the play and is expressed in the very first act when the three witches say in unison: “Fair is foul and foul is fair.” If you want to find out more about this, I highly recommend The Elizabethan World Picture by E. M. W. Tillyard. (Click here to view the book on Amazon).

OK, now on to the number three. First, it is a fairly common belief that bad luck comes in threes. I have personally noted that when someone I know dies, the death is usually followed by two more deaths of people to whom I am acquainted. This idea, accompanied by the possibility that the Holy Trinity in Heaven may be usurped or turned topsy-turvy by an unholy trinity, sets the stage for Macbeth.

The first use of the number three relates to the number of witches. The three witches appear together throughout the play and generally portend dire events. In fact, much of their predictions and conjuring has to do with three. When the witches first meet Macbeth, they address him by three titles: Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor, and finally, King. Then, there is the classic cauldron scene, which opens with the following lines:

1. Witch: Thrice the brinded cat hath mewed.
2. Witch: Thrice and once the hedgepig whined.
3. Witch: Harpier cries “’Tis time, ‘tis time.”

Finally, as Macbeth joins the scene, the witches conjure three apparitions, and each of the apparitions shouts Macbeth’s name three times: “Macbeth! Macbeth! Macbeth!”

I mentioned earlier the idea that deaths come in threes. It is worth noting that there are three murderers who are employed by Macbeth to carry out the foul deeds. There are also three murders that are actually performed on stage, those of Duncan, Banquo, and Macduff’s son. Even though there are other murders (such as that of Lady Macduff and the rest of her children), there are only three that are actually acted out as part of the play.

In addition to the ones I mentioned, there are many more instances of three throughout the play, mainly the repetition of words three times. There is also a great discussion between the Porter and Macbeth regarding the three things that drinking alcohol provokes in a person. I encourage you to dust of your copy off the cursed play and read it during this dark season, and when you do, take notice of how often the number three appears, directly and indirectly.

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Review of “Kill Shakespeare: Issue #3”

KillShakespeare_03Wow! This tale gets better with each issue. While I confess to being a bit of a Shakespeare snob (yes, I even attended a performance by the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon), I have to say that this comic series works for me on many levels.

The story continues with Falstaff joining Hamlet on his quest. Other characters who make their appearances in this issue are Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, as well as Puck. Lady Macbeth’s villainy is taken to new levels. She is truly wicked and the issue’s final scene is something right out of an Edgar Allen Poe tale.

There is a great section where Hamlet and Falstaff enter The Merry Wives of Windsor, which is a brothel. The scene is hilarious and I chuckled out loud several times. There are great puns and wordplay, and allusions to Shakespearean quotes. The quote that stands out as the funniest is when one of the wenches begs Hamlet to dip his quill into her inkwell. It was classic!

I’d like to talk about one of Puck’s quotes: “Though I be magic and I be most grand, man’s fate lies in your fickle, mortal hand.” I love this quote for several reasons. First, it can be read in iambic pentameter, which Shakespeare used liberally. It also addresses the debate between predestination and free will. Finally, I see a double entendre here, where mortal hand can mean both human action and ideas expressed through writing.

As I finish this post, I admit that I am itching to read the next issue. I’m completely hooked into this story and eager to see how it “plays” out. Expect another post soon.

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Review of “Kill Shakespeare: Issue #2”

KillShakespeare_02I read the second issue in the Kill Shakespeare comic series this morning and now I am officially hooked. It has proven to be not only well-written, but visually gripping.

The story continues with Richard III and Hamlet heading out on the quest to find Shakespeare. They are now joined by Iago, who is as crafty in this tale as he is in Othello. There are several confrontations and a building tension between Richard and the unseen army of Macbeth.

There is a scene where Richard “plucks out the eyes” of Hastings that is reminiscent of the great scene in King Lear. The images are extremely graphic and not for the young or squeamish. I will never forget the first time I read King Lear in college and we discussed the “plucking of the eyes” scene. My professor said that she thought it was one of the most horrific scenes written for the stage. I personally find some of the scenes in Titus Andronicus to be more disturbing, but this is right up there.

Finally, there is a great quote spoken by Richard in response to Hamlet’s query regarding Richard’s deformity. Richard replies: “And for my own people to have a ruler who is flawed? It lets them take comfort in their own weaknesses.” This made me think about the state of politics in the US. There are many people who view educated leaders as “elitist” and not to be trusted, while showing support for those politicians who appear less smart because they are viewed as “regular guys.” It is like people want an uneducated leader because it gives them the idea that anyone can become a leader in this country. Rather than having leaders who embody the ideal for which we should strive, we are seeking to being our leaders down to our level.

I will be downloading and reading the rest of the issues soon. Stay tuned for my thoughts on the rest of the series.

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Kill Shakespeare: Issue #1

KillShakespeare_01I recently installed the Comixology app on my iPad, which allows me to download and read digital versions of comics. I do not claim to be knowledgeable about comics, but I enjoy reading them on occasion. Anyway, I started browsing through the free comics and came across Kill Shakespeare. Comics and Shakespeare – how could I go wrong?

There are 12 issues in the series and the first two are free (good way to hook you in). I downloaded the two freebies and figured I would give it a shot. After reading the first issue, I am sure I will be purchasing the last ten.

The story begins with Hamlet being banished to England, with the twist of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern exposing Claudius’ plot to have Hamlet killed and swearing allegiance to Hamlet. After getting tossed overboard in a fight with pirates, Hamlet washes ashore and is rescued by Richard III. Richard, along with the three witches (a la Macbeth), convince Hamlet to seek out the wizard William Shakespeare with the goal of stealing his quill, an object of mystical power. In return for Hamlet’s assistance, Richard and the witches promise to restore Hamlet’s father to life. That is where Issue #1 leaves off.

At first, I had difficulty accepting the liberties taken with the characters. Really–Rosencrantz and Guildenstern siding with Hamlet? But as soon as I was able to let go of my preconceived notions of the characters, the story began to work for me, particularly since there were some great lines woven into the story. An example of this is when a malevolent spirit appears to Hamlet and tells him: “Thou art the one who shall pass into the forbidden place. Thou art the one who shall tread upon the globe’s floor.” I love that the writer tied in an allusion to the Globe Theater.

As far as the artwork goes, I found it great. The panels shift from dull and gloomy where appropriate, to vivid and colorful during scenes of vibrant fantasy. The characters are also very lifelike and not stiff at all.

If you are a Shakespeare buff like I am, and you also enjoy a graphic novel or comic on occasion, then you will want to check out this comic. Personally, I am eager to get on with the next issue. I’m curious to see how other Shakespearean characters are tied into the story. I’ll be sure to let you know my thoughts on the subsequent installments.

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