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Catalog of the Shakespeare Art Collection  --  Oil Paintings on Shakespearean Themes

#113 " MACBETH "
Description of Painting - Oil on canvas 20" x 32"
by Hannah Tompkins

 

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The play opens with the three 'witches' who describe themselves as:
"The weird sisters, hand in hand,
Posters of the sea and land.."      I.iii.
They are crucial to the fate of Macbeth, but they are not ordinary mortal hags; rather they represent the mythical FATES. In Greek mythology they were known as CLOTHO: LACHESIS & ATROPOS. They controlled the lives of all, giving both good and evil to each at birth.
They had no fixed abode but commuted freely between 'heaven' and 'earth'. Their powers were even greater than the gods whose fates they also governed.

CLOTHO spun the thread of life: LACHESIS assigned to each a personal destiny and measured out the thread, and ATROPOS, who carried the shears, cut the thread in its final unwinding.
They did their jobs well but they were not always kind or benevolent.

In Roman religion their counterparts were NONA: DECUMA & MORTA.
In Nordic mythology they were known as the THREE NORNS: URTH (or Wyrd) the Past: VERTHANDI, the Present: and SKULD, the Future.

These are the WYRD SISTERS shown in the lower left of the painting, in a subterranean cavern, in the shadow of a giant skull. Their omnipotent power over mortals explains Ivlacbeth's obsession with their predictions. He is seen descending into their inferno, so opiated with their promises that he neglected to inquire of the cost. When he came to a reckoning, plus the interest, it was too late to cancel. He confesses:
" I am in blood stepp'd in so far,
That should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as going o'er."      III.ii.
The shifting rocks will soon collapse as he steps into the river of blood, consumed with despair and futility. He did not succeed in eliminating all his enemies who now threaten him with annihilation. He complains:
"We have scotched the snake,
Not killed it."
This symbol is the serpent, poised behind the rocks, lower right.

In the background is Lady Macbeth, a candle in one hand and a dagger in the other, standing in a desolate wasteland lit by a pale, barren moon. Behind her, a stark and fruitless tree.

In the upper right stands Glamis Castle, tomb-like, gorging on the carcasses of human frailty and folly, amid the ghosts and secrets of its interior.

The Fates foretold his kingship but neglected to advise on the road conditions. Would the noble Thane have journeyed on if he knew the way was pitted with blood, treachery and defeat?
When he learns of his wife's suicide, driven by madness, and he sees the glint of the giant shears above him, he makes a grim appraisal:
"Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing."      V.v.
FIN


Copyright © 1990 Hannah Tompkins. All rights reserved.

 

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