Teachers' Guide to Welwyn Wilton Katz's Come Like Shadows

1. A summary of Macbeth, the play by Shakespeare

2. Shakespeare's sources for the play; the reasons he wrote it the way he did

3. The man Macbeth as shown in Shakespeare's play Macbeth

4. Historical facts about the real Macbeth and other people and things mentioned in the play Macbeth

5. Superstitions about the play the play Macbeth in the novel Come Like Shadows

6. The first chapter of Come Like Shadows

7. Some good questions to ask students about Come Like Shadows

1. A Summary of Macbeth, the play by Shakespeare

This is Shakespeare's shortest and bloodiest play (the word "blood" appears in this play so many times it is clearly meant to be the predominant motif of the play: blood=line, blood=violent death, blood=sign or badge of courage). It is studied in secondary school by virtually every student in Canada. Thus it is good to give your students a head start on the play.

In the play the man Macbeth is an army commander loyal to his King and is Thane (kind of like an Earl, though that is an English not a Scottish term) of Glamis (pronounced Glahms). Glamis exists; hard to find on a map, north of Edinburgh but not into the Grampians. (Today there is indeed a castle there, though the castle is only about five hundred years old, and is the place where the present Queen Mother was born.)

Together with his friend Banquo Macbeth is on his way to Forres in Scotland (near Inverness) after defeating one of the king of Norway's main armies that had invaded Scotland. Scotland is ruled by Duncan, a kindly old King who is a relative of Macbeth's. While looking for the main army of King Duncan near Forres Macbeth and Banquo get a bit lost on a lonely moor and meet three witches, who know Macbeth's name and call him Thane of Glamis, which he already is, and then Thane of Cawdor, which he is not. Then they say that he will be king of Scotland. They also tell Banquo that he is both lesser than Macbeth and greater than him because his line will become kings. The witches disappear, then messengers come and tell Macbeth that he has been pronounced by King Duncan to be Thane of Cawdor, because that original Thane had been a traitor to Duncan, working on the King of Norway's side and has been executed, and Duncan has rewarded the loyal Macbeth by giving him the title and all Cawdor's lands and riches.

The fact that the witches knew Macbeth by sight when he had never seen them before, known that he was Thane of Glamis and that he would be Thane of Cawdor, make Macbeth start to wonder if he really will become King of Scotland. But Duncan has two sons (Malcolm and Donalbain), and later in the play Duncan announces that his heir to the Kingship will be Malcolm. (This goes against historical fact: see that section of the Teacher's Guide). Macbeth writes a letter to his wife Lady Macbeth about the witches' prophecies. She is stirred up by this; she is highly ambitious and wants Macbeth to be king. She is prepared to do murder to make this happen.

After Duncan greets Macbeth and Banquo and honours them both for their part in the battle against the King of Norway, he names Malcolm his heir, then says he will stay at Macbeth's castle at Glamis overnight. Macbeth goes to warn his wife to make things ready, taking a jewel Duncan gave him for Lady Macbeth. When Macbeth arrives at Glamis, very soon after the letter and very soon before Duncan and his retinue, he and his wife talk about murdering Duncan in his bed. Macbeth is horrified at the thought because (1) Duncan is a kindly, good, old man and a good king (2) Duncan is his relative (3) Duncan is his king and he has sworn allegiance to him (4) the laws of hospitality in Scotland are iron-strong: you give your guests the best of what you have; you don't murder them in their beds. But Macbeth is also very ambitious and is tempted to believe that Fate intends him to be king, because the witches said he would be, just as they said he would be Thane of Cawdor. Also, Lady Macbeth accuses him of cowardice, and this is something Macbeth can't stand.

Duncan, Banquo, Malcolm, Donalbain, and a bunch of other nobles then arrive at Glamis, there is a banquet, people go to bed, people fall asleep. Lady Macbeth puts a sleeping draft in the wine of King Duncan's honour guard who sleep in the room next to him. Both Macbeth and his wife are very nervous; she is starting to show her incipient breakdown because she can't herself kill Duncan, though it would be convenient. But Macbeth does the deed, and comes out with the bloody dagger still in his hand and himself and his clothes marked with the blood of his king; she is horrified, gets blood on herself, washes it off ; he goes back, places the dagger and blood on the sleeping bodies of the guards, comes back to wash himself, but it is dawn and there is a banging at the gate of the outer wall of the castle. The two rush off to get on sleeping clothes to pretend they've been in bed all this time. Macbeth is a little nuts here, he thinks he has murdered sleep as well as the sleeping Duncan, and he thinks he himself will never sleep again.

Macduff, the Thane of Fife, and a friend have come to wake the king at dawn. The porter is comic relief here, though his words are full of irony, to those who have seen what has come before. The night has been a terrible one (nature has gone wild -- a sign that something against all nature has happened: namely the killing of Duncan, though no one yet knows this). Finally Macduff goes up to the King and finds the sleeping bloody guards and his dead king; Macbeth goes with him and in an apparent rage kills the guards (which makes Macduff suspicious because they should have been questioned first.) Things look suspicious to a lot of people now: Banquo (who knew what the witches had prophesied and guessed what it meant to his friend), Macduff, and even to the young Malcolm and Donalbain, who decide to flee Scotland because they don't believe their father's guards would have killed him without being hired to do so and they're afraid (particularly Malcolm, who has been named the heir) that it will be their turn to be murdered next. Malcolm flees to England, Donalbain to Ireland, and this flight seems to support Macbeth's claim that they paid the guards to kill their father. Macbeth is the closest kin now, and will be crowned King at Scone. Most of the Thanes go along with this, but not Macduff, who truly believes that Macbeth was responsible for Duncan's death. Macduff heads for his own home in Fife.

After Macbeth is crowned King he is obsessed with the fact that Banquo knew what the witches had said to him about becoming king, and he hates the fact that his heirs will never be king when Banquo's will. So he hires some murderers to kill Banquo and Banquo's son FLEANCE. The murderers succeed in killing Banquo but Fleance gets away. Banquo's ghost appears at a banquet but only Macbeth can see him. It is a nightmarish scene; Queen/Lady Macbeth must send all the guests home. Everyone is suspicious of Macbeth now.

Now Macbeth becomes obsessed with the people who didn't come to his coronation. He puts spies in all their households. Terrible things continue to happen in nature. Macbeth finally goes to the three witches again, on his own. He demands that they tell him what he wants to know. The witches are brewing something in their kettle, and instead of telling him things themselves, apparitions come out of the kettle. A head wearing a battle helmet, a blood-covered child, and a child wearing a crown and carrying a tree tell Macbeth to beware of Macduff, that Macbeth will not be killed by anyone born of woman, and that he will be defeated only when the trees of Birnam Wood move towards his castle on Dunsinane. Macbeth then insists to know about Banquo's descendants, and then the kettle disappears and the witches say the speech: SHOW! SHOW! SHOW! SHOW HIS EYES AND GRIEVE HIS HEART; COME LIKE SHADOWS, SO DEPART. Eight ghostly kings appear, each looking like Banquo, AND THE LAST ONE IS CARRYING A MIRROR IN WHICH ARE SEEN MANY MORE. In a fury Macbeth seeks to know more but the witches disappear. Macbeth finds out Macduff has gone to England and he was already suspicious of Macduff being suspicious of him and so, when the witches tell him to beware Macduff, the truth of that makes him believe the other two prophecies as well. Macbeth orders that the Thane of Fife (Macduff's) wife and children be murdered. This is a terrible scene which we actually see on stage.

In England Macduff is tested by Malcolm (who has taken refuge with the gentle King Edward) to see if he is a spy from Macbeth; then Macduff persuades Malcolm to lead an English (Northumbrian) army into Scotland to defeat Macbeth and claim the throne for himself. In this scene news comes to Macduff of the deaths of all his family. He is determined to get revenge on Macbeth. The English army, with Malcolm and Macduff, leave for Scotland.

The rest of the play is downhill all the way for Macbeth and his wife. Lady Macbeth is seen sleepwalking, trying to wash blood off her hands, and being unable to do so, because no real blood is there. She is insane now with the knowledge of what she had begun and is now unable to stop. Macbeth himself is so used to blood-letting that he almost has lost all feeling of humanity. He also feels he has to continue to do what he has to, to preserve his monarchy and to keep the witches' prophecies, and he also feels he is in the middle of a river of blood and it would be just as bloody to him to go back as to continue to cross it.

The English army takes refuge in Birnam Wood and then each soldier cuts down a small tree to carry in front of him to hide the fact that the army is coming against Dunsinane until it is too late for Macbeth's few remaining loyal troops to stop them. Thus the witches' prophecy about Macbeth not being vanquished until Birnam Wood comes against Dunsinane seems to be coming true. Battle scenes follow, interrupted only with the news delivered to Macbeth that Lady Macbeth has taken her own life. Finally, Macduff faces Macbeth, and Macbeth tells him to go away, because "I am too much charged with blood of thine already." This I believe to show that there is still some kind of conscience and therefore humanity in Macbeth. He knows he has killed Macduff's entire family, and he is feeling guilty for that; he doesn't want to have to kill Macduff as well, which he is certain he will do, because of the witches' prophecy that no one born of woman can kill him, a prophecy he desperately clings to. But Macduff was not of woman born; his mother had been delivered of him by some kind of Caesarean section. Macduff chases Macbeth offstage, kills him, and comes back with Macbeth's bloody head. Malcolm delivers the kind of pacifying, royal speech the new King of Scotland should deliver, nature is returned to normal, and the play ends.

2. Shakespeare's sources for the play; the reasons he wrote it the way he did

Shakespeare knew little personally about British and Scottish history. His main source for this play was a book called Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland by HOLINSHED. The "truth" as represented in that book wasn't exactly what Shakespeare wanted so he used two tales from it and blended them and played with them until he had what he wanted. One of the tales in Holinshed's Chronicles is the story of the reign of King Macbeth who reigned from 1040 and 1057, ending with the establishment of Malcolm III (Malcolm Canmore, who was King Duncan's son) as king. The kingship of Malcolm was viewed by the English as rightful, but the Scottish did not necessarily see it that way, because the Scottish elected their kings from among the thanes, and did not recognize the law of primogeniture as did the English. The other part of Holinshed's book Shakespeare used was a story about the murder of a King Duff by someone called Donwald and his wife. Shakespeare used considerable "poetic license" to put the two stories together the way he did.

Shakespeare wrote this play in 1605-1606, at a time just after King James I ascended to the throne of England, though it was never actually published until 1623, (and so it has been considered "corrupt", with many scenes that might not actually have been written by Shakespeare himself. The versions we read today have been edited by historical scholars and so are probably are fairly close to what Shakespeare actually wrote, however.) Now this King James was also King James VI of Scotland. In other words, James was both King of Scotland and of England. Thus it made sense to Shakespeare, who needed the patronage or at least approval of his monarch, to write a Scottish play. In addition, James was morbidly fascinated with the supernatural, particularly witches. (James actually wrote a book on witches and was responsible for much of the witch hunting, burning, drowning, and hanging that went on in England and Scotland at the time. Most of the people who were called witches were harmless old women who might possibly have used herbs to heal people. Hardly any of the so-called witches actually worshipped the devil.) Shakespeare put the three witches into the play because he thought such a morbid fascination would make James like the play more. He also put Banquo's ghost in because he thought James would like this other form of the supernatural. In Holinshed's book, Banquo actually takes part in Duff's murder, but Shakespeare changes this to make Banquo more likeable because Banquo is the progeniture of all the kings of Scotland, one of whom eventually became King James VI, now also King of England. It would not have been politically wise to have made King James's ancestor a murderer of another King. There are other tiny references here and there in the play to events in the early part of King James's reign. Finally, to make things move swiftly, Shakespeare put the events of the play within a one-year time span, instead of the seventeen that the real King Macbeth actually ruled.

3. The man Macbeth as shown in Shakespeare's play Macbeth

This is an imaginative, ambitious, manipulable, but ordinarily brave man who has the courage/cowardice to kill his king: courage because he knows what an evil act it is and what it will do to him; cowardice because he kills an old man asleep in his bed. He is brutal and devious, killing his best friend at a distance and women and children likewise. He is almost totally uncaring about the good of his kingdom. He is determined to preserve his own kingship at any cost. His reign nearly ruins Scotland. If there is any humanity left in him by the end of the play it is shown only by his suggestion to Macduff to go away because he doesn't want more of the blood of the line of Macduff to weigh on his soul -- or what is left of it. I have some sympathy for him even as I have no sympathy for him. He started a chain of events beginning with regicide because of his own ambition that led to the loss of the liking and respect of his fellow Thanes, the loss of his best friend, the loss of any real reason to live except to preserve his kingship at all costs, the loss of his wife, the awareness of the deceit that has been practised on him by the witches, the loss of his self-respect, the loss of most of his humanity, and finally, the loss of his kingship and his life. He knew that what he did was evil before he did it, but he could not have predicted all that it would lead to in him, and all the events that would result. He is partially redeemed by the fact that he was a pawn of the witches, and yet he chose to do everything he did do that led to his own ultimate destruction.

4. Historical facts about the real Macbeth and other people and things mentioned in the play Macbeth

King Duncan was not an old benevolent man, but a young vicious tyrant who almost ruined Scotland by sending large forces of his best Scottish warriors on suicide raids on Northumbria. His son Malcolm was very young when Duncan died, perhaps between four and ten years old.

King Duncan was killed on a battlefield. No one knows for certain who actually killed him. According to some accounts King Duncan was engaged in a battle with the Earl of Orkney and Shetland, and if so, in a way this was a kind of civil war, because the "Earl" / Jarl (Norse word) of Orkney and Shetland was one of his own Thanes. According to one account Duncan's main battle with the Earl of Orkney took place at Burghead near Elgin but Duncan himself was killed nine miles from the battlefield at Pitgaveny. Perhaps he was even killed by Macbeth, who was one of Duncan's thanes/mormaers. But whoever did it, it is certain that the killing was not murder, but rather the result of a battle between Duncan and another man. Duncan certainly was not killed in a bed by his host who was both his subject and his kinsman, the most evil and despicable act imaginable by any Scot of the time.

Macbeth had a tough childhood, though he was born noble. During the reign of King Duncan he was "mormaer" (thane) of Moray (not Glamis) by inheritance and by his marriage with Gruoch, who was a descendant of Kenneth MacAlpin, the Irish-descended King who basically pulled Scotland together and got rid of the Picts of Scotland. The Scottish powers in Macbeth's time (the mormaers/thanes/earls) were used to taking what they wanted, and there was a lot of rivalry between people in Macbeth's own family. Macbeth's father was murdered by relatives when he was only fifteen. He himself was forced to flee to escape the same fate that night. He got his revenge on one of his father's murderers (long, unpronounceable name) eventually. He married a widow, Gruach/Gruoch (pronounced Groah) who had one son, and the two had no children of their own. Even if they had had a son together, that son would have had no more claim to the throne after Macbeth's death than would any other of the Thanes. Election was the usual method in Scotland for the making of kings, unlike in England, where the law of primogeniture was usually followed.

It is important to note that Macbeth did not usurp the throne from Duncan by killing him, or from Malcolm, who was Duncan's son. Upon King Duncan's death in battle, Malcolm would never have been elected King by the other Thanes because he was only a child (and as stated above, the Scottish kingship, until Malcolm took over after Macbeth's death, was created through election among the Thanes rather than by blood-line.) When the tyrannical Duncan died, Macbeth was elected King of Scotland, freely, by the other Thanes at Sgain (now called Scone, the place where all the Kings of Scotland were crowned then and since) and received the oath of loyalty from all the mormaers/thanes/earls at the ancient Stone of Scone. (This stone was stolen by the English under King Edward I in the early 1300's and was placed in Westminster Abbey in London, under the coronation chair. It has since, but only very recently, been returned to Scone.)

The young son of Duncan, Malcolm, did leave Scotland after his father's death, as is stated in Shakespeare's play. He took up residence with King Edward the Confessor of England and became known as Malcolm Canmore. Because Malcolm grew up in the English court, he learned English ways, and he even married King Edward's daughter Margaret, sister of Edgar the Aetheling (who was the Saxon pretender to the throne of England after the Norman invasion in 1066 made William the Conquerer the King of England). Though Malcolm was a Scot by birth, in every other way that mattered, he was English = Saxon. When he eventually killed King Macbeth in 1057 and (in Scottish eyes) so usurped the throne of Scotland (though he thought of it as his right, because he had absorbed the English/Saxon idea of primogeniture), he made Scotland as English/Saxon as possible, particularly in the area of religion. For this reason, many Scots today who know their own history name Macbeth as the last "truly" Scottish king because some of the "reforms" that Malcolm Canmore imposed on Scotland were permanent.

(Of course, shortly after this England was invaded by William the Conquerer who was Norman =Norse/French, and so, ironically, England became more Norman than English, just as Scotland was becoming more English/Saxon than Scottish. Also ironically, Malcolm was forced to fight England after the Norman invasion, because his marriage to Margaret made him seem to the Normans to have a claim to the English throne, and that was something William the Conquerer didn't want. Malcolm died while fighting Northumbria (the land whose forces had originally made him King in Macbeth's place) and Malcolm's wife Margaret was made a saint for the ecclesiastical reforms she brought about in her husband and that her husband then effected in Scotland.)

Going back to the time between 1040 and 1057 in Scotland, we discover that Macbeth was a good King. Under his reign Scotland became prosperous and strong again after King Duncan's rapacious behaviour and depradations. Macbeth enacted laws to help orphans and widows. He made pilgrimages to the Holy Land, as he was a devout Christian (though not a Christian as the Saxons in England were, but rather as the old Scottish Culdee Church prescribed). He built up Scotland's armies and protected his own borders, and as was the way in those days, made successful forays into neighbouring Northumbria, part of England.

Scotland under Macbeth was strong and unified and so a danger to England, with whom relations had always been somewhat inimical. King Edward wanted Macbeth out of the way. When Malcolm was grown up, and had been "fed" the English belief in primogeniture and therefore thought he had a "right" to the throne of Scotland because he was the first-born son of Duncan who was the last "legal" king of Scotland (or so Edward told him), he went with Edward's blessing and an English army led by the Duke of Northumbria (some say that he was Malcolm's uncle) back into Scotland in 1054. This was a very strong force. They started attacking all the places that Macbeth held: including fortified places in Moray, Dunsinane, etc. Each time they were victorious, and Macbeth's forces were weakened.

Despite what Shakespeare says in his play, Dunsinane was not the scene of the final battle between Malcolm and Macbeth. Macbeth did lose a battle to Malcolm at Dunsinane, and the English did make their camp in Birnam Wood beforehand (I have seen the so-called "King's Seat" in Birnam Wood -- a stone that Malcolm might have sat on to look across the valley to Macbeth's camp at Dunsinane). It is possible that the English did use the saplings of Birnam Wood to disguise their march on Dunsinane, which was a high, open hill, and therefore hard to attack. When his defeat became obvious, Macbeth and his followers fled Dunsinane, regrouped, and began to march to other strongholds in the Grampian Mountains. The various battles along the way took three full years and depleted Macbeth's forces more and more. This all led to Macbeth finally making his way with his forces up the old Great North Road to the ford of the River Dee in Aberdeenshire, as is mentioned in the book Come Like Shadows. Here he was closely pursued by Malcolm's army. Macbeth's army took its final stand near Lumphanan, as is mentioned in the book Come Like Shadows. Malcolm's army actually bivouacked in Kincardine O'Neil, which was the crossroads between the Great North Road and the Great East-West Road of Scotland, as is mentioned in the book Come Like Shadows. The final battle was probably not between armies, but between champions: Macbeth, middle-aged or even elderly, and Malcolm, in his prime. The two fought in a stone circle near Lumphanan. Malcolm defeated Macbeth. Malcolm, not Macduff, cut Macbeth's head off.

As far as historical resources can tell, no Macduff existed, though there is a Fife and perhaps there was once a Thane of Fife, and later an Earl of Fife. Either Banquo did not exist at all or if he existed, it was not in Macbeth's time, but in the time of King Duff who was killed by Donwald and his wife, and Banquo was not the noble character Shakespeare made him, but actually helped in the murder of King Duff.

We aren't sure what happened to Gruoch and her son, but she almost certainly did not commit suicide, because she was buried on a holy island with her son when he died, and this would not likely have been allowed to a suicide.

Another modern novel, like Come Like Shadows except that it is set in historical Scotland, is a re-interpretation of the events of the real Macbeth's life. This historical novel is written by Dorothy Dunnett and is called King Hereafter (whose title, like Come Like Shadows, is a quote from the three witches). It is very interesting and well written, though I personally don't quite believe in Dunnett's basic premise (which makes Macbeth not just the mormaer of Moray but the Earl/Jarl of Orkney). She makes a good case for it, though).

5. Superstitions about the play Macbeth in the novel Come Like Shadows

All the superstitions mentioned in the novel Come Like Shadows by the actors etc. are true.

Most actors even nowadays are still very superstitious about the play, which they call The Scottish Play. It is bad luck among the theatre community as a whole to name the play, to quote from the play (except when rehearsing or performing it), to call Macbeth or Lady Macbeth by their names (Macbeth can be called The Thane, The Big M, Mac, Big Mac, etc.; Lady Macbeth is usually called Lady M); and it is risking bad luck to act in the play, to work backstage on the play, even to be in the audience. Most of the theatre community do not let the superstition stop them from producing the play, however, because it is one of Shakespeare's (and the world's) best plays, and the role of Macbeth is, like that of Hamlet, one of the great acting "plums" of the English theatre, as is the role of Lady Macbeth. (Interestingly, however, even very great actors often do a rotten job performing these roles.) Also, theatre companies like to produce The Scottish Play because it is a huge draw for audiences. Usually companies make money on productions of Macbeth because the story is fairly simple for modern audiences to understand and the characters are so fascinating and probably because of the supernatural elements and all the blood. Modern audiences are not so very different from those in Shakespeare's day in their fascination with these things.

A few modern actors pooh-pooh the idea that the play is cursed, but most do not. When I visit schools I give many interesting examples of the curse. For another novel on this theme, you might want to read Ngaio Marsh's murder mystery Light Thickens, which title, by the way, is also a quote from the play Macbeth-- as is Come Like Shadows -- though "Light thickens" comes from the mouth of Macbeth himself, not the three witches.

6. The first chapter of Come Like Shadows

This sometimes causes readers confusion. I deliberately do not name the "he" character, though I do give him the title of the King of Alba. This is because it would give too much away too quickly. "He" is, however, my own interpretation of the real Macbeth, and his title is King of Alba because that was what Scotland was called in the old days. Careful reading will probably have allowed you to guess this, of course.

For those who do not know what a stone circle is, it is a ring of usually unconnected stones standing upright. Sometimes the stones trace out the shape of a true circle, sometimes an ellipse, and sometimes it is just a ring. Ancient peoples erected these stones either where the stones actually existed or some miles away from their original positions. They were Neolithic peoples and had no tools except made of stone or leather. Many standing stones weighed several tons. One, at Avebury, weighs up to 40 tons, and was moved at least three miles to be stood in its place.

The stone circle that Macbeth is in at the beginning of the story, and that he calls a "Goddess Ring", actually exists today much as he saw it when he "woke up". I have photos of it which I show to students when I visit. It is to the east of Lumphanan village, in a modern farmer's field. You have to go under an abandoned railway bridge to get to it.

In this chapter I am using all my careful research into the real Macbeth's final days on this world in 1057 to create my own idea of what I wanted to happen to him -- in a way that does not totally contradict the historical sources. Now these sources are few and extremely ancient, but one at least indicates that the real Macbeth died in the combat of champions in a stone circle and that either during the combat or afterward his head was cut off (the usual fate of supplanted kings in those days: the death of a king needed to be proved to the entire country in order for a succession to take place, and nothing proves it better than a decapitated head shown to the populace at large). When I went to the Peel of Lumphanan (it is exactly as I described it in Come Like Shadows on the western side of the modern village of Lumphanan, there was no stone circle there, but there is a sign at the Peel of Lumphanan that indicates a particular stone there was the stone against which Macbeth was shoved down so that his head could be cut off. However, this stone is in fact a good hour's walk from the nearest stone circle which is on the eastern side of the village of Lumphanan. So either the stone circle was not where Macbeth died, or the stone that is marked as his place of decapitation was not his place of decapitation. There is enough ambiguity here that it is possible for me to accept the idea that people do not actually know where and how Macbeth died. This is how I justified my idea that my version of the real Macbeth would not actually die in the final battle with Malcolm at all, but "disappear" just before it.

I don't expect people to actually believe this, of course. I'm just saying that there is ambiguity in the sources, and no actual proof that he did die in the final battle with Malcolm Canmore at all.

And so, in my story, Macbeth goes to three "witches" -- just as in Shakespeare's story, Macbeth goes to three "witches" -- and in both stories Macbeth goes to the witches for help in maintaining his throne. However, my Macbeth wants to maintain his throne to prevent "Alba" turning English; Shakespeare's Macbeth wants to maintain his throne for personal power. And what happens when my Macbeth goes to the witches is very different than what happens when Shakespeare's Macbeth goes to them. In Come Like Shadows, Macbeth is turned away by the witches because they are busy preparing for a ceremony in which the oldest of them, the Hag, will pass her life-force/soul/personality/being into the body of a young girl, while the young girl's life-force/soul/personality/being will pass into the Hag's ancient body, and so will soon die. Macbeth returns to the witches at work in their Goddess Ring after being turned away that first time, and watches enough of the ceremony to be appalled by what he sees. The young girl has been clearly seduced into thinking that her body is all that matters of what she is, and she wants that body to live for perhaps thousands of years; she is too young to understand that this temptation will destroy what she really is in rapid order. The life-forces/souls/personalities/beings of the Hag and the girl can be exchanged only within a magical mirror. During the ceremony, just before the girl enters the mirror with the Hag, Macbeth intervenes, changes the words of the incantation, and it is his body and soul that enters the mirror with the Hag, and they go into the future. Because he is not female she does not exchange souls with him. The two of them are stuck in the mirror with each other, hating each other.

When the story opens, Macbeth has awakened inside the mirror after a long, long time. He can see out of the mirror, but only what is within sight of the mirror. He figures out what has happened, though not the full extent of it. There are a couple of young lovers in the stone circle. One of them, a boy, is an actor. They find the mirror. The boy gives it to the girl, who almost throws it away, but the boy, who intends to seek his fortune on the stage in London, England, decides he can use it for his own stage getups. They go away.

The next scene is from the Hag's point of view. She understands much more of what has happened than Macbeth does. She also cannot see out of the mirror enough and wants to know how much time has passed since she went into the mirror. So she takes a chance (because in the mirror time does not pass, but outside, she will be older, and she was already too old in her body when they were trying to perform the exchange ceremony; she doesn't want to die of old age) and comes out of the mirror in her own body. She is on stage, and the mirror is a prop; it is a time of witch-burnings, and her magical and horrifying appearance at first seems a piece of stage trickery, but then becomes terrifying. People call her a witch and chase her; she uses magic to hide herself from them and goes to a nearby cottage, carrying the mirror with her. She sees that the absent resident of the cottage is writing a play and that it is about a King called Macbeth. She reads a few pages and sees that the play is complimentary to Macbeth. She notices that the year is 1606. She realizes that 550 years have passed since Macbeth interfered with her own gaining of a new body. She hates him, and she can't stand it that he is being praised in this play. She notices that the playwright is using Holinshed's Chronicles as a source, reads what is said about King Macbeth there, and changes it magically in this particular copy only, so that it will seem to the playwright when he reads his Holinshed again that Macbeth was purely evil and will make him want to rewrite his play with that idea in mind. In addition, she adds an incantation to the play that the playwright character is writing, an incantation that she knows will curse the play and will also draw her two witch sisters to the mirror, and she uses a magical spell to geas the playwright into deciding to use the mirror as a prop in his play. It all takes a long time, and uses almost all her life-force as well as much of the mirror's magic. Then, having no choice at all, she must return to the mirror and the man she loathes, because inside the mirror time stands still, and she can wait until her sisters find the mirror, find a new young girl willing to give up her soul in exchange for long life for her body, and complete the ceremony properly so that she can leave the mirror forever, with a new young body.

I hope you all realized at the end that my playwright character was William Shakespeare himself.

Interestingly, the incantation is actually a real one used by witches of the seventeenth century. The real William Shakespeare discovered this curse somehow and put it in the play. There are many people who believe that the "curse" of the Scottish play is due to that real witches' incantation. It is the one at the beginning of Act 4, Scene 1: the one that has the "double, double, toil and trouble" repetitions in it.

7. Some good questions to ask students about Come Like Shadows

These questions are best kept until the students have actually finished reading the book. Teachers may wish to answer these questions themselves before assigning them. They are complex questions, and may need modification for particular classes.

(a) Find out about the ancient pagan Goddess religion that existed in Neolithic times (the Goddess was represented by three Sisters: the Maiden, the Mother, and the Hag.) What duties/symbols did the Maiden aspect of the Goddess have? the Mother? the Hag? Find out their connections to the moon. Where did this Goddess religion likely originate and how do you think it might have found its way to Scotland? How did Christianity deal with it in Scotland and other places? See how many Goddess symbols and references you can find in the book Come Like Shadows.

(b) Look up the meaning of the word "equivocation". It is probably the most important theme of the play Macbeth. How do you think equivocation is used in Come Like Shadows by (i) Jeneva (ii) Dana (iii) Mrs. Maugham (iv) the mirror (v) Lucas (vi) Kinny (vii) Welwyn Wilton Katz? Support your answer with evidence from the book Come Like Shadows.

(c) Why do you think Lucas relates to the man in the mirror the way he does? Support your answer with evidence from the book Come Like Shadows.

(d) Why do you think Kinny decides to agree to be the body for the Hag? Support your answer with evidence from the book Come Like Shadows.

(e) Why did Welwyn Wilton Katz use the Canadian French-English political controversy in Come Like Shadows, do you think? What parallels can be drawn to the original story of the real Macbeth? to Lucas's past in New York State? to the separation question in Great Britain? Can you use the answers to these questions to come to some conclusion about how the forcible division into parts relates to the theme of Come Like Shadows?

(f) Do a character sketch of Jeneva which explains her important role at the end of the book.

(g) Do a character sketch of Dana which includes what she becomes at the end of the book.

(h) Are the three sisters in the book Come Like Shadows evil, do you think? Explain why you think they are or are not. (Remember that the opposite of evil is "NOT EVIL". The opposite of "evil" is NOT "good".)

(i) Is the violence in the book Come Like Shadows necessary to the plot, and if so, why? What is the difference between the blood and gore in this book and, say, a book by R. L. Stine or Christopher Pike?

(j) What does Kinny learn by the end of the book? How has she changed from the kind of person she was at the beginning of the book? What does Lucas learn? Has he changed from the kind of person he was at the beginning of the book?

(k) Who, of all the important characters in the book Come Like Shadows, do you (i) like the most, and why (ii) dislike the most, and why (iii) feel the sorriest for, and why?

(l) Do you think Welwyn Wilton Katz's characters are well-drawn? Consider both the minor characters and the major ones. Support your answer with evidence from the book.

(m) Whether you believe in magic or not, did you feel emotionally involved in any of the characters or events of Come Like Shadows? If you did, say in what way you felt emotionally involved, and if you think the emotional involvement caused any thoughts that are new to you. If you didn't, say why you think you were not emotionally involved in any of the characters or events of the book.

(n) What do you think is the theme of the book Come Like Shadows?

(o) Was the background of the book Come Like Shadows convincing or unconvincing? Did the author seem to have done her research? Give examples.

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