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In Act 4 of Macbeth, which ingredients make the potion?

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marvin1503 | Student, College Freshman | eNotes Newbie

Posted January 8, 2010 at 7:36 PM via web

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In Act 4 of Macbeth, which ingredients make the potion?

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coachingcorner | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted January 9, 2010 at 2:26 AM (Answer #1)

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In the play Macbeth by William Shakespeare, the witches are shown stirring a cauldron and mixing lots of horrid ingredients. Many famous critics believe that the king at the time (King James) had a fascination with witchcraft - some of the traditions came from France, Wales and Scotland. The part about the potion as you call it is relevant because it may have something to say about the state of the kingdom at the time. This is derived from the idea of 'dismemberment' (the separated body parts of animals etc.) Some critics have suggested that this reflects the breaking up of the country and clans along religious or political divides - and the chaos that could ensue when brother fights brother and clans fight those who would be king.

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted January 9, 2010 at 1:13 AM (Answer #2)

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All you have to do to get this answer for yourself is to look in the text.  You already know that it is in Act IV.  To be specific, it is in Scene 1 of that act.

The witches are using a lot of things to make their potion.  They are putting in things such as poisoned entrails and a toad that has been under a cold stone for thirty one days.  They have to put in venom.

In addition to those things that I just mentioned, there are more than twenty other ingredients.  Just look them up -- they're easy to find.

You can look at either of the links below to find the text of the passage in question.

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Noelle Thompson | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted January 23, 2010 at 8:16 AM (Answer #4)

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So many answers, and yet no list from the text yet?  Okay, then.  Here it is (followed by my own explanation):

FIRST WITCH:

Round about the cauldron go:
In the poison'd entrails throw.(5)
Toad, that under cold stone
Days and nights has thirty-one
Swelter'd venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot.

Cool it with a baboon's blood,
Then the charm is firm and good.

SECOND WITCH:

ALL:

Double, double, toil and trouble;(10)
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

SECOND WITCH:

Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,(15)
Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg and howlet's wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

ALL:

Double, double, toil and trouble;(20)
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

THIRD WITCH:

Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,
Witch's mummy, maw and gulf
Of the ravin'd salt-sea shark,
Root of hemlock digg'd i’ the dark,(25)
Liver of blaspheming Jew,
Gall of goat and slips of yew
Sliver'd in the moon's eclipse,
Nose of Turk and Tartar's lips,
Finger of birth-strangled babe(30)
Ditch-deliver'd by a drab,
Make the gruel thick and slab.
Add thereto a tiger's chaudron,
For the ingredients of our cauldron.

ALL:

Double, double, toil and trouble;(35)
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

 

The witches prance around the cauldron as they chant their spell.  First, they throw in some general poisoned guts and a toad who has been under a stone for thrity-one days acquiring a special sleeping venom.

Then they boil those for a bit before adding the fillet of a swamp snake, an eye of a newt, a toe of a frog, the fur of a bat, the tongue of a dog, the tongue of a black snake, the leg of a lizard, the wing of a baby owl.

They boil it all some more before adding the scale of a dragon, the tooth of a wolf, witch’s mummy, the stomach of a sea-shark, root of a poisoned hemlock plant that was dug up in the dark, liver of an unbaptized person, a gall bladder of a goat, pieces of poisonous evergreens removed only when the moon was eclipsing, the nose of another unbaptized person (Turk), lips of Tartar, a dead baby’s finger mothered by a prostitute in a ditch, and tiger’s entrails.

Then they boil those for a bit more before adding a baboon’s blood to seal the charm.

I totally agree with “coaching corner” that you cannot possibly get through this list without realizing that these witches were obsessed with dismemberment.  I find that incredibly ironic in that Macbeth’s head would have eventually been displayed on a spike near the London Bridge, would it not?  SO interesting.  In fact, maybe even a support for the theory that the witches were more at fault than Macbeth for the entire tragedy of the play!

Noelle Thompson

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missjenn | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Adjunct Educator

Posted January 13, 2010 at 10:38 PM (Answer #5)

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Also keep in mind several of the ingredients are phrased in a bit archaic nature. If you have access to the Oxford English Dictionary on-line through your school, it provides great definitions that were intended for Shakespeare's time.

One of those is the : Finger of birth-strangled babe, ditch delivered by a drab

It means the finger of a strangled new born baby, and the drab is a prostitute. So either it was her baby or she midwifed.

The ingredients tell you a lot about Shakespeare's time... look at the ingredients that deal directly with groups of people, such as the Turks.

 

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