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’Hover Through the Fog’: Did the Witches Fly in Early Performances of Shakespeare’s Macbeth?

By: Todd A. Borlik

Although few early modern sources credit witches with the ability to fly, this article examines the possibility that Shakespeare helped popularize this superstition and that early performances of Macbeth featured some type of crude aerial choreography. Pinpointing the date of the witches’ staged flight is not only of interest to theatre historians but also has a bearing on the controversy over the play’s authorship. Thomas Middleton’s The Witch includes prominent appearances by the same Hecate who awkwardly barges into act 3, scene 5 of Macbeth and sings two songs about aerial journeys also found in the Folio text of the Scottish play. While Middleton’s alleged revisions in 3.5 allow greater scope for aerial stage business, this does not preclude the possibility that other Shakespearean scenes originally called for vertical ascents. Zeroing in on comparable flight scenes in other Jacobean plays such as Thomas Heywood’s Brazen Age, this article considers whether ascents may have become common in early modern playhouses earlier than many theatre historians assume. Last but not least, the paper examines the significance of female flight and "weywerd-ness" as a monstrous violation of a patriarchal culture’s constriction of women within domestic space.


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