Monday, March 26, 2012

Shakespeare's Macbeth, the Star Trek and Harry Potter connection

The Star Trek connection

It was a fine day of year 1990 when local TV was broadcasting a new episode of Star Trek Next Generation: "Hide and Q". Picard and Q are discussing about the fate, nature and potential of humanity. In their dialogue Q quotes the following passage right from Shakespeare's Macbeth:

Life is 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.

At the time I didn't know it was Shakespeare and even less it was Macbeth. All I remember is that I felt it had strength and insight.

Years later, with the unstoppable reach of the internet I found out the origin of that quote and told myself I had the read Macbeth. I bought the book in 2006, started reading it but didn't finished. Six years later I would embark again in the same mission. This time around I started the book all over and finished it. I am now the happy and proud reader of one of the greatest playwrights of all time. It takes an effort the read Shakespeare's old English and altered grammatical structures, but it comes with a reward. After reading it for a while, one starts to get the gist and meaning of it, making the whole effort and enjoyable enterprise.

I felt content and satisfied when I reached Act 5, Scene 5 and finally read "Life is but a walking shadow..." not as a quote but as part of the whole text of the play, immersed in its own context. The mission was accomplished at that point.

The Harry Potter connection

One striking finding was to see in Macbeth's text the following lines:

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

That immediately triggered my memory and almost couldn't believe it. It was part of the lyrics of the song "Double Trouble" which is played in the third Harry Potter movie by the Frog Choir at the Hogwarts welcoming feast. After a little research it turned out that John Williams took the lyrics right from Macbeth's Act 4 Scene 1, where the three witches (the weird sisters) that appear from time to time meddling with Macbeth's fate, are gathered together circling a cauldron.

At first, the text sounded familiar. The unmistakably relation popped up naturally by the very end of the song:

...something wicked this way comes.

then I knew. I discovered something people already knew right after the film was released. The nicest thing is that I did it myself out of my own reading, confirming one of many things Richard Feynman always emphasized: there is pleasure in finding things out by yourself, even if it's something someone already did.