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Double, Double Toil and Trouble from Macbeth

‘Double, Double Toil and Trouble’ appears in the tragedy of ‘Macbeth’ by William Shakespeare. It is one of the “Song of the Witches” that appears in Act 4, Scene 1 of the play.

The Witches’ songs play a pivotal role in the plot of Macbeth. Like the first song, ‘Fair is foul and foul is fair’, “Double, double toil and trouble;/ Fire burn and cauldron bubble” appears at a critical juncture of the play. It gives a hint to the audience what is going on in Macbeth’s over-ambitious mind. Moreover, this song along with the dark setting of the stage heightens the dramatic tension inside the plot. Nowadays this song has gained popularity as one of the best children’s Halloween songs.

Double, double toil and trouble from Macbeth

 

Summary of Double, Double Toil and Trouble

‘Double, Double Toil and Trouble’ is a sensational song sung by the three witches in the play, ‘Macbeth’ by William Shakespeare. It foretells Macbeth’s state of mind before he enters into the plot.

At first reading, this song arouses a sense of fear and disturbance in the mind. The three witches, one of the strategic dramatic devices used by Shakespeare in ‘Macbeth’, sing this song while making a potion to call the dark forces. This song introduces the ingredients that the witches are using to make this potion in their cauldron. Each element brings disturbance into the scene. Alongside that, those elements also act as symbols. However, the witches use the fillet of a fenny snake, newt’s eye, frog’s toe, bat’s wool, dog’s tongue, adder’s fork, blind-worm’s sting, lizard’s leg, and owlet’s wing to make this potion. In the second phase, they add some similar ingredients that, ironically, strengthen the dark-integrity of the solution.

 

Context of Double, Double Toil and Trouble

This song of the witches, ‘Double, Double Toil and Trouble’, appears in Act 4, Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’. In the previous acts of the play, Macbeth has killed both the king, Duncan, and his friend Banquo for the lust for power. After committing such sinful acts, he is still restless and anxious. For this reason, he seeks the witches’ help. In Act 3, Scene 5, Macbeth has already met the three sisters after killing Banquo. There he has gotten some hints about future events. For this reason, that encounter has incited some questions in his heart that he badly needs the answer of. Hence, he visits the witches again in this scene. Before he appears in the scene, the three witches are seen preparing the dark potion that will help Macbeth in knowing more about the future.

 

Structure of Double, Double Toil and Trouble

This Witches’ song has a total of three movements. While making the dark-solution to call the spirit of Hecate and others, they sing this song. Firstly, the song begins with the introduction of the preliminary ingredients. Then the three sisters sing together, “Double, double toil and trouble …” It signifies that the first step is done and now they can shift to the next step. Thereafter they add a few more to the broth and sing in chorus the line mentioned above. While they sing together, readers can understand that they are stirring the solution to mix up the elements. In the last phase, they add more and the song ends with the chorus. Moreover, the overall song contains rhyming couplets. To create an internal rhythm, Shakespeare uses repetition of consonant and vowel sounds. Moreover, the song is composed in the trochaic tetrameter.

 

Literary Devices in Double, Double Toil and Trouble

There are several literary devices in this song. In “Double, Double Toil and Trouble“, Shakespeare uses a palilogy. Apart from that, there is a repetition of the “d” sound and the “t” sound. These are examples of alliteration. In the first section of the song, there is a personification in the line, “Round about the cauldron go.” Thereafter, in “charmed pot” the playwright uses a metaphor. In the chorus, there are several repetitions of sounds. Mostly, the “b” sound that gets repeated, resonates in the reader’s mind. It produces an image of something boiling in a pot. However, the repetition of consonant sounds is also known as consonance. The first part of the song ends with a metaphor in “a charm of powerful trouble” and a simile in “Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.”

In the second part, similarly, there are several repetitions of sounds that help in creating an internal rhyming. However, the song ends with irony.

 

Analysis of Double, Double Toil and Trouble

Section One

First Witch

Round about the cauldron go;

In the poison’d entrails throw.

Toad, that under cold stone

Days and nights has thirty-one

Swelter’d venom sleeping got,

Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot.

ALL

Double, double toil and trouble;

Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

In Act 4 Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’, the audience can see a cavern. The middle of the stage shows a boiling cauldron. A cauldron is a big pot that is used for boiling something. Thereafter, with the sound of the thunder, the three witches enter the stage. The sound effect along with the setting of the stage depicts that something eerie is going to happen. Even what the witches say on stage is clouded with terror and sensationalism.

After gathering on the stage, they start singing the song and add some ingredients into the boiling pot. The first witch is seen stirring the mixture. She says that first, they have to add a toad. This toad has to be a poisonous one and should be sleeping thirty-one days and nights under the cold stone. It should be oozing poison from its pores. After the description of the toad, they add it in the cauldron and start to sing together, “Double, double toil and trouble;/ Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.”

It is important to mention here that the boiling cauldron is a metaphor for Macbeth’s mind. At that critical juncture of the play, his mind is flooded with dark and troublesome thoughts. Moreover, when the witches say, “Fire burn”, they mean the fire of Macbeth’s dark desires. The more it burns inside his heart the more his mind bubble like hot broth.

 

Section Two

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,

Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,

Lizard’s leg and owlet’s wing,

For a charm of powerful trouble,

Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

ALL

Double, double toil and trouble;

Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

In the second section of ‘Double, Double Toil and Trouble’, the second witch adds some disturbing elements to the potion. These are fillet of a swamp snake, newt’s eye, frog’s toe, bat’s wool, dog’s tongue, adder’s forked tongue, blind-worm’s sting, lizard’s leg, and owlet’s wing. Such ingredients, according to the second witch, enhances the charm of the powerful solution. Here, she compares it with the “hell-broth”. It’s another metaphor for Macbeth’s mind. Here, Shakespeare says that hell doesn’t exist outside. It exists inside a person’s mind. In Macbeth’s case, his sinful activities turn his mind into a “hell-broth”.

Thereafter, they again sing together and emphasizes how the psychological turmoil of Macbeth is doubling gradually. As long as the fire is burning, it will never come to an end.

 

Section Three

Third Witch

Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,

Witches’ mummy, maw and gulf

Of the ravin’d salt-sea shark,

Root of hemlock digg’d i’ the dark,

Liver of blaspheming Jew,

Gall of goat, and slips of yew

Silver’d in the moon’s eclipse,

Nose of Turk and Tartar’s lips,

Finger of birth-strangled babe

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;

Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Second Witch

Cool it with a baboon’s blood,

Then the charm is firm and good.

In the third section of the witches’ song, the third witch takes the lead. She sings and adds the following ingredients to the pot. These are a dragon’s scale, wolf’s tooth, witches’ mummy, and the gullet and stomach of a shark. Moreover, they have to add a root of hemlock that was dug up in the dark. Along with that, they must add a Jew’s liver, a goat’s bile, a few twigs of yew broken off during a lunar eclipse, a Turk’s nose, and a Tartar’s lips. The last element disturbingly enhances the sensationalism of the scene. It is the finger of a baby that was strangled as a prostitute gave birth to it in a ditch.

After adding these elements, she says they have to thicken the gruel until it becomes gluey. For quickening the process, she adds a “tiger’s chaudron” or its entrails to the mixture. Thereafter, they stir the potion and sing, “Double, double toil and trouble;/ Fire burn and cauldron bubble.” However, at the end of the song, the second witch talks about cooling the mixture with a baboon’s blood. As it enhances the charm of the potion.

 

Historical Context

The witches and their mysterious activities in ‘Macbeth’ may seem absurd at times. But their remarks add a different texture to the plot of the play. In the beginning, the witches create a tense and gloomy atmosphere that sustains till the end. Shakespeare uses them as a dramatic device and inserts them in critical situations. As an example, in the drama, Macbeth can’t show what is the actual state of his mind. Hence, the playwright shows it through the remarks and activities of the three witches. In Act 4, Scene 1, the song, ‘Double, Double Toil and Trouble’ serves this purpose. Apart from that, at the time when Shakespeare was writing this play, people believed in magic, witchcraft, and spirits. Thus the presence of witches and ghosts inside the play was not absurd for the audience of Shakespeare’s time.

 

Similar Poetry

In William Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’, there are several sections that heighten the dramatic integrity and intensity as well. As an example, the following soliloquies of Macbeth give readers some clues to understand the character better.

Apart from that, the following poems are similar to the sensationalism and horrific imagery present in the witches’ song, ‘Double, Double Toil and Trouble’.

You can read about 10 of the Scariest Poems here and 10 of the Best Gothic Poems here.

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Sudip Das Gupta
About
A complete expert on poetry, Sudip graduated with a first-class B.A. Honors Degree in English Literature. He has a passion for analyzing poetic works with a particular emphasis on literary devices and scansion.
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