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Among the best known of Shakespeare’s tragedies and a staple of secondary school curricula in many English-speaking countries, Macbeth was written c.1606, after the Scottish King James VI succeeded Elizabeth I. Based on Holinshed’s Chronicles and other early modern histories of England and Scotland, the play dramatizes the influence of supernatural creatures (the three “weird sisters”) on the ambitious Macbeth and his Lady. They rise to power by murdering benevolent King Duncan and fall due to crippling guilt and fear and their inability to quell the rebellion of thanes loyal to Malcolm, Duncan’s heir. Among the forces for good is Banquo, a legendary ancestor of King James, whose son Fleance escapes the carnage unleashed by Macbeth.

William Davenant adapted Shakespeare’s play in 1664, adding more songs and dances for the witches, as well as expanding the role of the Macduffs, especially Lady Macduff, as a counterpoint to the Macbeths. Davenant’s adaptation was an instant hit and remained the preferred version of Macbeth for over a hundred years.

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Video Gallery

Video clips of dancing from productions and adaptations of Macbeth. (See additional clips, commentaries, and production details here.).

“Double Double Toil and Trouble” from the film Macbeth, directed by Rupert Goold (2009).

“Macbeth Banquet with a Russian Dance” from the film Macbeth, directed by Rupert Goold (2009).

“The Dark Spirits of Macbeth, The Performing Arts Club of Idaho State University of Idaho Falls with Ballo Capesso (2013).

“Witches Dance from Macbeth, choreographed by Annette Goodrich, Pleasant Grove High Shakespeare Team, Utah Shakespearean Festival 2005 Ensemble Dance.

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Audio Clips

Recordings of songs that accompany dance and movement in Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Thomas Middleton’s The Witch.

“Come Away, Hecate” from Macbeth as interpreted by Ross Duffin in Shakespeare’s Songbook (2004).

“Black Spirits” from Macbeth as interpreted by Ross Duffin in Shakespeare’s Songbook (2004).

Spotify playlist of music from the Folger Theatre’s production of Davenant’s Macbeth (2018).
(Learn more about the production here.)


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Staged Dances and Textual References to Dance

Text excerpts and their act, scene, and line numbers follow Folger Digital Texts unless otherwise noted.
In-text dance references are highlighted in red, and stage directions indicating dancing are blue.
Stage directions added by modern editors are indicated by brackets [ ].

Act I, Scene 3, lines 30-38

Drum within.

THIRD WITCH: A drum, a drum!
Macbeth doth come.

ALL, [dancing in a circle]:
The Weïrd Sisters, hand in hand,
Posters of the sea and land,
Thus do go about, about,
Thrice to thine and thrice to mine
And thrice again, to make up nine.
Peace, the charm’s wound up.

Act III, Scene 5, lines 

Music and a song.

HECATE: Hark! I am called. My little spirit, see,
Sits in a foggy cloud and stays for me. [Hecate exits.]

Sing within “Come away, come away,” etc.

Act IV, Scene 1, lines 4-43

FIRST WITCH: Round about the cauldron go;
In the poisoned entrails throw.
Toad, that under cold stone
Days and nights has thirty-one
Sweltered venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i’ th’ charmèd pot.

[The Witches circle the cauldron.]

ALL: Double, double toil and trouble;
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,
Adder’s fork and blindworm’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;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

THIRD WITCH: Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,
Witch’s mummy, maw and gulf
Of the ravined salt-sea shark,
Root of hemlock digged i’ th’ dark,
Liver of blaspheming Jew,
Gall of goat and slips of yew
Slivered in the moon’s eclipse,
Nose of Turk and Tartar’s lips,
Finger of birth-strangled babe
Ditch-delivered by a drab,
Make the gruel thick and slab.
Add thereto a tiger’s chaudron
For th’ ingredience 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.

Enter Hecate [to] the other three Witches.

HECATE: O, well done! I commend your pains,
And everyone shall share i’ th’ gains.
And now about the cauldron sing
Like elves and fairies in a ring,
Enchanting all that you put in.

Music and a song: “Black Spirits,” etc. Hecate exits.

Act IV, Scene 1, lines 141-148

FIRST WITCH: Ay, sir, all this is so. But why
Stands Macbeth thus amazedly?
Come, sisters, cheer we up his sprites
And show the best of our delights.
I’ll charm the air to give a sound
While you perform your antic round,
That this great king may kindly say
Our duties did his welcome pay.

Music. The Witches dance and vanish.

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Dance References in Macbeth

Dance is not the first thing one thinks of in connection with Macbeth. Nonetheless, the earliest printed text, the Folio of 1623, contains four calls for dance, more than most comedies or romances, where dance is expected. Two occur in the scenes that include Hecate, a goddess of the moon and witchcraft, and are now generally considered additions created by—or in collaboration with—playwright Thomas Middleton for a court performance in 1609, three years after the play’s original composition.[1] Long omitted from popular editions of the play or mentioned only in the textual notes, these scenes are now sometimes included in popular editions, such as the Norton Shakespeare, which also prints the full text of the songs borrowed from Middleton’s The Witch (only the song titles appear in the Folio text).[2] In addition to the weird sisters’ unusual appearance (described by Banquo in 1.3), their gender (low-status women in a world putatively governed by warlike noblemen), and their distinctive speech rhythms,[3] both the dances that originated with Shakespeare and the later additions heighten the sisters’ theatrical power: their otherness is established kinesthetically as well as visually and aurally.

Early modern English people had definite ideas about how witches should—and did—dance. Ben Jonson, Shakespeare’s fellow playwright, explained that they “do all thinges contrary to the custome of Men, dauncing, back to back, hip to hip, theyr hands joyn’d, and making their circles backward to the left hand, with strange phantastique motions of theyr heads, and bodyes.”[4] Even if one ignores the Hecate additions, as most modern productions do, the Folio text strongly implies that the weird sisters dance in some of the ways that Jonson believed to be typical of witches: in a circle, hand in hand in 1.3 (ll.30-35) and “round about the cauldron” as they concoct their magic “broth” in 4.1 (ll.4-5 and 38). It also seems reasonable to assume, as Alan Brissenden does, that the circles would have been performed widdershins or counter-clockwise, as Jonson notes.[5]

– Linda McJannet (May 27, 2022)

Excerpts from the Introduction of Ben Jonson’s The Masque of Queenes (1609)

And because her Majestie (best knowing, that a principall part of life in these Spectacles lay in theyr variety) had commaunded mee to think on some Daunce, or shew, that might praecede hers, and have the place of a foyle, or false-Masque; I was careful to decline [afraid of varying] not only from others, but mine owne stepps in that kind, since the last yeare I had an Anti-Masque of Boyes: and therefore, now, devis’d that twelve Women, in the habits of Haggs, or Witches, systayning the persons of Ignorance, Suspicion, Credulity, &c. the opposites to good Fame, should fill that part; not as a Masque, but a spectacle of strangenesse, producing multiplicity of Gesture, and not unaptly sorting with the current, and whole fall of the Devise. (282:10-22)[6]

At which, with a strange and sodayne Musique, they fell into a magicall Daunce, full of praeposterous change, and gesticulation, but most applying to theyr property: who, at theyr meetings, do all thinges contrary to the custome of Men, dauncing, back to back, hip to hip, theyr hands joyn’d and making theyr circles backward, to the left hand, with strange phantastique motions of theyr heads, and bodyes. (301:1344-353)[7]


[1] See Stephen Greenblatt et al., eds., The Norton Shakespeare Based on the Oxford Edition (New York: W.W. Norton and Co.,1997), pp. 2555-6.

[2] See Act 3, Scene 5 and Act 4, Scene 1, and Greenblatt’s Textual Note, The Norton Shakespeare, p. 2563.

[3] Whereas most of characters speak blank verse, the witches speak in irregular fragments and conjure in trochaic tetrameter couplets, typically only seven syllables long—a literally odd number (“Éye of néwt, and tóe of fróg”).

[4] From the Introduction to Masque of Queens, quoted in Anne Daye, “Treason and Plot: the dancing witches of Macbeth and The Masque of Queens,” a paper presented at the 2018 meeting of the Dance Studies Association, University of Malta, July 5-8, 2018.

[5] Alan Brissenden, Shakespeare and the Dance (1981; rpt. Alton, Hampshire, UK: Dance Books, 2001), p. 68.

[6] From the Introduction to Masque of Queens, quoted in Stephen Orgel, The Jonsonian Masque (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1967), p. 131.

[7] From the Introduction to Masque of Queens, quoted in Orgel, The Jonsonian Masque, p. 137.

McJannet, Linda. “Dance References in Macbeth.” The Shakespeare and Dance Project, edited by Linda McJannet and Emily Winerock, 27 May 2022, Accessed [date].

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Further Reading

Beehler, Paul A. J. “Historical Nexus: Bewitching Nurses in Rupert Goold’s Visual Medium of Macbeth.” The Southern African Society for Medieval and Renaissance Studies 28 (2018).

Daye, Anne, and Jeremy Barlow. “The Shock of the New: Ben Jonson’s Antimasque of Witches 1609.” On Common Ground 4: Reconstruction and Re-creation in Dance before 1850. Dolmetsch Historical Dance Society, 2003.

Ferington, Esther. “Rediscovering a Music-Filled Macbeth.” Folger Shakespeare Library Online: Research and Discovery. September 19, 2018.

Tassi, Marguerite A. “Arrestingly Contemporary,” A review of Macbeth, dir. Rupert Goold, Lyceum Theatre, NYC, 2009, The Shakespeare Newsletter 57.4, No. 273 (Winter 2007/8): 81-2, 118-20.

Williams, Seth Stewart. “[They dance]: Collaborative Authorship and Dance in Macbeth.” In The Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare and Dance, edited by Lynsey McCulloch and Brandon Shaw, pp. 237-260. Oxford University Press, 2019.

Winkler, Amanda Eubanks. O Let Us Howle Some Heavy Note: Music for Witches, the Melancholic, and the Mad on the Seventeenth-century English Stage. Indiana University Press, 2006.

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Updated July 4, 2022.

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