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Double, Double Toil & Trouble Speech in Macbeth

Margaret Stone, Shamekia Thomas
  • Author
    Margaret Stone

    Margaret has taught both college and high school English and has a master's degree in English from Mississippi State University. She holds a Mississippi AA Educator License.

  • Instructor
    Shamekia Thomas

    Shamekia has taught English at the secondary level and has her doctoral degree in clinical psychology.

Learn about the "Double, Double Toil and Trouble" quote, one of the most famous speeches from Shakespeare's Macbeth, and the significance it has for the play. Updated: 08/18/2021

Double Double Toil and Trouble Quote:

One of the most well-known passages in William Shakespeare's Macbeth is the "Double double toil and trouble" quote. It appears in Act IV scene 1 of the play. Long before their appearance in Act IV, however, the witches, also known as the weird sisters, have played an integral role in Macbeth. In the opening act of the play, they participate in a witch's Sabbath. When they encounter Macbeth, they present him with the possibilities of political advancement. When the first of their predictions comes true, namely that Macbeth will become Thane of Cawdor, he is all too willing to accept their words as truth. Naturally, he wants their predictions to be true because the witches describe everything Macbeth desires.

Macbeth meets the witches.

Macbeth meets the witches.

The truth is, however, that Macbeth must commit bloody acts in his rise to power. The witches' spells and predictions have not really changed anything; they simply present Macbeth with some tempting choices, which he is all too happy to accept. At one point, the witches predict that Macbeth will become Thane of Fife, but they also predict a line of kings issuing from Macbeth's friend Banquo. Once he conspires with his wife to kill the king and assume the throne, he continually returns to the witches for additional predictions. The witches' prediction that he would become king has come true, so Macbeth now fully believes in their ability to predict the future.

In the "double, double toil and trouble" passage, the witches chant as they add ingredients to their cauldron to make a spell. The three witches, who speak both individually and together in the passage, gather in a cavern around a bubbling cauldron. Ominous thunder booms in the distance.

First Witch:

Thrice the brinded cat hath mew'd.

Second Witch:

Thrice and once the hedge-pig whined.

Third Witch:

Harpier cries 'Tis time, 'tis time.

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.

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.

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.

Another witch named Hecate joins the three witches at the cauldron.

HECATE:

O well done! I commend your pains;

And every one shall share i' the gains;

And now about the cauldron sing,

Live elves and fairies in a ring,

Enchanting all that you put in.

The group sings, and Hecate leaves after the song.

Second Witch:

By the pricking of my thumbs,

Something wicked this way comes.

Open, locks,

Whoever knocks!

Macbeth enters.

This speech is particularly significant because it actually works as a curse on Macbeth. The witches stir the cauldron to wind up or activate the charm as they summon more and more trouble for Macbeth. But the phrase is also a warning that their words sometimes have double meanings. Shakespeare's Macbeth is known for its doubling. In fact, it is such a significant part of the play that some form of the word "double" appears thirteen times in Macbeth. For example, Lady Macbeth prepares for Duncan's stay at Macbeth's castle, saying, "All our service/In every point twice done, and then done double." When Duncan visits Macbeth's castle, Macbeth says, "He's here in double trust." As Macbeth's guest and king, Duncan feels safe because of this "double trust." Of course, he is unaware that both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are plotting to kill him.

Macbeth Witches Spell:

Throughout the play, the witches serve as a reminder of one of the major themes in Macbeth. They highlight the conflict between appearance and reality. The witches use ambiguous language in their meetings with Macbeth, and none of their forecasts are actually as positive as they sound. Macbeth, however, only interprets the witches' predictions in the most favorable light. He never considers the negative implications of the witches' ambiguous prophecies. Macbeth chooses his own fate, and the witches make it appear that he will obtain exactly what he wishes for.

With the passage "double, double toil and trouble," Shakespeare shows the witches at work once again. Just as they complete this chant, Macbeth appears and asks for more of their prophecies. This time, the witches call forth apparitions to deliver the predictions.

The Witches in Macbeth

Three of the most pivotal characters in the play Macbeth are the witches, who serve in many ways as one character. Throughout the play, the witches, also known as the weird sisters, tempt Macbeth to behave in evil ways. At the beginning of the play, the three witches predict and tell Macbeth that he will one day become king. Because of their prophecy, Macbeth and his wife decide to kill the king in order to make the prediction come true. After Macbeth is crowned king, he returns to the witches several times to have them predict the rest of his future.

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Analysis of Lines

At the beginning of Act IV, the three witches chant 'double, double toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble' while stirring a cauldron and casting a magic spell (Act IV, Scene I, Lines 10-11). These lines serve as a reminder that their speech is full of double meanings and contradictions. Some of the major characters in the story, including Malcolm, Macduff, and Lady Macbeth, can be seen as foils or doubles for Macbeth. At times, Lady Macbeth takes on Macbeth's role, especially when she takes on the guilt Macbeth should have had for his behavior.

Another form of doubling involves the use of disguises. While planning the murder of King Duncan, Lady Macbeth suggests that Macbeth 'look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent' (Act I, Scene V, Line 61). She suggests that Macbeth appear loyal to King Duncan while in pursuit of his kingdom. Macbeth also states that men must 'make (their) faces visors to (their) hearts, disguising what they are' (Act III, Scene II, Lines 35-36). Even when Malcolm wanted to test the loyalty of Macduff, he pretended that he would be a terrible king in order to test Macduff's loyalty to him and his kingdom. Being disguised and hiding your true motive seemed to be the only way many characters in the play thought they could achieve their goals.

Shortly after the three witches cast their spell and say 'double, double toil and trouble,' Macbeth enters to inquire about his future. The three witches tell Macbeth about a number of things he should be concerned about. First, they warn him to beware of the Thane of Fife (Macduff). They also tell him that 'none of woman born shall harm' him (Act IV, Scene 1, Lines 96-97). Macbeth becomes hopeful when he hears this because he believes it is impossible for anyone to not be born from a woman.

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Video Transcript

The Witches in Macbeth

Three of the most pivotal characters in the play Macbeth are the witches, who serve in many ways as one character. Throughout the play, the witches, also known as the weird sisters, tempt Macbeth to behave in evil ways. At the beginning of the play, the three witches predict and tell Macbeth that he will one day become king. Because of their prophecy, Macbeth and his wife decide to kill the king in order to make the prediction come true. After Macbeth is crowned king, he returns to the witches several times to have them predict the rest of his future.

Analysis of Lines

At the beginning of Act IV, the three witches chant 'double, double toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble' while stirring a cauldron and casting a magic spell (Act IV, Scene I, Lines 10-11). These lines serve as a reminder that their speech is full of double meanings and contradictions. Some of the major characters in the story, including Malcolm, Macduff, and Lady Macbeth, can be seen as foils or doubles for Macbeth. At times, Lady Macbeth takes on Macbeth's role, especially when she takes on the guilt Macbeth should have had for his behavior.

Another form of doubling involves the use of disguises. While planning the murder of King Duncan, Lady Macbeth suggests that Macbeth 'look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent' (Act I, Scene V, Line 61). She suggests that Macbeth appear loyal to King Duncan while in pursuit of his kingdom. Macbeth also states that men must 'make (their) faces visors to (their) hearts, disguising what they are' (Act III, Scene II, Lines 35-36). Even when Malcolm wanted to test the loyalty of Macduff, he pretended that he would be a terrible king in order to test Macduff's loyalty to him and his kingdom. Being disguised and hiding your true motive seemed to be the only way many characters in the play thought they could achieve their goals.

Shortly after the three witches cast their spell and say 'double, double toil and trouble,' Macbeth enters to inquire about his future. The three witches tell Macbeth about a number of things he should be concerned about. First, they warn him to beware of the Thane of Fife (Macduff). They also tell him that 'none of woman born shall harm' him (Act IV, Scene 1, Lines 96-97). Macbeth becomes hopeful when he hears this because he believes it is impossible for anyone to not be born from a woman.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Why do the witches say double double toil and trouble?

They are casting a spell and admitting that there is duplicity in the things they say. Much of what they say has a double meaning.

What is the famous quote that the witches say when they are making their stew?

"Double, double toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble." This is the well-known refrain in the witches' speech. They chant these words as they throw various ingredients into a bubbling cauldron.

What does Double Double Toil and Trouble mean in Macbeth?

Double, double toil and trouble can refer to the witches' equivocation, or use of double meanings to obscure the truth. It can also be read as a curse upon Macbeth.

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