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Notable Notes |

The Witches of Macbeth

Valencia Long, MBBS1; Leonard J. Hoenig, MD2
[+] Author Affiliations
1National University Hospital, Singapore
2private practice
JAMA Dermatol. 2016;152(7):767. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2015.5543.
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It has been 400 years since the passing of William Shakespeare (1564-1616), yet his plays continue to be performed and enjoyed worldwide. This Notable Note pays tribute to the great English playwright, as it takes a dermatologic look at 3 of Shakespeare’s most colorful characters: the Witches of Macbeth.

For his historical reference on Macbeth, Shakespeare relied on Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland. Holinshed related how Macbeth met “three women in strange and wild apparel” who prophesized about his impending rise to power in Scotland.1 In Macbeth, Shakespeare greatly embellished Holinshed’s account of the 3 women by adding scenes of witchcraft and by giving them a most startling appearance. They are described as being “withered,” with “choppy,” meaning chapped, fingers and having “skinny lips.” Most strikingly, Shakespeare gave the Witches beards (Act I, Scene iii).

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