Misquoted Shakespeare: “Bubble, Bubble Toil and Trouble”

I have more than one friend who likes to stir a pot of whatever they are cooking and say in a witchy voice: “Bubble bubble, toil and trouble…”

At times – usually when it is someone I don’t know well – I choose to be diplomatic and just let them go. They’re having fun. 

When it’s a friend who I know will not be offended, I have told them gently what the correct line is, and given them a few extra lines to use when the family asks, “What’s for dinner?” “Eye of newt and toe of frog” is a family favourite in my own kitchen, with “fillet of a fenny snake” a close second.

When I asked one of them if she knew she was quoting Ducktales, not Shakespeare, she took it in her stride and immediately switched to a voice that sounded almost exactly like Donald Duck. It was most impressive, and I should have been less surprised by that given that we’ve done theatre together. 

Still, it is a quote that people do get wrong.

In the opening scene of Macbeth, he witches actually say “Double, double, toil and trouble, / Fire burn and cauldron bubble”  as the refrain of their song about making a potion in the cauldron in the centre of the stage. 

My favourite opening scene among all Shakespeare’s plays, this is a passage that is super cool and super creepy at the same time. Despite the fact that the witches are brewing something potent, the song concludes with a witch declaring that “something wicked comes” when Macbeth enters. It’s a powerful statement of how dark and deadly the central character of the play will turn out to be. 

You can read the entire scene here.

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