February 21, 2009
Macbeth 101 for Writers
My model for fiction writing came from eighth-grade English class, when our three tormented student teachers acted out the famous witches' scene from Shakespeare's Macbeth: "Double double, toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble .... eye of newt and toe of frog, wool of bat and tongue of dog" and the other gory ingredients too repugnant to recall here. None of us ever forgot Macbeth or those three student teachers, nor the list of memorable ingredients that we delighted in reciting at lunch hour the rest of the year.
I imagine that the three student teachers were trying to teach us how to appreciate and read and analyze Shakespeare. For me, the lessons were more oblique, finding use decades later:
• don't turn your back for even a minute on twenty-five eighth-graders
• literature read aloud is has a different effect than when read silently
• if you're going to speak in public, be assertive, especially in front of dozens of kids
But the most important lesson to me as a writer was that you don't have to look far for ingredients; real life supplies an ample amount—people, things, ideas, coincidences. Then, you mix it all into a brew so well-blended that it becomes something new and original. There's the magic—all you need is the cauldron.