The famous song ‘Double Trouble’ from the movie adaptation of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, composed by John Williams, gets its lyrics from Shakespeare’s iconic play – Macbeth (1606). When these two great works full of magic and mayhem are brought together, the “trouble” is bound to get “doubled” and the parallels between them become apparent.
The chorus of ‘Double Trouble’ – “Double, double, toil and trouble; / Fire burn and cauldron bubble” (Macbeth 4.1.10-11) – are famous lines from Macbeth, chanted thrice in a chorus by the three witches known as the “Weird Sisters” while they brew “a charm of powerful trouble” (Act IV Scene 1), and immediately bring to attention the correlation between Harry Potter and Macbeth. These lines, sung on the first day of school in the third Harry Potter movie, create the sinister image of trouble brewing in and around Hogwarts castle and an expectancy of a hard and eventful year ahead/ convey ominous portents for the year ahead.
There are not a lot of songs in the Harry Potter movies, and ‘Double Trouble’, absent in the book, appears at a very crucial point in the movie series. Prisoner of Azkaban carries a darker mood as compared to the first two movies. The lines, “In the cauldron, boil and bake/ Fillet of a fenny snake/ Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf/ Witch’s mummy, maw and gulf” (Macbeth 4.1.13,12, 22-23) play against the eerie scene of the self-pulling carriages in a rain-soaked night, immediately after Harry’s encounter with a dementor on the Hogwarts Express. This stanza, with its mention of “snake”, “dragon”, “wolf” and “witch’s mummy”, conveys a much grimmer image as compared to the stanza “Eye of newt and toe of frog/ Wool of bat and tongue of dog, Adder’s head and blind-worm’s sting/ Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing” (Macbeth 4.1.14-17), which simply appear to be the ingredients of a potion, and the latter lines are not a part of the movie version of the song. Shakespeare’s Macbeth too has a dark setting, and the scene of the witches around the cauldron, from where the lyrics have been taken, happens at twilight. The closing line “Something wicked this way comes” (Macbeth 4.1.45) while referring to Macbeth in Shakespeare’s play, indicates an important change in the Harry Potter movie as it is in The Prisoner of Azkaban that Peter Pettigrew – the “something wicked” – reveals himself and escapes, thus setting off the chain of events leading to Voldemort’s return, though initially one might think it points to Sirius Black, then considered the most dangerous wizard after Voldemort, who is supposedly travelling to Hogwarts in order to kill Harry. It may also point to the dementors stationed around the school.
Coming to the cultural influences of Shakespeare’s play, members of the Frog Choir hold frogs and ravens – creatures shown as witches’ familiars in Macbeth – while singing ‘Double Trouble’. In both the works, the magical folk are hidden from, and not a part of, the larger, non-magic world. They live on the margins of society and are generally not accepted by non-magic people. An important difference, however, is that in Macbeth, the witches cannot directly influence the larger world, they satisfy themselves with causing petty trouble, whereas in Harry Potter witches and wizards control the chain of events without letting the Muggles know.
Another point of interest is the representation of the idea of motherhood in the two works. In the scene from where the lyrics of ‘Double Trouble’ are taken, the witches are brewing “a charm of powerful trouble” and the ingredients, apart from those mentioned in the song, also include “Finger of birth-strangled babe/ Ditch delivered by a drab” (4.1.30-31) and “sow’s blood that hath eaten/ Her nine farrow”(4.1.63-64). These images of destructive motherhood are used to cause “trouble”. In Harry Potter we find the answer to such dark magic – it can be countered and defeated by positive motherhood represented by Lily’s sacrifice to save Harry or Molly Weasley killing Bellatrix Lestrange when she felt her children threatened.
There are certain similarities even between the characters of Macbeth and Voldemort – both try to control prophecy and it leads to their doom. Voldemort, who was told to beware the child born at the close of July to parents who had thrice defied him, by trying to kill Harry, marks him as the Chosen One and provides Harry the power to defeat him. Macbeth, who was told to beware of Macduff, by murdering Macduff’s wife and children, sets him on the path of revenge and strengthens his resolve to kill Macbeth. J.K. Rowling writes about prophecy, “prophecy (like the one the witches make to Macbeth…) becomes the catalyst for a situation that would never have occured if it had not been made.” Both characters have incomplete knowledge of prophecy and act in ignorance. Voldemort thinks he controls Severus Snape, the wizard who gave him the prophecy, whereas Snape deceives him and works against him. In a way, Snape directs Voldemort’s actions by misinforming or partially informing him. For example, he tells the Dark Lord the correct date and time Harry would be moved out of Privet Drive in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows but does not reveal the plan of the Seven Potters, which he himself had formulated. In Macbeth, too, the witches speak in riddles and partially inform Macbeth. His statement, “I conjure you” (4.1.49), shows that he thinks he has conjured the witches and controls them, but he himself misinterprets the prophecy and acts according to the witches’ wishes. In both the works it remains true that evil and selfish motives cannot breed loyalty. Macbeth’s followers are those who are tied to him or those whom he has bought. In Harry Potter, the deatheaters support Voldemort either due to fear or because of their selfish desire for power; most of them start fleeing when they see that the Dark Lord’s defeat is inevitable.
The redeeming factor for Macbeth is that he understands love to a certain degree – he loves at least Lady Macbeth – realises his mistakes, and accepts death in the end, choosing to die fighting like a warrior. Voldemort, however, never understands love, he thinks it weakens people. He does not repent even when given the chance by Harry in The Deathly Hallows. He seeks immortality and fears death so much that Voldemort’s boggart would be his own corpse. Therefore, the former comes out as a tragic hero with whom one can sympathise towards the end while the latter remains an antagonist whose death is rejoiced at, there is no chance of liberation for him. In both cases, however, their deaths are necessary, to restore order.
Parallels between Harry Potter and Macbeth are perhaps inevitable, because Rowling says in an interview, “I absolutely adore Macbeth. It is possibly my favourite Shakespeare play.” This influence adds to Harry Potter and makes it richer and more engaging.
Contributed by: Saumya Mittal, a student of English literature and Harry Potter expert