Arts & Culture News

Out, Damned Spot!: The Best Pop Culture References That Came from Macbeth

When you hear someone say "Out, damned spot!," that's from a line in Macbeth (used in endless headlines for stories about acne cures and stain removers). When you hear "there will be blood" or a reference to "the milk of human kindness" or that someone leads "a charmed life," Macbeth again. Same with "the be-all and the end-all" and "Lay on, Macduff!"

See also: ATTPAC and Shakespeare Dallas Will Perform Every Shakespeare Work Ever Over Next Five Years

William Shakespeare's shortest, bloodiest tragedy, first performed in 1611 and now running at Shakespeare Dallas for the fall production at Samuell-Grand Amphitheatre, added many colorful phrases to our language. It even has what is perhaps the first recorded "knock-knock" joke in a speech by a drunken porter that's the only bit of levity in an otherwise grisly, action-packed drama.

Here are some of the best pop culture references and usages that have arisen from "The Scottish Play."

- "Double, double, toil and trouble" and "something wicked this way comes" are both lines uttered in incantations by the three witches who appear in the opening scene of Macbeth. The Frog Choir in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban sang the entire witches' chant from the play (with music by composer John Williams). Double, Double, Toil & Trouble is the title of a movie by the Olsen Twins. "Something Wicked This Way Comes" is both the title of a 2007 episode of Ugly Betty and a novel by Ray Bradbury (that was later made into a film starring Jonathan Pryce). That phrase was also used for the name of an album by Iced Earth and a Halloween quest in the videogame Guild Wars. And who's to say the "double-double" at In-N-Out Burger wasn't inspired by it, too?

- In a classic Star Trek episode, "Catspaw," the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise beams down to the surface of the planet Pyris VII, where they are confronted by three witches who chant, "Winds shall rise/ and fog descend/ So leave here all / or meet your end." Right out of Macbeth. A later episode of this series was titled "Dagger of the Mind," another Mackers reference.

- Akira Kurosawa's great 1957 film Throne of Blood is a retelling of Macbeth set in feudal Japan.

- Men of Respectis a 1990 film that gives the story of Macbeth a modern crime drama twist. Scotland, PA is a 2001 film starring Christopher Walken (playing "Joe MacBeth) that moves the story to a modern-day fast-food restaurant. Maqbool is a 2004 movie adaptation that put it in the murky Mumbai underworld. (There have been, of course, many film versions of the Shakespeare Macbeth, including one in 1948 starring Orson Welles and a 1971 film by Roman Polanski. You can watch a full modern staging of it starring Sir Patrick Stewart that aired on PBS in 2009.)

- "Out, Out," a poem by Robert Frost, takes its title from Macbeth's final speech, in which he says "out, out, brief candle," a reference to the brevity of life itself.

- The novels The Way to Dusty Death by Alistair McLean and The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner owe their titles to lines from the play.

- David Rabe's 1984 play Hurlyburly, later a film starring Kevin Spacey and Sean Penn, takes its title from another line uttered by the witches in Macbeth.

- MacHomer is a new spoofy stage interpretation casting Homer Simpson as the ambitious Scottish king. Written by Rick Miller, who has performed the one-man show around the world, the story finds the cartoon family as royalty, with Miller impersonating all of them. MacHomer hallucinates the bloody knife as he murders Duncan (now Mr. Burns), asking afterward, "Is this a dagger that I see before me ... or a pizza?" Oh, please, Dallas theater-makers, bring us this version of Macbeth to strut and fret its hour upon a stage. The Bart v. the Bard!

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Elaine Liner
Contact: Elaine Liner