Pratchett takes a jab at Shakespeare's classics

Wyrd Sisters  - Terry Pratchett, Tony Robinson

Well, here I am writing a commentary on Wyrd Sisters on Halloween. Okay, this book isn't about Halloween, but the three main characters are witches, and there are a lot of ghosts in this book as well, so it seems that it is quite ironic that I am writing about it now. Not that I particularly subscribe to Halloween though, since it is an American holiday, though that is a bit of a technicality since it is really only in America that its modern form has taken shape (and unfortunately it is being exported here to Australia). Everybody likes that phrase 'only in America' since there is a belief that everything weird and strange comes from America. Mind you, in the 1st century AD, Tacitus wrote that everything weird and strange ends up in Rome.

Anyway, Halloween is not traditionally an America holiday, but rather Catholic holiday that has been celebrated in Europe for centuries, though not in the form that it is celebrated now. Halloween was originally All Hallow's Eve, the night before All Saint's Day. The idea (I believe, and I am not an expert, and I'm not going to look it up on Wikipedia because I can't be bothered) is that it is the night when all of the bad and nasty things of the spirit world are let loose before the saints come along and deal with them. Mind you, All Saint's Day is hardly the holiest day of the Christian Calendar, but it is still up there.

Okay, enough of Halloween and let us consider Wyrd Sisters. This play is sort of a cross between Macbeth and Hamlet, Terry Pratchett style. The Hamlet aspect involve the ghosts and the players, while the Macbeth aspect deals with the usurption of the throne by an envious duke who is egged on by his ambitious wife. Okay, Hamlet also involved somebody usurping the throne, but he was not egged on by his wife. The bloody hands that play such a significant role in Macbeth is brought out here by Pratchett in much the same way, though the odd thing is that he tells us numerous times throughout the book that it is quite natural for a king to be usurped. However, this case is different, and in a way it has something to do with the king not wanting to be king.

The idea of power plays out a lot in this book. The usurption in a way is about power, but in a way it is not. Even though he is king, he isn't really king of all that much. Basically a small kingdom that is little more than a bunch of mountains that produce very little. There is also the idea that he hates the kingdom. Okay, we are told that kings generally are not nice people, however this king goes overboard in that he hates the kingdom, and it shows. However the only people that could do anything about it can't, and won't: the witches.

The witches in Pratchett are quite interesting characters. As we learned from Equal Rites, witches use a power called headology. All of the witches power comes from people believing that they are powerful, and because of this belief they treat them as powerful. When the king attempts to tax them, and the guards go to collect the taxes, the guards are already on edge, and the witches simply have to make a couple of moves and the guards flee in panic. However, in this book there is a battle of wits. The witches only have power because people believe they have power, and as soon as somebody stands up to them, and does not back away, that power is broken.

The theatre plays a significant role in this book (I keep on wanting to call it a play) and it is interesting that Pratchett generally tells us everything he wants to portray. There is really none of this analogy of guessing that we have in other books. If he wants us to see that theatre is a mirror that is held up to reality, he tells us that that is what it is. There is also the idea of destiny, and as he says, destiny has this annoying habit of sending you in a direction you do not want to go. There is a dwarf who becomes a playwright but while he is a dwarf, he does not act like a dwarf. There is an heir to a throne who does not want to be an heir to a throne, and his ability to be an heir is only as good as his acting ability allows. There is also the fool who doesn't want to be a fool and is only a fool because he was told to be a fool.

Now, the fool is a very important character, and this is something that is also very Shakespearian. In fact, this book is a parody of everything Shakespeare. In Shakespeare, the fool takes the role of the person who can tell a king what his problem is without having to worry about having his head removed from his body. However, this fool is vastly different. In fact he is the antithesis of the Shakespearian fool in that he cannot tell the king the truth, because if he does, he is in trouble, so he spends the entire book telling the king the opposite of the truth, namely that he wasn't at the top of the stairs, and he did not stab the previous king with a dagger.

This is done to emphasise the king's guilt, something that plays on him through the story. This, once again, is the opposite of Shakespeare. In Macbeth, it is not the usurper who is guilty, but the usurper's wife. Okay, Macbeth is incredibly paranoid, but the blood is on the wife's hands ('out, out, damn spot'). Here the wife is guilt free, and it is the king who is stained by guilt, and the guilt also gives rise to his paranoia, to the point that he must surround himself with a fool, and orchestrate a play to convince himself that the lie is in fact the truth.

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/441921105