A Shakespeare Halloween guide: What to watch, listen to, read—and wear

We’ve put together a Shakespeare Halloween guide for you this year, with ideas for Halloween costumes and recommendations for what to watch, listen to, and read. Happy Halloween!

Snug as the Lion
Megan Graves as Snug (Lion) in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Folger Theatre, 2016. Costume design by Devon Painter. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Find a Halloween costume

Whether it’s in-person or virtual, what’s Halloween without a little dress-up?

In past years on Shakespeare & Beyond we’ve shared ideas for Halloween costumes based on Shakespeare characters, matched with photos from Folger Theatre productions of the plays for a little extra inspiration:

Macbeth with a dagger
Ian Merrill Peakes (Macbeth), Macbeth, 2008. Carol Pratt.

Watch Macbeth

“Double, double toil and trouble; / Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.” Is there a more fitting Shakespeare play for Halloween than Macbeth?

Shakespeare’s chilling Scottish tragedy is realized by Emmy-winning magician Teller (of Penn & Teller) and Helen Hayes Award-winning director Aaron Posner as a show brimming with magic, mayhem, and madness.

“Our premise is that Macbeth is Shakespeare’s supernatural horror thriller, and should be done as violently and amazingly as a modern supernatural horror movie,” wrote Teller.

Watch the full two-hour performance, recorded when it was onstage at Folger Theatre in a 2008 co-production with Two River Theater Company, available for free on YouTube. There are also eight special features that include interviews with the cast and creative team. Don’t miss the behind-the-scenes look at how stage blood is used to create a “horror show” atmosphere.

Witches in Macbeth
Andrew Zox, Cleo House, Jr., and Eric Hissom (The Weird Sisters), Macbeth, conceived and directed by Teller and Aaron Posner, Folger Theatre in a co-production with Two River Theater Company, 2008. Photo by Carol Pratt.

Listen to podcast episodes about magic and witches

Add these two episodes from the Folger’s Shakespeare Unlimited podcast to your listening queue:

Teller: Shakespeare and magic
In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the magician Prospero conjures up a storm, charms his daughter to sleep, and uses his power to control Ariel and other spirits. Is this magic for real, or is Prospero pulling off elaborate illusions? Teller goes deeper into Shakespeare and magic on this podcast episode.

Deborah Harkness
Author Deborah Harkness, whose novel A Discovery of Witches is the first book of her All Souls Trilogy, got the idea for her story from her real-life experience at Oxford University’s Bodleian Library stumbling across a long-lost manuscript treatise on magic that once belonged to Elizabethan scientist and occult philosopher John Dee. On this podcast episode she discusses how her research influenced her fiction writing and about how witches, demons, and the supernatural were perceived in Shakespeare’s England.

Read about early modern views on witchcraft and magic

Explore related blog posts on Shakespeare & Beyond:

A kitchen connection
“The kind of knowledge that early modern women kept in their recipe books was also used against them by those who accused them of witchcraft.”

Possets as potions
“These possets blur the lines between a medicine that is health-giving and something akin to witchcraft, never quite settling on one or the other.”

Cats and witchcraft
“… a close association with cats could be seen as one among many signs of witchcraft, as could toads, rats, and other small animals. In several witchcraft treatises of the period, women are even accused of turning into black cats.”

A manual for witch-hunters
“The first part set out the argument that witchcraft was in fact real and was a way for the Devil to gain power, and emphasized the importance of identifying and arresting practitioners of witchcraft. Part two explained the wrongdoings that witches might commit (such as calling up hailstorms or transforming humans into wild beasts), and part three laid out methods for imprisoning, questioning, and passing sentence upon suspected witches.”

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