Macbeth’s Red Letter Day

In Act IV, Scene I, Shakespeare is referring to a red letter day (any day of special significance) when Macbeth states, “… Let this pernicious hour stand aye accursed in the calendar!” (149 – 150).* Macbeth is referring to the news from the witches that tell him of eight kings descended from Banquo (instead of Macbeth.) The witches tell Macbeth many things that he cannot understand; yet, the witches are telling Macbeth the truth…

The witches are the key to determining Macbeth’s path; carefully read all the things that they tell Macbeth and say in his presence. Also, bear in mind that Elizabethans were extremely superstitious; having witches “talk” to you in a play would have been accepted. It is important to contrast acceptance with “suspended disbelief.” Americans go to science fiction films and enjoy them because they watch the film with “suspended disbelief.” Elizabethans would have attended Macbeth and accepted the witches as a rather commonplace event.

“Red Letter Day” originates from Medieval church calendars. Illuminated manuscripts often marked initial capitals and highlighted words in red ink, known as rubrics. In 325 C.E., “The First Council of Nicaea” decreed the saint’s days, feasts and other holy days, which came to be printed on church calendars in red. In 1549, the term came into wider usage with the appearance of England’s first Book of Common Prayer in which the calendar showed special holy days in red ink. Many modern calendars continue the tradition with special dates and holidays such as Sundays and Christmas Day printed in red.

In the movie Aladdin, Princess Jasmine sings the lyrics “…every moment red letter…” in the song A Whole New World referring to her time with Aladdin on the Magic carpet as being extremely special and important.

*[amazon_link id=”0199267170″ target=”_blank” ]The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, 2nd Edition[/amazon_link] edited by John Jowett, William Montgomery, Gary Taylor, and Stanley Wells © Oxford University Press 1986, 2005.


Attention Students: to cite this web article in the current MLA-style, please use the example below.

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English literature students most commonly use the Modern Language Association’s (MLA) style to write their papers. This citation reflects the [amazon_link id=”1603290249″ target=”_blank” ]MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th edition[/amazon_link] and/or the [amazon_link id=”0873522974″ target=”_blank” ]MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing, 3rd edition[/amazon_link]. For additional information, I recommend a free online writing lab from Purdue University: “The Purdue OWL” which has current, credible information and reliable examples.

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