Three’s Company I As You Like It

I’m in the process of reading ‘The Weird Sisters’ by Eleanor Brown; and, while the review will come along in the next weeks, it’s got me thinking about threes. I’ll do a quick sidebar here and say that I recommend the book wholeheartedly to anyone who likes quoting Shakespeare, has a sibling, or who enjoys witty banter. I’ve loved reading it so far and can’t wait to see how it ends. But back to the power of three.


I’ll start off with the obvious. The Holy Trinity, the primary colours, the three musketeers, triangles, and pyramids. But there are some not-so-obvious ones, too: the rule of thirds, Celtic knots, the three bells, the three-inch hem rule. There’s a lot to say for each, and Shakespeare gets in on the action. His plays are filled with groups of threes; all balanced, exciting and ever-mysterious.


In Macbeth; we have the three weird sisters, their three prophesies, and Macbeth’s three (major) crimes to ascend the throne. In Much Ado About Nothing; we have the three bachelors, the three courted ladies, and the three deceptions. In Love’s Labour’s Lost, we have the ladies and lords trifecta again. In Hamlet we have the three murder attempts, the three royal men, and the three friends. I could go on, but I’m sure you can connect the dots. Shakespeare jumped on the three bandwagon like a cat on a mouse.


But why? Why all the threes? Would not two or four have been equally balanced? Wouldn’t they be just as dramatic? William Shakespeare purposely chose to use groups of threes in his plays. But why? Were three’s symbolic in Shakespeare’s time? Was it religious motivation, patron preferences, or a balance? The truth is, we may never know all of the reasons Shakespeare gives us helpings in threes. However; we can certainly speculate on some of the reasons. Check out this coming Thursday’s article for reasons of three.





Author Catherine Spence

A Shakespeare-loving, Toronto-based bibliophile. Loves music, art, history, classical texts, languages, food, and performance. Dislikes frozen peas. Attended Regent's University London.

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