26 VIII 1773
4 IX 2013


When the rain beat down on them, at wild Monboddo, Johnson quoted the witches scene. In his Dictionary, he colours the definition for ‘journey’ with more Macbeth, as if foretelling the journey he and Boswell would make one day, over the heath.

“When Duncan is asleep,
Whereto the rather shall this day’s hard journey
Soundly invite him.”

Hereabouts place names and maps are not to be trusted. The Rodney Stone predated the eponymic Admiral, and the upside-down initials on its cross-side, by centuries. Renamed, reused, recategorized, it belongs to an alignment far from Brodie Castle. Macbeth was Thane of Caithness, not Cawdor. Those weird sisters we know as ‘the witches’ are never so titled in the play. Boswell writes that, east of Forres, “we drove over the very heath where Macbeth met the witches”; but the hillock lies to the west of the town. And yet…

To an Englishman –
“classic ground”

Johnson accepted the attribution of the wilds of Moray to Macbeth, though common sense recognizes the castles of Cawdor and Inverness were of a later era. For Ossian he has only scorn.

The hillock – a small mound beside a new house, its grasses and thistles recently cut, cattle over the fence, a pine-wood not far off – remained magical, by association. We picnicked, tied some poem-labels, and chatted about how ordinary places became nadokoro by their associations, reminiscing school days, Polanski’s Macbeth projected in the new state-of-the-art lecture theatre, Fleance and Cheggers.

for Shakespeare’s
melted breath

read Marx’s
solid air


Shakespeare, William; Macbeth (1606)
Engels, Friedrich, and Marx, Karl; Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848)
Johnson, Samuel; Dictionary (1755)
Johnson, Samuel; Miscellanous Observations on the Tragedy of Macbeth (1745)
Loose, Gerry; Tongues of Stone: Poems from Ogham (1998)
Watson, Fiona; Macbeth: A True History (2010)