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Dear Reader: a letter from Oscar de Muriel

Dear Reader,

My first contact with Macbeth was the utterly, utterly creepy animated film produced by the BBC in 1992 (yes, it made it as far as Mexico!). The image that stuck in my memory was Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking monologue, her shadow projected against a dark brick wall, while she rubs her hands and cries she can still smell the blood. That is still the image that comes to my head whenever someone mentions Macbeth, more than the floating dagger or even the witches’ cauldron.

There is something deliciously dark about Lady Macbeth that in my opinion makes her even more monstrous than the witches. For instance, she delivers some truly bloodcurdling lines: “Come to my woman’s breasts, and take my milk for gall, you murd’ring ministers” or “I would, while it was smiling in my face, have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums and dashed the brains out”. She still gives me goose bumps. And when Macbeth falters or shows hints of humanity or remorse, Lady Macbeth is there to spur him on, even suggesting at one point that he is not man enough. Some people even interpret her as another witch, further poisoning her husband’s mind.

oscar de muriel

For a long time I wanted to write a story revolving around The Scottish Play, and in the end it happened almost by accident. I remember vividly leafing through a book on Irish mythology (very fittingly, while in Belfast!). I was looking for cases for my newly created detective duo, and since they were meant to specialise in the occult, a book about goblins and monsters seemed a good place to start.

As soon as I read about banshees everything clicked in my head: a dark prophesy, a coven of cunning witches, a spirit that only announces death to certain people, a cursed play… and I already had a Scottish detective!

Though it soon became clear that the case was not the ideal to open the series, it was always like a tasty treat waiting for me in the horizon. I continued my research pretty much throughout the writing of my first two books, and one of the first things I found was that Macbeth had, in fact, been on the stage at the exact dates I needed – the 1888-1889 theatre season! And it was not a production by just any company, but the most famous theatre company of the time. Indeed, Henry Irving’s Macbeth was one of the most lavish productions of the decade, using state-of-the-art effects, sumptuous costumes, and starring Britain’s most beloved actress, Ellen Terry. And if I wasn’t lucky enough, it turned out the company was managed by Bram Stoker!

It is no surprise that Stoker began to develop his idea for Dracula at around the same time he and Irving were working on Macbeth. You can see a lot of the Scottish Play in Stoker’s work: the otherworldly menace, the dark, wild setting, the ominous female figures as harbingers of doom, and a cruel, twisted tyrant at the centre of it all.

Oscar de Muriel

Oscar de Muriel

Oscar de Muriel was born in Mexico City and moved to the UK to complete his PhD. He is a chemist, translator and violinist who now lives and works in Manchester. A Mask of Shadows is his third novel, following A Fever of the Blood and The Strings of Murder.

Follow Oscar on Twitter.

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