The Weird Sisters in Early British Literature

Hector Boece, The Hystory and Croniklis of Scotland (Edinburgh: Thomas Davidson, 1540):

Be auenture Makbeth and Banquho wer passand to Fores, quhair kyng Duncane hapnit to be for ye tyme, & met be ye gait thre wemen clothit iuelrage & vncouth weid. thay wer Iugit be the pepill to be weird sisteris. The first of thaim said to Makbeth Hale thane of Glammis. The secound said, hale thane of Cawder, And the thrid said, hale kyng of scotland. (clxxiii)

Als sone as thir wourdis wer said, thay suddanlie euanist out of sycht. (clxxiii)

This prophecy & diuinatioun wes haldin mony dayis in derision to Banquho & Makbeth. For sum tyme Banquho wald call Makbeth kyng of scottis for derisioun. And he on the samyn maner wald call Banquho ye fader of mony king{is}. Yit becaus al thyngis succedit as thir wemen deuinit. The pepill traistit and Iugit yame to be weird sisteris. (clxxiii)

Makbeth reuoluyng all thingis (as thay wer said be thir weird sisteris) began to couat ye croun. (clxxiii)

Raphael Holinshed, vol. 1 of The Chronicles of England, Scotlande, and Irelande (London: John Hunne, 1577):

Sodenly in the middes of a launde, there met them .iij. women in straunge & ferly apparell, resembling creatures of an elder worlde, whom when they attentiuely behelde, wondering much at the sight. (243)

This was reputed at the first but some vayne fantasticall illusion by Makbeth and Banquho, in so muche that Banquho woulde call Makbeth in ieste kyng of Scotland, and Makbeth againe would call him in sporte likewise, the father of many kings. But afterwards the common opinion was, that these women were eyther the weird sisters, that is (as ye would say ye Goddesses of destinie, or els some Nimphes or Feiries, endewed with knowledge of prophesie by their Nicromanticall science, bicause euery thing came to passe as they had spoken. (243-44)

Neither could he afterwards abide to looke vpon the sayde Makduffe, eyther for that he thought his puissance ouer great, either els for that he had learned of certain wysardes, in whose wordes he put great confidence, (for that the prophecie had happened so right, whiche the three Fayries or weird sisters had declared vnto him) how that he ought to take heede of Makduffe, who in tymes to come should seeke to destroy him. (249)

And surely herevpon had he put Makduffe to death, but that a certaine witch whom he had in great trust, had told that he should neuer be slain with man borne of any woman, nor vanquished till the wood of Bernane, came to the Castell of Dunsinnane. By this prophecie Makbeth put all feare out of his heart, supposing hee might doe what hee would, without any feare to be punished for the same, for by the one prophesie he beleeued it was vnpossible for any man to vanquish him, and by the other vnpossible to slea him. This vaine hope caused him to doe manye outragious things, to the grieuous oppression of his subiects. (249)

When Makbeth beheld them comming in this sort, hee first marueyled what the matter ment, but in the end remembred himselfe, that the prophecie which he had hearde long before that time, of the comming of Byrnane wood to Dunsinnane Castell, was likely to bee now fulfilled.

Makbeth perceiuing that Makduffe was hard at his back, leapt beside his horse, saying, thou traytor, what meaneth it that thou shouldest thus in vaine follow me that am not appoynted to be slain by any creature that is borne of a woman, come on therefore, and receyue thy rewarde which thou hast deserued for thy paynes, and therewithall he lyfted vp his sworde thinking to haue slaine him. But Makduffe quickly auoyding from his horse, ere he came at him, answered (with his naked sworde in his hande) saying: it is true Makbeth, and now shall thine insatiable crueltie haue an ende, for I am euen he that thy wysards haue tolde the of, who was neuer borne of my mother, but ripped out of hir wombe: therewithall he stept vnto him, & slue him in the place (251)

William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice (1596-97), in The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans and J. J. M. Tobin, 2nd ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997):

  Laun.  Talk not of Master Launcelot, father; for the young gentleman, according to Fates and Destinies and such odd sayings, the Sisters Three and such branches of learning, is indeed deceased, or, as you would say in plain terms, gone to heaven. (2.2.60-65)

Patrick Hume, The Flytting betwixt Montgomerie and Polwart (Edinburgh: The Heirs of Thomas Finlason for John Wood, 1621):

The weird sisters wandring, as they were wont then,
Saw Reavens rugand at that ratton by a Ron ruit,
They mused at the Mandrake vnmade like a man,
A Beast bund with a bounevand in ane old buit,
How that gaist had bein gotten to gesse they began,
Weill sweilde in a swynes skin, and smeirit ouer with suit,
The belly that it first bair full bitterly they ban,
Of this mismade Moldewart mischiefe they muit,
That crooked camschoche croyll vncristened they curse,
They bad that baiche should not be but
The glengoir gravell and the gut
And all the plagues that first were put
Into Pandoraes purse. 

Francis Kinnaston, Leoline and Sydanis (London : Richard Heron, 1646):

But O you weird sterne fatall Sisters three,
O Lachesis, that mortalls threds dost twine! (313.1-2)