Something Wicked This Way Comes
Analysis: What's Up With the Epigraph?
Epigraphs are like little appetizers to the great entrée of a story. They illuminate important aspects of the story, and they get us headed in the right direction.
Man is in love, and loves what vanishes.
– W.B. Yeats
They sleep not, except they have done mischief;
And their sleep is taken away, unless they cause some to fall.
For they eat the bread of wickedness,
And drink the wine of violence.
– Proverbs 4:16-17
I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I'll go to it laughing.
– Stubb in Moby-Dick
All right, so there's a lot to cover here. We'll start with the glorious William Butler Yeats. His observation connects to the obsession with youth that we see in Something Wicked This Way Comes. You could very well argue that "youth" is 1) the thing that characters are in love with and 2) the thing that vanishes. Think about Miss Foley's desire to be a little girl again, or, even more important, Charles's longing to be young like his son. Remember that part of the carnival's allure is that riding the carousel can restore vanished youth.
Now for the proverb from the Bible. We went and looked up this particular verse and, unsurprisingly enough, it deals with wicked men, which is of course relevant to Something Wicked This Way Comes. This is an apt and spooky description of the wicked carnival men who terrorize Will and Jim. This epigraph does a great job of setting the eerie atmosphere that will dominate the novel; check out "Tone" for more on that note.
Last, our favorite one of the three. Stubb is a jovial second mate on the whaling ship in the book Moby-Dick. He doesn't exactly have reason to be jovial since, you know, he's stuck on a whaling ship that could sink any day now. His laughter in the face of death is an intense form of fatalism – he figures that since he can't change anything, he may as well laugh about it. (Check out our Shmoop guide to Moby Dick if you want to learn more.) If you've already read Something Wicked This Way Comes, this epigraph should remind you of Charles Halloway's near-death encounter with the Witch. In the face of imminent death, Mr. Halloway responds with laughter. More than that, he responds to death with complete acceptance. Counter-intuitively enough, this turns out to be exactly the kind of response needed to foil death, so he uses the tactic again with great success when Jim's life is on the line. There may be a life lesson or two in here, then, as to how we should all deal with scary things. (Like evil carnivals that come to town. Or, you know, death.)