The Scottish Play & the Curse of Macbeth
Updated: Oct 9, 2022
For people in theater, William Shakespeare’s play ‘Macbeth’ holds a long legend of curses and bad luck. A coven of witches is said to have cursed the play for eternity in revenge for Shakespeare’s inclusion of these spoken spells, with ingredients such as an adder’s forked tongue, the eye of newt and a frog’s toe. King James I, who commissioned the first English version of the Bible in 1604, banned the play for five years. From its opening night in 1611, many people have been superstitious of the play. Because of this, actors believe they should not say the namacbeth’ in a theater unless they are rehearsing or performing the play. While we are still safe to talk about the play in classrooms, many people believe that mentioning ‘Macbeth’ by name will lead to poor productions, injuries, and just overall bad luck. In the theater, people will only refer to ‘Macbeth’ as the Scottish Play, that play, or the Glamis Comedy.
Over history, there have been a number of tragic events associated with the performance of Macbeth. On its opening night, the young boy who was to play Lady Macbeth developed a fever Shakespeare had to take over his role. History says that King James was not happy with the bloodshed in ‘Macbeth’ so the play was not performed again in England until 1703, a century later. On the night of its first performance in a hundred years, England had one of its worst storms in history.
Although smaller curses continued, real daggers being used instead of fake or even crowds attacking the actors, the next large curse moment occurred in 1849 at the Astor Place Opera House. A street brawl over two rival productions of Macbeth going on at the same time escalated to a riot where twenty-three people died and hundreds were injured.
Instances of actors being injured or productions gone awry continue through today. As recent as 2013, actor Kenneth Branagh injured another actor in an opening fight scene. For all of these well-documented stories, there are many smaller theaters performing ‘Macbeth’ who also claim they have been a victim of the Curse.
During creation of “The Scottish Play,” at Escape Ashland we have had just a few mishaps: a fall from a ladder led to injuries of our lead contractor, but fortunately she recovered in just a few short weeks. We hope that our ritual of cursing and spitting whenever “Macbeth” is mentioned will keep us free from the curse. At least we hope.
“The Scottish Play,” designed and created in collaboration with Oregon Shakespeare Festival production artisans, opened September 2019 and is best suited for groups 4 to 6.