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Superstitions of the Theatre - The Scottish Play

Updated on October 6, 2012
" Aahhhhh. Hot potato, orchestra stalls, Puck will make amends. "
" Aahhhhh. Hot potato, orchestra stalls, Puck will make amends. " | Source

The Scottish Play

This is probably the most well known theatre superstition. No-one is allowed to utter the word 'Macbeth' in any part of the theatre, instead referring to 'The Scottish Play', or the production would be fraught with disasters. It was believed the play was cursed because of the representation of witches. One story says that Shakespeare got the original lines from real witches, or that a cauldron stolen for the first production upset the witches. Yet another claims that Shakespeare himself cursed the play so that no one else could direct the play successfully. (I bet Tarantino would love to learn that curse.)

If someone does say the cursed name, they must perform a cleansing ritual. These include: The person is required to leave the theatre building, spit, curse and spin around three times, before begging to be allowed back inside. Other variants include: Reciting a line from another Shakespearean work, brushing oneself off, running around the theatre anti clock-wise, or repeating the name 3 times while tapping their left shoulder. There are many others, if you ever saw the Blackadder episode about the actors, you'll remember Blackadder delighting in making them repeatedly cleanse themselves of the curse.

The more believable origin of the curse is that this was a show guaranteed to pull an audience, so it was common for a company to run the show at the end of their season to try to break even. A company trotting out this show was usually under financial stress (who isn't in theatre?) and may soon fold.

In any live production lots of things can go wrong, so when the script is full of sword fights and dark scenes actors can easily get hurt or scenery can be damaged especially back in the 17th century when actors learned their stock parts and didn't get much time to rehearse or choreograph. So Macbeth became a play associated with disasters.

Next - Whistling and saying "Good Luck".

Rehearsal for Macbeth, CHATS, Australia



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