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Why It Is Bad Luck To Say Macbeth In A Theater

Updated on April 14, 2012
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Shakespeare's Macbeth

Almost from the moment the play was first performed, people have had a superstitious belief that William Shakespeare's Macbeth is cursed. The idea that bad luck surrounds the play has become so much a part of theater tradition that many actors still do not utter its name. Instead, they refer to it as The Scottish Play, a reference which may relate either to its setting in the Scottish Highlands, or to the fact that it was written in honor of King James I of England (James VI of Scotland).

So, where does the idea of a curse come from and how do you break it if you accidentally speak the name of Macbeth within the theater?

Origins of the Curse of Macbeth

There are several different stories relating to how the play came to be cursed:

  • Shakespeare used real witches curses in his text and this is where the bad luck springs from
  • The person responsible for finding props for the first staging of the play stole a cauldron from a coven to use in the production
  • Shakespeare consulted witches about how to create the characters of witches and they were insulted by his portrayal of them as old crones, so they cursed the play

Or, it could simply be that when a production of Macbeth was announced, it was a sign that a theater was in financial difficulty. Macbeth is one of the most popular plays of old time and was often put on by struggling theaters to try to draw in audiences.


What Sort of Things Have Happened?

  • Well, several mishaps have occurred during various productions of the play:
  • One actor had his thumbs cut off when a real sword was used in a fight scene
  • In one production in 1937, the director was almost killed in a car crash. Laurence Olivier, who was starring in the play lost his voice and was almost hit by a weight from the stage lights that came crashing down close to him. The founder of the theater had a heart attack and died on opening night and finally, a fragment of Olivier's sword flew off and hit an audience member, who died of a heart attack
  • Some years later, a production starring John Gielgud was also hit by a series of unfortunate events. One of the actresses playing the witches died of a heart attack during final rehearsals and the actor playing Duncan also died. Another actress playing a witch collapsed and died on stage and the set designer committed suicide.
  • One of the worst disasters in theater history, the Astor Opera House disaster in 1849 in which 22 people died, occurred as a result of rioting between the fans of two famed actors playing Macbeth at different theaters.

So, is the play cursed? Well I'll leave that one to you but I guess any play that's been performed regularly for over 400 years is bound to have been marred by problems every now and then.

How to Break the Curse of Macbeth

Standard curse breaking methods are to recite a line from another Shakespearean play, usually something with a reference to heavenly powers. Another way to break the curse is to spin around three times, utter a curse word and spit over your shoulder. Or, you can always leave the theater, turn around three times and wait until you're invited back inside.

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  • Simone Smith profile image

    Simone Haruko Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

    Whoah, I had no idea that Macbeth was surrounded around by so much superstition! Absolutely fascinating.

  • hush4444 profile image

    hush4444 5 years ago from Hawaii

    I just heard about this superstition for the first time in a mystery novel I'm reading - what a coincidence. I'll try to remember not to mention Macbeth!

  • vox vocis profile image

    Jasmine 5 years ago

    Great article! I had no idea about this theatrical superstition. The events you described happening in theaters while performing this play are very intriguing :)

  • joanveronica profile image

    Joan Veronica Robertson 5 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

    Hi, nice Hub! I enjoy most things Scottish, and this is no exception! I noticed that it all goes back to Shakespeare, which is also interesting. From my readings, it is becoming clear that in real life, Macbeth wasn't like his portrait in the play. So if Shakespeare created a sort of "monster" person with no real substance to his creation, he deserves to be designated as the cause of this superstition! Voted for this Hub on HubNuggets!

  • alliemacb profile image
    Author

    alliemacb 5 years ago from Scotland

    Thanks for the comments. Yes, it is the case that Shakespeare created something of a monster with Macbeth who in reality ruked Scotland for 11 largely peaceful years and was considered to be a good king. Jus shows you the power of a good story.

  • ripplemaker profile image

    Michelle Simtoco 5 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

    hmmmm...ssssssh okay I will remember not to say the m..word in theatre.

    Congratulations on your Hubnuggets nomination. Do participate over here https://hubpages.com/community/March-Madness-HubNu...

  • Horatio Plot profile image

    Horatio Plot 5 years ago from Bedfordshire, England.

    Fascinating. I knew it was unlucky but not why or how to remove the curse!

    Gook luck with the nomination.

  • Horatio Plot profile image

    Horatio Plot 5 years ago from Bedfordshire, England.

    Sorry, meant good luck. I haven't the faintest what gook luck is.

  • joanveronica profile image

    Joan Veronica Robertson 5 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

    Hi aliemacb! I enjoyed your comment on Macbeth. Maybe the two of us should form a Pro Macbeth Group!

  • Bonitaanna profile image

    Bonitaanna 5 years ago from Oil City, PA

    My husband is an Opera singer and he performs in McBeth and so far there have never been any problems when he has been in it. He sings a solo role, his name is Samuel DePalma, he is a bass-baritone. Your article is very interesting, I am going to read it to him the next time he calls me, he sings all over the world.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    This is a piece of stage folklore I've not heard of before! I remember the "Break a leg" tradition and a few others, though. Very intriguing hub - voted up and interesting!

  • profile image

    Katrabbit 5 years ago

    There is absolutely a curse on the play. Last year I performed the role of Lady Macbeth. I admit, I did not believe in the curse. Opening night of the production I fell off the stage, broke my nose, ruptured a ligament in my wrist, and got a concussion. I believe it now.

  • alliemacb profile image
    Author

    alliemacb 5 years ago from Scotland

    Hi Katrabbit - that sounds like a really nasty accident. Hope it hasn't put you off the Scottish Play!

  • Adam Vera profile image

    Adam Kullman 4 years ago from Texas

    Nice job cataloging the sources and results of the curse. I had not heard quite a few of those. Very interesting.

  • alliemacb profile image
    Author

    alliemacb 4 years ago from Scotland

    Thanks, Adam. There are a lot of great theatrical superstitions and I know some acting students who completely believe in the curse of Macbeth.

  • profile image

    myry 4 years ago

    as my friend say it s such bad luck to say it sooo dont

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