By Caitlin Howle, digital marketing coordinator
The Scottish Play!
Or, if you please, Mackers. McB. MacBee. The-Play-That-Must-Not-Be-Named. Just say anything other than M-A-C-B-E-T-H! You may have heard the lore — that the name of this play must never be spoken in a theater without bringing on a calamity — but rumor and experience have led Trinity Rep folks to believe this play is cursed.
The History Behind the Curse
The origins of the curse of McB date all the way back to the opening night of the show, in 1606. Some believe witches cursed the play, angry about being portrayed unfairly by Shakespeare. Others say the roles of the Witches must be played by actual witches to keep from disrespecting magical forces. There’s also the notion that the spells the Witches cast are real, and keep the curse alive. Another sinister idea is that Shakespeare himself had the play cursed, making it so that only he could have a successful run of the show. A more fun, and less supernatural idea is that Shakespeare was distraught over rumors that King James I (whose heritage Shakespeare was trying to celebrate) despised the play — some even say he forbade it from being produced again — leading Shakespeare to only calling it “the Scottish play” from there on out of plain old bitterness.
Bad Things Seem to Happen
Horrible things seem to follow productions of the show, with the first legend of an ill-fated production appearing in 1606, during the show’s first production. It’s rumored that the actor playing Lady Macbeth died suddenly, and Shakespeare himself had to take his place. Another famous tale is that a real dagger was accidentally used in the murder of Duncan, which resulted in the actor’s death. Then the Great Storm of 1703, which saw over 8,000 people killed, is said to have come on opening night of the Scottish play in London.
In 1849 in New York, an intense rivalry between the actors Edwin Forrest and William Charles Macready got so foul that it led to the actors both performing the same play to see who was better. The play? Mackers. Their dispute was one of the causes of the Astor Place Riot, during which 22 people were killed and 36 more were injured.
A production in 1937 at the Old Vic in London, with Laurence Olivier playing Macbeth, had scenery that was unable to fit on the stage, a composer who tore up his score, and the death of the dog owned by the theater’s manager, Lilian Baylis, during rehearsals, followed by Baylis’ own death the night before opening. Olivier himself was nearly crushed by a falling heavy light. When The Old Vic revived the production in 1954, Baylis’ portrait fell from the wall and crashed to the floor. Not learning from their mistakes, the Old Vic performed scenes from MacBee at a gala, featuring Peter O’Toole as the soon-to-be king. Four days later, the Arts Council withdrew all funding, leading to the theater closing for over a decade.
In 1948, acclaimed actress Diana Wynyard, fell over 15 feet during Lady M’s sleepwalking scene on opening night. Don’t worry though, she was able to get up and continue the performance.
John Gielgud’s production in 1942 suffered from the real-life deaths of the actor playing King Duncan, as well as two of the actors playing the Witches — one of whom died on stage. Not to mention the costume designer who killed themselves opening night. Actor Charlton Heston felt the effects of the curse when, in 1954, not only did he crash his motorcycle during rehearsals of the show, but he also suffered severe burns when his tights somehow became soaked in kerosene and caused his legs to catch fire midway through the play.
Speaking of fire, during a 1964 run of the play-whose-name-we-mustn’t-say, the D. Maria II National Theater in Portugal was damaged by a massive fire.
It’s not only Shakespeare’s version, though: Giuseppe Verdi’s opera based on the famed play has seen its fair share of tragedy and mishap, with one of the most famous instances being in 1988 when opera coach Bantcho Bantchevsky killed himself during the intermission of a nation-wide broadcast of the show from the Met. The 2015 film adaptation saw actor Michael Fassbender and the rest of the cast and crew refusing to say the film’s name, only referring to it as “the Scottish play,” or “that name.”
Since Trinity Rep announced early this year that it would produce the Bard’s ill-fated play, we’ve seen multiple illnesses and emergency surgeries — one staff member fell in the crosswalk trying to avoid a car that was approaching a little too fast and broke her knee-cap. There have been other odd things that have happened to staff and designers, but we’re not even sure we should list them all!
Out, Out Damn… Curse!
Did you happen to say the name? Don’t worry. There are rituals that are said to help if someone says the name of the show in the theater. The most common is to go outside the theater, spin around three times, spit over your left shoulder, and swear. Though, if swearing isn’t for you there are also some who believe that saying lines from another Shakespearean play will aid in the removal of the curse. For example, “Fair thoughts and happy hours attend on you,” from The Merchant of Venice is one that’s used, but Hamlet’s “Angels and ministers of grace defend us,” is supposedly the best for protection. After you have said the line you cannot enter the theater again until someone invites you in.
So please, please, please — don’t say it. Be careful if you even think it! And make sure that if you do say it, you’re ready to pay the price, or at least spit over your shoulder. After all, better off safe than sorry.