The curse of the scots

In my day to day life I am not a terribly superstitious person, I have my pre performance rituals. If my shoe squeaks upon an entrance I am hardly going to take it as a good omen nor am I going to freak if some one says good luck instead of break a leg. Yet, never will I ever (on purpose) utter the word Macbeth in a theatre space without being in the context of the play. As I shared in class my one experience with the curse was enough, I don’t care to test fate! However bringing up in class made me pause as to the roots of the curse and the play? So many actors are petrified but where does it come from and what is it’s history?
After poking around the internet the first thing I discovered was no one really knows! There are however two widely held beliefs, the first relates directly to the text of the play itself. This camp believes Shakespeare used a real witch’s spell in Act 4 sc. 1 of the play:
“First Witch

Round about the cauldron go;
In the poison’d entrails throw.
Toad, that under cold stone
Days and nights has thirty-one
Swelter’d venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot.

ALL

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

Second Witch

Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and owlet’s wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

ALL

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.”

In the hyper christian society where Shakespeare lived, why would he do something like that? Because Shakespeare was a great businessman. Right before the play opened King James, Shakespeare’s patron published a book on witch detection. Some believe the the incantation from above comes directly from King James’s book. Well, this certainly backfired on Shakespeare after the play was performed King James banned it for five years!( )It is also rumored Shakespeare himself was forced to play the role of Lady M when the boy actor supposed to play the role died before he was able to perform. Though this may not be so extraordinary due to the poor sanitation and health care in Shakespeare’s day.
Yet mysterious incidents continue to plague this play through out history. 331 people were killed at Astor place when riot broke out due to a theatrical rivalry between British Actor William Macready and Edwin Forrest who were both scheduled to play Macbeth on the same night. ( Professor Jack Wade, SUNY New Paltz)

Since the riot there have been film stars nearly crushed by stage weights, deaths, murders from prop switching, and a myriad of drama around this tragedy. Whether you believe it or not, all if it makes for some great commercial buzz and fun around the Scottish play.

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2 thoughts on “The curse of the scots

  1. Jeff Battersby

    Gianna,I'm not required to post this week, but I had to.Such fun reading this post. Love your use of "The Scottish Play" and the letter "M" in lieu of typing, with one exception, every thespian's most feared word.Feel like I've just finished watching you pitch a near perfect game.Thanks for the insight into the word that's never, in theater, supposed to cross an actor's tongue.

    Reply
  2. Cyrus Mulready

    Great history, Gianna! I think the curse is a lot of fun. Perhaps some of you have seen the Simpsons episode with Ian McKellan, in which he gets struck by lightening after the unspeakable word is uttered? I tried to find a clip, but was unable to track it down!

    Reply

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