“Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and caldron bubble.”
“The Scottish Play” holds a special place in my heart because it was my original taste of good ol’ Billy Shakes. When I was seven, my mother, sister, and I performed the witches’ cauldron scene (Act IV, Scene I) with me appearing as Witch #2. Back then I obliviously said the “M word” with no fear, while I pranced about the living room and shouted these infamous incantations to the sky from my makeshift stage atop the coffee table. So when I heard The Young Company was doing a production of “The Bard’s Play” here at Orlando Shakes, my inner witch cackled with glee.
For those of you aren’t in the know about the many superstitions that plague the theater, the play Macbeth is cursed. Just saying the ill-fated name or even a line from the text inside a theater is said to bring great misfortune to the actors and their venue. The belief is thought to have originated from the very characters I innocently portrayed in my youth. The weird sisters’ speeches include spells that were believed to call on evil spirits. As witchcraft was still a common belief in Shakespeare’s time, you can see why audiences took this pretty seriously. The characters were actually incorporated to please King James I who considered himself an expert at detecting the dark arts (having written a book on the subject, Daemonologie, which strongly promotes the practice of witch hunting). His beliefs led him to live in constant terror of witches plotting against him.
Along with the fear that was inspired by the witchcraft portrayed in the play, over the years people have gathered evidence that links tragedy with the show. “Mac B” has become associated with small misfortunes like technical malfunctions, poor ticket sales, and forgotten lines, as well as major calamities ending in injury and even death. Famous performers such as Constantine Stanislavski, Orson Welles, and Charlton Heston faced terrible tribulations in their lives during or after they appeared in this show. In the middle of a performance of “The Bard’s Play”, the Astor Place Riot broke out and left 120 injured and more than 30 dead. It is said that Abraham Lincoln read a speech from the cursed play aloud the night before his assassination.
Find yourself suffering from a sudden slip of the tongue? Not to fear–there is a counter curse! When someone mistakenly utters the name or a line from the play, you must say “Angels and ministers of grace defend us!”. Then the guilty party must simply exit the theater, turn around counter clockwise three times, spit on the ground, swear, and then knock on the door and beg to be let back in. Once you grant the offender admittance, they may re-enter the theater, knowing they’ll be safe from the dreaded Scottish curse.
Note: If you’d prefer a more logical (more dull, in my opinion) explanation of the curse, some claim that the dim lighting and multiple combat scenes in the play make the production more prone to accidents.
So now that you know the danger hidden in Shakespeare’s famous tragedy, you can applaud the remarkable bravery of The Young Company as they prepare for their production of Macbeth this summer. There are three chances to catch this exciting performance: July 10 at 7:00 p.m., July 11 at 7:00 p.m., and July 12 at 2:00 p.m. General admission tickets are just $10 and can be purchased at the door. Hope to see you there!
Lexie Hoag is currently a Marketing and Public Relations Intern at Orlando Shakespeare Theater. After completing her AA at Valencia College, she plans to pursue her Bachelor’s degree in Public Relations. She can often be found rereading books, snuggling her puppy, and haunting local theaters.