The Curse of the Scottish Play MacBeth


Macbeth was an 11th Century Scottish King. His reign was a lengthy 17 years but his achievements have been clouded by Shakespeare. The play's portrayal of Macbeth as a murderer and tyrant lead to his long association with back luck.

Macbeth was born Mac Bethad mac Findlaich in Dingwall in 1005. He became king in 1040 when King Duncan I died in battle. While Shakespeare suggests Macbeth kills King Duncan, there is no historical indication of this. These were violent times. Macbeth's cousin and about 50 followers were burned to death in their stronghold prior to his rule. However, history portrays Macbeth's rule as more just than the later Dark Ages in Scotland.  Macbeth imposed law and order. He encouraged the development of Christianity. Macbeth made a 6 month pilgrimage to Rome in 1050, suggesting that there had to be considerable political stability for such an extended absence without a challenge to the throne.

Macbeth was defeated and captured in battle in 1057. Close to the village of Lumphanan is a small cairn marking the spot he was beheaded. In military terms Macbeth was regarded by ancient highland Clans as the last great Celtic ruler of Scotland. He had a reputation as a brave leader. He gained power and ruled in a fashion accepted in the time.

Shakespeare's "Macbeth" or "The Scottish Play" as it is known in the theatre world, portrays the King as a tyrant. The title role has drawn some of the greatest actors in the world and has been adapted into television, movies, and more. However, the play is said to be cursed!

Some say that Shakespeare wrote the play to get on King James I's good side. He not only set the play in Scotland, but also incorporated the King's interests in demonology with the incanting Weird Sisters. It's also said that Shakespeare took spells directly from a black magic book and their use is what caused the curse.

To avoid the curse, actors refrain from saying the name of the play inside a theatre. Instead, they refer to it as "The Scottish Play, "MacBee", "Mackers", or simply "That Play". When referring to the characters, they become "Mr and Mrs M", or "The Scottish King". If the name is spoken inside the theatre, the actor must leave the building, spin around three times, spit, curse, and knock on the door to be let back in. Another supposed counteraction is to quote lines from Shakespeare's Hamlet. It may seem silly, but there are many who believe in this curse.

What would happen if one didn't counteract the curse? Supposedly, in its first production, the actor playing Lady Macbeth was suddenly struck with fever and died. Accidents, deaths, fires, storms, riots, and other strange happenings have all been attributed to the Scottish Play's curse.

One explanation is that the play is often run by theatres who are in debt as a last resort to try to bring in bigger audiences, as it is a popular play. Some theatres are unable to bounce back from their debts, so it is often the last play a company performs. Another possible explanation is that because there is more swordplay in this play, the more it is performed the more chance there is for someone to be injured.

The superstition is parodied in an episode of The Simpsons, where they visit London and run into Sir Ian McKellen. He is playing the title role and invites the Simpsons to the play. Every time someone says "Macbeth", something bad happens to McKellen, including being struck by lightning several times".

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