Name: The Curse of Macbeth

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The Curse of Macbeth

In a famous scene from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, three witches stand around a bubbling cauldron, brewing up a stew with disgusting ingredients such as eye of newt and toe of frog. Most people are aware of the scene but not aware of the story behind the scene and the curse on the play.

In 1606, Shakespeare was asked to write a play by King James I to celebrate the visit of James’ brother-in-law, the King of Denmark. The play Shakespeare devised was the tragedy, Macbeth. King James I could appreciate a good tragedy as he had led a rather difficult life. He was taken from his mother almost immediately after his birth. While he was a child, his father was murdered and his mother was then forcibly removed from the throne of Scotland. After spending the next 19 years in prison, she was beheaded by her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I. Meanwhile, James became the King of Scotland at 19 and survived a number of attempts on his life. When Queen Elizabeth died, he became the King of England.

James loved life in England and he especially enjoyed Shakespeare’s plays. He became a patron of Shakespeare’s, offering royal protection and money to write and produce plays. It was common knowledge that the King was fascinated by demonology and death. In fact, he even wrote a book on these topics. Naturally, Shakespeare decided to study the King’s favourite topics and write a play including these elements. Many historians say that the play is actually very similar to the events that led up to the death of James’ own father. Also, Shakespeare as a result of his research tried to make the witchcraft scenes as authentic as possible.

Unfortunately, some people believe that the spells in the play were too authentic. As a result, every time the words are uttered onstage the play puts a curse on itself. Meanwhile others believe that real life witches were upset that Shakespeare had shared their dark secrets and therefore they placed a curse upon the play which has lasted for over 400 years. During the centuries, the play has been surrounded by so much death and disaster that actors refuse to call the play by its actual name and never quote from the play.

The curse was seen right from the first performance, as the actor cast to play Lady Macbeth died from a fever. King James I apparently was terrified of knives and gore. In the initial staging, Shakespeare used guts and blood he obtained from a butcher to make the death scenes more convincing. Horrified, James I banned any future presentations of the play for five years. After the ban was over, Shakespeare performed the work at his Globe Theatre which burned down a few days later.

Multiple Choice – Select the best response.

1. Shakespeare wrote the play Macbeth to

a. satisfy his Scottish fans.

b. remove a curse.

c. please Queen Elizabeth I.

d. entertain James I and the King of

2. The best meaning of the word “forcibly”

in paragraph 2 is

a. violently.

b. persuasively.

c. gently.

d. awkwardly.
3. The play was banned because

a. of the poor acting.

b. of the lack of morality in the


c. it was dull.

d. the play’s gore offended the King.

4. Which is one of the theories as to why

the play is cursed?

a. King James I hated the play so

much that he had it cursed.

b. A rejected actor, who was really a

witch, cursed it.

c. Shakespeare experienced bad luck

throughout his life and it affected

his plays.

d. The spells used in the play are too

5. What did Shakespeare use in the first

performance of Macbeth to make the

death scenes seem more convincing?

a. red paint

b. guts and blood from the butcher

c. guts and blood from recently

deceased humans

d. wooden props

Paragraph Response – Write a well-formatted paragraph for each question.

6. Do you believe in curses? Briefly explain why you do or do not believe in them.
7. Do you think it is necessary to have violence in movies or plays?

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