The Scottish Play

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The Curse of the Play: Is there an evil spell on “The Scottish Play”?

Directions: Read and take notes on the curse of Macbeth. Then write one paragraph explaining whether you think the curse is real or not. In your paragraph, explain what the curse is, its origins and theories, and use specific evidence to support your thesis. Due today.

Macbeth was written in the early 1600's (most likely sometime between 1604 and 1606) by William Shakespeare. According to legend, it was performed at Hampton Court in 1606 for King James I and his brother-in-law, King Christian of Denmark, and was clearly designed to appeal to King James. Not only was Banquo, who just happens to be a part of the Stuart family tree (as was James), portrayed favorably, but the play itself was fairly short, probably because King James preferred short plays. Most importantly, James himself had previously published a book on witches and how to detect them. Because of this, Shakespeare decided to give his play a supernatural twist in another effort to please the King. For the opening scene of Act IV, he reproduced a sacred black-magic ritual in which a group of witches danced about a black cauldron, shouting out strange phrases and ingredients to be thrown into it. The practitioners of rituals such as this one were not very amused by Shakespeare's public exposure of their witchcraft, and as punishment they decided to cast their own spell on the play Macbeth that still haunts it to this day.

Supposedly, saying the name "Macbeth" inside a theater will bring bad luck to the play and anyone acting in it. The only exception is when the word is spoken as a line in the play. In order to reverse the bad luck, the person who uttered the word must exit the theater, spin around three times saying a profanity, and then ask for permission to return inside. There are several other variations of this ritual that involve spitting over your shoulders or simply letting out a stream of cuss words. Some say that you must repeat the words "Thrice around the circle bound, Evil sink into the ground," or you can turn to Will himself for assistance and cleanse the air with a quotation from Hamlet. Whatever steps that you choose to take, failing to do anything to prevent the curse from taking effect will ensure that you will in for some trouble. To avoid bringing up the curse in the first place, most people refer to Macbeth as one of it's several nicknames, with "the Scottish Play" seeming to be the most popular of them. Go up to any experienced actor and ask him about the Scottish Play, and he or she will almost certainly know exactly what you are talking about.

Here are some of the gory particulars:
Beginning with its first performance, in 1606, Dear Will himself was forced to play Lady Macbeth when Hal Berridge, the boy designated to play the lady with a peculiar notion of hospitality, became inexplicably feverish and died. Moreover, the bloody play so displeased King James I that he banned it for five years.

When performed in Amsterdam in 1672, the actor playing Macbeth substituted a real dagger for the blunted stage one and with it killed Duncan in full view of the audience.

As Lady Macbeth, Sarah Siddons was nearly ravaged by a disapproving audience in 1775; Sybil Thorndike was almost strangled by a burly actor in 1926; Diana Wynyard sleepwalked off a balcony, falling down 15 feet.

During its 1849 performance at New York's Astor Place, a riot broke out in which 31 people were trampled to death.

In 1937, when Laurence Olivier took on the role of Macbeth, a 25 pound stage weight crashed within an inch of him, and his sword which broke onstage flew into the audience and hit a man who later suffered a heart attack.

In 1934, British actor Malcolm Keen turned mute onstage, and his replacement, Alister Sim, like Hal Berridge before him, developed a high fever and had to be hospitalized.

In the 1942 Macbeth production headed by John Gielgud, three actors -- Duncan and two witches -- died, and the costume and set designer committed suicide amidst his devilish Macbeth creations.

The indestructible Charlton Heston, in an outdoor production in Bermuda in 1953, suffered severe burns in his groin and leg area from tights that were accidentally soaked in kerosene.

An actor's strike felled Rip Torn's 1970 production in New York City; two fires and seven robberies plagued the 1971 version starring David Leary; in the 1981 production at Lincoln Center, J. Kenneth Campbell, who played Macduff, was mugged soon after the play's opening.

Of course, no explanations have been given for the seemingly inevitable toil and trouble that is part and parcel of this unlucky play.

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