Shakespeare’s Macbeth, probably one of the most famous theatrical productions, is believed by theater people to be the most cursed. Just saying “Macbeth” in a theatre is thought to invoke the curse, so the play is general referred to as “The Scottish Play” to avoid disaster. Except during the actual performance of the play, actors avoid quoting lines from the play, and in particular, the Witches incantations.
Legend has it that a curse was set upon the play by a coven of witches who were angry that Shakespeare used an actual spell in the play – “Double, double toil and trouble/Fire burn and cauldron bubble…”. Some believe that the play was considered cursed as it was so often associated with theatres going out of business; many theatres produced the popular play to restore their prosperity but could not meet the high production costs. And, of course, the more practical view that any play running for more than 400 years is sure to have its share of misfortune.
The play’s saga of bad luck dates back to its very first performance (circa 1606) when the actor playing Lady Macbeth died suddenly and Shakespeare was forced to take his place on stage. Other reports of the curse include the death of an actor on stage in Amsterdam in the 17th century when a prop dagger was replaced with a real dagger. Productions of the play have incited audience riots, most famously in New York in 1849 when a riot turned violent leaving 22 dead and more than 100 injured.
Fortunately, there is an antidote. The speaker of the name must leave the theatre building, perform a cleansing ritual - spin around three times, spit, curse - and then knock to be allowed back in. A variation on this ritual, requires the recitation of a line from a different Shakespeare play in place of the curse.
Outside the theatre and after the performance, the name may be spoken. It is interesting to note that the ‘cursed line’ from the witch’s incantation is thought to be one of the most cited line from Shakespeare’s plays.