The curse of the Scottish Play was invented by Max Beerbohm, who was a writer, caricaturist and theatre critic. The story he invented was that the very first person cast to play Lady Macbeth (in a Royal Command Performance for King James in 1606) was a boy in Shakespeare's own company, named Hal Berridge. Sadly, young Hal ‘b'fell sudden sicke of a pleurisie, wherefor Master Shakespeare himself did enacte in his stead.’ From that day onwards, tragic events and theatrical disasters appear to have dogged productions of the play. Supposedly, Beerbohm found Shakespeare boring, and to relieve the tedium of reviewing yet another Macbeth, he invented the story of Hal Berridge using fake quotes from the 17th century diarist, John Aubrey, to give it credence. It has been widely believed ever since.
In the most popular version of the tale, Shakespeare unwisely used real witchcraft rituals in his script - thus unleashing forces he didn’t know and couldn’t control.
Once the play had a reputation for being unlucky, of course, people began to note every misfortune which occurred during its runs - and so the curse became self-perpetuating, and perhaps even self-fulfilling. A lot of people have pointed out that Macbeth is a ‘banker’ - it will reliably fill theatres - so when a theatre is in trouble, they turn to this play; then, when the theatre goes bust anyway, it’s obviously the fault of the curse.
The curse is supposedly invoked by anyone who says the word ‘Macbeth’ within any theatre, other than when quoting a line from the play. The transgressor must then carry out cleansing rituals, which vary according to who you ask, but include:
Hear it not, Duncan; for it is a knell
That summons thee to heaven, or to hell.
Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a work of fiction that takes quite a few historical liberties. Most obvious of those was Macbeth’s successor who was not Malcolm but Macbeth’s adopted son, known as Lulach the Idiot.
Other ways in which the play departs from reality include Macbeth’s murder of Duncan which was in battle, not in the latter’s sleep; the suggestion that Macbeth’s reign was short (he was king for 17 years); and the idea that Macduff killed the King – Macduff is the name of a powerful clan in Fife, but the character himself is an invention of Shakespeare. Macbeth was killed in battle by Malcolm III.
Lady Macbeth was called Gruoch. She is the first named queen in Scottish history and was Lulach’s mother. After Macbeth’s death, Lulach ascended the throne - probably with Malcolm’s support, perhaps in thanks for help in deposing his father and in an attempt at national reconciliation. It didn’t last last long. Malcolm went back to his old ways and, on March 17th 1058, murdered Lulach at Essie in Strathbogie.
Macbeth is the only play by Shakespeare that includes the word ‘rhinoceros’.
The role of Macbeth is 719 lines long, which is only half the length of Hamlet.
Orsonwelles macbeth is a giant Hawaiian spider named after Orson Welles and his famous role playing Macbeth.
In 1948 Diana Wynyard, playing Lady Macbeth, openly declared her disbelief in the curse. The next day, she decided that the sleepwalking scene would be more convincing if she played it with her eyes shut. She promptly fell 15ft into the orchestra pit. She did, however, climb back on stage and carry on.
There were four fatalities in John Gielgud’s 1942 production: two witches, Duncan, and the scenic designer. The set was then redesigned for use in a comedy, in which the principal actor dropped dead.
Spookiest of all, Orson Welles filmed the play in 1946, and required the cast to play it with a Scottish accents, since it is, after all, a Scottish play. Unfortunately, when filming was finished, it was found that the actors’ efforts had rendered the dialogue entirely incomprehensible to the audience, so the whole soundtrack had to be recorded again.
Out, damned spot! out, I say!
Prince Charles played Macbeth in a school play; the evening was marred by the Duke of Edinburgh laughing at his son's performance.
By the pricking of my thumbs, Something wicked this way comes.
Potential winners of the Nobel Prize often prefer not to mention its name and call it 'The Swedish Prize.'
When shall we three meet again,
In thunder, lightning or in rain?