Even before Will Smith was back in his seat after slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars, Twitter was already lighting up with tweets from attentive viewers who had, moments before, heard Rock tell Best Actor nominee Denzel Washington, “Denzel . macbeth. I loved “.
In doing so, Rock onstage at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles had failed to adhere to one of the theater’s most famous superstitions: not to mention the Scottish play by name.
After the slap, we learned this week that a production of macbeth on Broadway, starring Daniel Craig as the treacherous kingslayer, was forced to cancel a preview performance moments before curtain after a cast member tested positive for Covid-19 .
Craig himself then came down with the virus the next day, as did a third cast member, shutting down the show before its April 28 opening night after running out of stunt doubles.
Associated with bad luck since its inception over 400 years ago, misfortune is now part of the folklore that surrounds macbeth, but where do the stories come from? And did the witches really curse the room?
Murder, chaos and hurricanes: Shakespeare’s “cursed” play
The story of macbeth is steeped in superstition, both factual and fictional, all of which have become entangled over time. According to theatrical tradition, the play’s connection to bad luck began when it was first performed, most likely at the court of King James in late 1606. The unsubstantiated story has it that Hal Berridge, the actor playing Lady Macbeth, died suddenly and william shakespeare was forced to step in to play the role himself.
During a performance in 17th century London, actor Henry Harris who played Macduff, accidentally killed the actor playing Macbeth as he acted out the duel scene.
A performance in London in November 1703 coincided with a Category 2 hurricane that devastated the capital, while a dispute over a stage invasion by a nobleman at a performance in 1721 resulted in the burning of the theater.
In New York, during a performance at the Astor Place Opera House on May 10, 1849, more than 10,000 people gathered to protest the appearance of British actor William Charles Macready. At the time, he was embroiled in a public war of words with American actor Edwin Forrest, who was starring in a competing production of macbeth nearby. The demonstration degenerated into a riot which killed 22 people.
One of the most famous stories regarding the alleged curse concerns US President Abraham Lincoln. He read scenes from the play aloud to his friends aboard the boat queen of the river on April 9, 1865. Within a week, Lincoln was shot by an assassin while attending the theater.
Laurence, Gielgud and Heston all fall under the blow
The cloak of calamity that envelops macbeth is not only the prerogative of ancient times. During a 1934 run at the Old Vic Theater in London, the production went through four Macbeths in the space of a week.
In 1937, British actor Laurence Olivier was part of another production of the play at the Old Vic, during which an 25-pound weight fell from the ceiling, missing him by inches.
More intriguingly, Old Vic founder Lilian Baylis died of a heart attack just before the final dress rehearsal. Seventeen years later, next time macbeth was performed there, the portrait of Baylis in the theater fell from the wall on the evening of the premiere.
A 1942 production, which starred Sir John Gielgud, had three cast members, while a 1953 outdoor performance with Charlton Heston caused the actor serious burns after his tights were accidentally soaked in kerosene.
What’s behind Macbeth’s “curse” and how do you break it?
Theatrical folklore has long held that Shakespeare used actual incantations when creating the dialogue for the three witches who tell the prophecy to Macbeth. Legend has it that a group of witches, angry at the bard for appropriating their spells, cursed the room.
More pragmatically, the story of the curse could stem from the high cost to theaters of staging the play, which often led them into financial difficulties.
Even more logically, any play that has been played continuously for more than 400 years has inevitably suffered some misfortunes along the way.
Whatever the reason, the word macbeth is not allowed to be spoken in the theater and is instead called “the Scottish play”. When referring to the character of Macbeth, he is referred to as the “Scottish King”.
Traditionally, anyone who utters the name must perform a purification ritual, some of which include leaving the theater and not re-entering it until prompted, or turning around three times and spitting on the floor.
It is also common to quickly recite a line from another of Shakespeare’s plays which is optimistic in nature, with: “Angels and ministers of grace defend us” from act one of Hamlet a favourite.
Updated: April 19, 2022, 03:43