(Lucy Powell’s article appeared in the Times of London, 4/16. Write firstname.lastname@example.org with a new title idea to rename . . . this play and get the chance to win: ‘Duo!: The Best Scenes for Two for the 21st Century’. The winner will be picked at noon on Sunday, 4/18–so hurry–only one title per person, please!)
Macbeth: Will the curse of the Scottish play strike again?
As Lucy Bailey’s production opens at Shakespeare’s Globe, we examine some of the superstitions around the work
Few plays send actors running to the hills in quite the same way as Macbeth. Ever since its first performance — likely for James I in 1606 — “the Scottish play” has been the stuff of dark, dramatic legend. Quoting from it inside a theatre — and even naming the Thane or his Lady — is said to incur untold misfortunes, unless a counteracting cleansing ritual is instantly performed. For four centuries the weird sisters have been meeting again on a blasted heath, prophesying that “something wicked this way comes”, and so it has often proved to be.
Macbeth has been held responsible for a bewildering array of theatrical ills, from the death of three of the play’s designers, in John Gielgud’s 1930 production, to spectacular accidents, such as the English actress, Diana Wynyard, plunging 15 feet into the pit when she walked off the stage in the sleepwalking scene in 1948. A century earlier 23 audience members were trampled to death when a riot broke out during a performance in Astor Place, New York, and apocryphal stories abound involving prop swords inflicting real wounds, fevers striking actors dumb and near catastrophic scenery disasters.
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