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William Shakespeare - Macbeth

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The Curse

The Curse of  "The Scottish Play" - Norrie Epstein

"Do you believe in curses? Actors do and most are convinced that the play Macbeth is cursed. So afraid are they of the curse that they cannot bring themselves to say the "M" word nor can they quote from the play regardless of circumstances. They are convinced that if they do, bad luck is sure to follow."
 
"Macbeth is an unholy riddle we still hesitate to name for the fear of retribution - Michael Pennington."
 
    "Macbeth is to the theatrical world what King Tut's tomb is to archaeologists. Not other play has had more bad luck associated with it: coronaries, car accidents, Mysterious ailments, botched lines, and sword wonds. The theatrical superstition is not taken lightly: even to prononce the play's title is considered bad dressingroom form. Its very name is a curse, and actors will use any euphemism rather tha actually say the "M" word. Its also considered as the height of bad dressing-room form to quote from the play under any circumstances. For hundreds of years it's been delicately reffered to as "The Scottish Play" or "That Play."
    How did the superstition originate? Is it because of the sinister atmosphere that shrouds the play with its cackling witches, shrieking night birds, and damp swirling fogs? Or perhaps it's because unpleasent events seem to occur whenever it is preformed.
    During the play's very first performance, on August 7, 1606, Hal Berridge, the boy who played Lady Macbeth, died backstage.
   In 1849, after years of intense animosity, the rivavlry between the American actor Edwin Forrest and the British actor John Macready culminated in a riot in which a third party was killed. It took place in front of the theatre where Macready was appearing in Macbeth.
   In one memorable week at Old Vic in 1934, the play went through four different Macbeths. Michael Kim came down with laryngitis; Alastair sim caught a chill; and Marius Goring was fired. John Laurie survived to finish the run.
   The 1937 Laurence Olivier -- Judith Anderson production at the Old Vic must have been the unluckiest ever. Just before the scheduled opening night Lilian Baylis's favorite dog, Snoo, died. (Miss Baylis was the founder of the Old Vic) The next day, Miss Baylis herself succumbed after learning that the opening night was to be postponed. According to Olivier's biographer, Donald Spoto, the director "barely escaped death in a taxi accident; Oliver was nearly brained by a falling stage sandbag; the scenery did not fit the stage; and [composer] Darius Milhaud was not happy with his musical score and kept tearing up pages of his compostition." Moreover, Olivier, with characteristic gusto, accidently wounded the Macduffs in the final battle scene.
   The Scottish Play seems to have given Mis Baylis a particulary hard time: when Macbeth opened in 1954 her portrait fell off the wall and smashed into pieces.
   In 1938 the Stratford Festival opened with a production of Macbeth. During that season an old man had both his legs broken when he was hit by his own car in the parking lot; Lady Macbeth ran her car into a store window; and Macduff fell off his horse and had to be replaced by an understudy for several days.
   Not even animals are immune: in orson Welles and John Houseman's all-black "Voodoo Macbeth," five live black goats were sacrificed late one night by abdul, a genuine witch doctor who was part of the cast.
   A warning to the critic who pan Macbeth: After the first night's performance of "Voodoo Macbeth," Percy Hammond, the conservative drama critic of the New York Herald Tribune, wrote a scathing review criticizing the New Deal and the government's endowment for the arts, calling the production "an exhibition of deluxe boondeoggling." Shortly after the review appeared, John Houseman was visited by the group of African drummers who appeared in the play, along with Abdul. According to Houseman's account in his autobiography, Unfinished Business, they wanted to know if the review was evil and if it was the work of an enemy: "He is a bad man?" Houseman concurred: "A bad man."
   The next day Welles and Houseman were greeted by the theater manager with some unsettling news: the theatre's basement had been filled all night with "unusual drumming and with chants more weird and horrible that anything that had been heard upon the stage." Welles and Houseman "looked at each other for an instant, the quickly away again, for in the afternoon papaer...was a brief item announcing the sudden illness of the well-know critic Percy Hammond...[who] died some days later---of pneumonia, it was said."


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