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Q: Why is Macbeth called "unlucky"? ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   2 Comments )
Subject: Why is Macbeth called "unlucky"?
Category: Arts and Entertainment > Performing Arts
Asked by: dho1115-ga
List Price: $10.00
Posted: 20 Apr 2006 22:00 PDT
Expires: 20 May 2006 22:00 PDT
Question ID: 721201
Why do they say that the play Macbeth is called the "unluckiest" play
ever made? I read somewhere that actors and actresses don't even say
the name of the play. Does that superstition still continue to this
day? Is it also considered "bad luck" for the audience to see the
Subject: Re: Why is Macbeth called "unlucky"?
Answered By: answerfinder-ga on 21 Apr 2006 01:41 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Dear dho1115-ga,

It is said that there is a history of catastrophes, bad-luck, and
unexplained incidents when the play is performed, and some actors
consider it unlucky to refer to the play by name. They call Macbeth
the ?Scottish Play?. This belief is still current among some actors.
There is no suggestion that the audience is in danger from this

As to how this superstition arose is subject to debate. It is that
said that the play of Macbeth with its witches, spells and
incantations was nervously performed by Shakespeare?s actors, and that
the fear that the play was cursed was confirmed when an actor by the
name of Hal Berridge died while playing Lady Macbeth in 1606. Some
argue that the superstition was an invention of a later generation of

After this tragedy in 1606 it was reported that productions of the
play suffered from various incidents. You can read a general account
of these in the article from the Austin Chronicle. Please note,
however, that I have not researched each incident to see whether it
indeed occurred.

As I mentioned, the origin of this superstition is disputed and you
may wish to read this short essay, ?The early seventeenth-century
Origin of the Macbeth Superstition? by Gabriel Egan, Senior Lecturer
in English at Loughborough University. The author ( and other
academics) argue that there was no such actor as Hal Berridge.

You may also find this discussion on the Macbeth superstition of
interest: ?Angels and Ministers of Grace: Theatrical Superstitions
Through the Ages?.  The section on Macbeth starts two thirds of the
way down the page at ?Of course, the granddaddy of all theatrical

This is yet another suggestion from The Stevenage Lytton Players at a
recent production of Macbeth.

?However, the ACTUAL reason for this fear is much more sensible, and
rarely known by theatre peoples.  The superstition actually began in
the old days of stock companies, which would struggle at all times to
remain in business.  Frequently, near the end of a season a stock
company would realise that it was not going to break even and, in an
attempt to boost ticket sales and attendance, would announce
production of a crowd favourite . . . Macbeth.  If times were
particularly bad, even 'the bard's play' would not be enough to save
the company, therefore, Macbeth often presaged the end of a company's
season, and would frequently be a portent of the company's demise. 
Therefore, the fear of Macbeth was generally the fear of bad business
and of an entire company being put out of work.?

Some modern actors still admit to the superstition. This is from an
interview with Dominic Dromgoole who is the new artistic director of
the Globe Theatre, ?On the debit side, there are one or two loud pings
on the luvvie-ometer (he actually admits that he still refers to
Macbeth as ?the Scottish Play?)?,,2102-2107901,00.html

Some, however, dismiss it. Royal Shakespeare Company director Dominic
Cooke banned all actors from calling it ?the Scottish Play?.

This is Keeley Hawes.
?Keeley had no qualms about appearing in "the Scottish play". "I don't
really have any of those superstitions about it," she says with her
infectious laugh, "and nothing went horribly wrong."?

Having read all these articles I think you will see that the origin of
the superstition is disputed, and whether it is 16th century, or a
later invention, it still certainly influences some of today?s actors.

I hope this answers your question. If it does not, or the answer is
unclear, then please ask for clarification of this research before
rating the answer. I shall respond to the clarification request as
soon as I receive it.
Thank you

Clarification of Answer by answerfinder-ga on 21 Apr 2006 01:50 PDT
Sorry, in my conclusion it should read, 'and whether it is 17th century'.

Request for Answer Clarification by dho1115-ga on 26 Apr 2006 21:43 PDT
Great answer. Very thorough. The only thing I am curious about was
that you wrote that and actor by the name of "Hal Berridge" played
"Lady" Macbeth? I thought it's strange that they had a man play a
woman on stage. Couldn't they find an actress to play the role?

Clarification of Answer by answerfinder-ga on 27 Apr 2006 00:09 PDT
Dear dho1115-ga,

Good question. Until the reign of Charles II, female roles were taken
by young boys. Women were not allowed on stage.

"All of the actors in an Elizabethan Theatre company were male. There
were laws in England against women acting onstage and English
travellers abroad were amused and amazed by the strange customs of
Continental European countries that allowed women to play female roles
- at least one Englishman recorded his surprise at finding that the
female  actors were as good at playing female parts as the male actors
back home."

"The Elizabethan Theatre
The Elizabethan theatre was a thriving popular source of
entertainment, with buildings, stagecraft and conventions (there were
no actresses, for example, and female roles were taken by boys) which
were all major influences on the texts created for them."

This book seems useful for further reading.
Impersonations: The Performance of Gender in Shakespeare's England  
Stephen Orgel

Hope this helps.

Thank you for the tip.

dho1115-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $5.00
Excellent answer. Very thorough in answering my question.

Subject: Re: Why is M*****h called "unlucky"?
From: probonopublico-ga on 20 Apr 2006 22:31 PDT
Reputedly, productions of M*****h are always affected by some unwanted incident.

I recall actors having been injured during a performance of M*****h.

Me? I wouldn't even write the word M*****h.

Now watch out and see what happens!

Worried of Hove
Subject: Re: Why is Macbeth called "unlucky"?
From: myoarin-ga on 21 Apr 2006 06:15 PDT
MacBeth -----> Probonopublico, aka Bryan, aka "Worried of Hove"

(Watch out for that slick spot on the patio.)  ;-)

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