The Curse of the Scottish Play

There’s a running joke in one episode Blackadder involving two thespian dandies who keep accidentally saying the name of ‘The Scottish Play’ and panicking at their realisation of saying it aloud. The word is ‘MacBeth’ and it has been something of a tradition that saying the name out loud prior to performance brings with it terrible, bad luck to the show. Blackadder treats it a litle playfully, as the two dandies keep having to perform a ritual involving holding their noses and spinning on the spot to dispel the curse. As funny as this might sound to you or I, you’d actually be surprised with how seriously acting companies take this superstition. It’s no joke that most theatre groups will traditionally refer to the play as ‘The Bard’s Play’ or ‘The Scottish Play.’ Fortunately, when I stayed in one of the Princes Street hotels Edinburgh has to offer, I had the luxury of seeing MacBeth performed without any hiccups or catastrophes whatsoever, so maybe it’s not all so bad after all.

It’s not exactly clear where all of these negative connotations came from in the first place, though one common theory is that it has arisen from the play’s strong themes of witchcraft and the supernatural. Many believe that Shakespeare himself embedded a spell into the witch’s song, so that the actors unwittingly unleash a curse upon themselves and the audience upon its performance. However, if we are to find a satisfactory explanation over the MacBeth’s superstition we should stop talking about witchcraft and magic and focus on sound logic and concrete evidence instead.

A much more sensible and realistic explanation would actually date back to the times of Shakespeare himself. In Elizabethan times, it was common for theatres to host stock theatre groups, who would fill in slots that were not being taken by professional theatre troupes. These stock groups would often rotate a series of plays, with each actor sticking to similar roles with each play. For example, the actor who played MacBeth would have also played Hamlet, etc. Unfortunately, these stock groups were often bad and had to resort to instant crowd pleasers to distract from their poor acting skills. Hence, MacBeth was a popular choice for pleasing the audience, and its performance often came before the collapse of the acting group.

If you want to see ‘The Scottish Play’ for yourself, book into any luxury hotel Edinburgh may tempt you with and see it this weekend!

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October 19, 2011 | Author: | Posted in City Guides

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