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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: September ::
Re: 'The Scottish Play
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.2242  Friday, 28 September 2001

[1]     From:   Mike Jensen <
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        Date:   Thursday, 27 Sep 2001 08:34:09 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2226 Re: 'The Scottish Play'

[2]     From:   Geralyn Horton <
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        Date:   Thursday, 27 Sep 2001 12:01:56 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2226 Re: 'The Scottish Play'

[3]     From:   Robin Hamilton <
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        Date:   Thursday, 27 Sep 2001 18:11:28 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2226 Re: 'The Scottish Play'

[4]     From:   Graham Bradshaw <
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        Date:   Friday, 28 Sep 2001 11:25:21 +0900
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2226 Re: 'The Scottish Play'

[5]     From:   Edward Pixley <
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        Date:   Saturday, 29 Sep 2001 10:17:06 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2226 Re: 'The Scottish Play'

[6]     From:   Andrew W. White <
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        Date:   Friday, 28 Sep 2001 11:58:56 -0400
        Subj:   'The Scottish Play'


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mike Jensen <
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Date:           Thursday, 27 Sep 2001 08:34:09 -0700
Subject: 12.2226 Re: 'The Scottish Play'
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2226 Re: 'The Scottish Play'

Don Bloom wrote:

>I agree with everything Mike Jensen says except the validity of
>statistics, and that only because (a) I don't know how you could get
>valid statistics, and (b) there may indeed be more accidents in
>productions of "Macbeth" simply because the superstitious nincompoops
>are expecting them.

Re (a): Some theatre companies could be chosen as control groups, for
example, and observed during rehearsals and performances of plays, one
of them *Macbeth.*  Then other factors would have to be weighed.  Was
Macbeth the only show with on-stage fighting, and was an accident the
result of a fighting error, for example.  Observers would probably have
to lie about why they are there, so as to not create a self-fulfilling
prophecy.  It would be difficult to do anecdotally.

Re (b): That is what I mean by "self-fulfilling prophecies."  My fault.
I should have explained.

Do we agree now?

All the best,
Mike Jensen

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Geralyn Horton <
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Date:           Thursday, 27 Sep 2001 12:01:56 -0400
Subject: 12.2226 Re: 'The Scottish Play'
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2226 Re: 'The Scottish Play'

> Thus my technical question: is there any other play (Elizabethan or
> otherwise) to which such an elaborate superstition has been attached?

Marlowe's "Faustus".  The superstition isn't as elaborate, but is
similar to one of the "Scottish Play" ones. There, an extra murderer
appears, either as the non-speaking one in the script or in addition to
the actors assigned to the Banquo-Fleance business. In "Faustus", the
conjuring of demons/devils conjures a real one, who appears in scenes
costumed as the actors are, either as one more "extra" than is in the
cast, or in the place of an actor who should be present but is not, due
to some uncanny happenstance.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robin Hamilton <
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Date:           Thursday, 27 Sep 2001 18:11:28 +0100
Subject: 12.2226 Re: 'The Scottish Play'
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2226 Re: 'The Scottish Play'

I don't know whether this has yet come up, but the explanation I was
given years ago (by someone in the business) for the feelings around the
Scottish play was that it was a play-of-last-resort.  If the takings are
dropping, put on The Scottish Play and you're sure of large audiences.

So the associations emerged ...

Robin Hamilton

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Graham Bradshaw <
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Date:           Friday, 28 Sep 2001 11:25:21 +0900
Subject: 12.2226 Re: 'The Scottish Play'
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2226 Re: 'The Scottish Play'

Two obvious books to consult on the superstition about the "Scottish
play" are Dennis Bartholomeusz's 'Macbeth and the Players" (1969) and
Marvin Rosenberg's "The Masks of Macbeth" (1978).

Bartholomeusz notes that when the 1937 Old Vic production with young
Olivier coincided with the death of the Old Vic's manager, Lilian
Baylis, "this seemed to confirm the suspicion among theatre people that
productions of the play were doomed to attract disaster, a suspicion
entertained by Lilian Baylis herself" (p.245). Bartholomeusz adds: "A
curiously widespread superstition, and half-believed in, the idea does
not seem to have occurred to Irving, Macready, Kemble or Garrick, in
centuries that one might have thought were less knowledgeable about such
matters."

I.e., a widespread but relatively recent superstition.

Rosenberg doesn't suggest that the superstition is much older, but he
comments, "Reports from as early as the Restoration tell of men wounded
or even killed in [the] final battle--which partly explains the myth of
jinx associated with the play, and why its name is supposed not to be
mentioned backstage by the superstitious" (p.640). Rosenberg adds, in a
nice footnote: "Harris as Macduff was reported to have stabbed his
Macbeth through the eye, killing him...Many accidents have been reported
to accomplished actor-swordsmen Macbeths. Booth, for instance, was once
badly hurt by his Macduff (Otis Skinner); Ristori's Macbeth, George
Rignold (England, 1882) was so severely cut he had to be replaced.
Beware Macduff indeed."

Best wishes, in dreadful times,
Graham Bradshaw

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edward Pixley <
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Date:           Saturday, 29 Sep 2001 10:17:06 -0400
Subject: 12.2226 Re: 'The Scottish Play'
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2226 Re: 'The Scottish Play'

If I might add just one more word on the jinx.  I have noticed that the
paranoia that dominates the character motivations within the play,
especially the characters of the Thane and the Lady, puts the actors at
risk of becoming infected by that paranoia in their own personalities,
both on and off stage.  The atmosphere of mistrust and tension bred by
the paranoia increases the risk of both accident and illness.  I believe
that most problems with the play (tornados not included) could be solved
by a company that creates a true ensemble among its actors.

I'm always impressed with the way Malcolm has to work so carefully
through his paranoia in his Act IV interview with Macduff before trust
can be established, giving him the freedom to ride back into Scotland to
triumph.  I also think that the "leafy screens," those fresh green
boughs that Malcolm has his army carry onto the stage, seem almost to
purge the fouled air of Dunsinane.

Ed Pixley

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Andrew W. White <
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Date:           Friday, 28 Sep 2001 11:58:56 -0400
Subject:        'The Scottish Play'

In response to Mike Jensen:  take it as you like; Tornados are random
events, and can touch down anywhere.  A town nearby, Ogden, without a
theatre in sight, was literally flattened by the same twister.  Let's
just say we all felt especially unlucky that night.

Andy White
University of Maryland, College Park
[Where the new Performing Arts Center took a near-direct hit from a
tornado earlier this week, killing two and injuring more.  The first one
in nearly 80 years, by some counts.]

[Editor's Note: I hope that the new Arts Center is not too damaged; I am
scheduled to present at a conference there in November, but I guess I
should not include any Macbeth clips. -Hardy, a College Park resident]

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