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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: November ::
Re: Disasters in Performance of the Scottish Play
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.2210  Wednesday, 6 November 2002

[1]     From:   Clifford Stetner <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 5 Nov 2002 12:10:59 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.2199 Disasters in Performance of the Scottish Play

[2]     From:   Jan Pick <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 5 Nov 2002 18:25:46 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.2199 Disasters in Performance of the Scottish Play

[3]     From:   Anthony R. Haigh <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 5 Nov 2002 14:14:57 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 13.2199 Disasters in Performance of the Scottish Play

[4]     From:   Andrew Cooley <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 5 Nov 2002 21:39:50 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.2199 Disasters in Performance of the Scottish Play

[5]     From:   Virginia Byrne <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 5 Nov 2002 18:06:14 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.2199 Disasters in Performance of the Scottish Pla


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Clifford Stetner <
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Date:           Tuesday, 5 Nov 2002 12:10:59 -0500
Subject: 13.2199 Disasters in Performance of the Scottish Play
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2199 Disasters in Performance of the Scottish Play

>Does anyone have a good description of the injuries and other disasters
>accompanying rehearsals and performances of The Scottish Play throughout
>history?
>
>I know the superstition  -- we all do -- but wonder about the incidents
>leading to that superstition. Literary citations, or even personal
>contemporary experiences, would be warmly appreciated.

Richard Huggett. The curse of Macbeth and other theatrical
superstitions: an investigation. Chippenham: Picton, 1981.

This may or may not (I think not) the source of the following accounts.
I probably got these from the internet, so that a little creative
googling should turn them up.

CURSE OF MACBETH

The play partly acquired its evil reputation because of the weird
sisters and partly because tradition traces a long line of disasters
back to its premier on August 7, 1606.

The boy actor playing Lady Macbeth died back stage on opening night. In
1934, four actors played Macbeth in a single week. In 1937, Macbeth had
to be postponed for three days after a change in directors and because
of the death of Lilian Boylis. In 1954, the portrait of Lilian Boylis
crashed down on the bar on opening night. In one production of Macbeth,
nothing went wrong until the fight scene between Macbeth and Macduff.
Both actors had round "Celtic-style" shields strapped to their forearms
of their left arms.  The fight was very physical. The actor playing
Macbeth made a violent move with his left arm and the shield left his
arm and flew like a Frisbee for twenty feet across the stage. The actor
playing Macduff ducked instinctively and the shield hit the ground about
sixteen inches from the front of the stage. Sitting in the front row,
directly opposite the shield sat two nuns.  The most common remedy to
get rid of the curse is that the offender must step outside, turn around
three times, spit, and say the foulest word he/she can think of, and
wait for permission to re-enter the theatre.

On a personal note: I saw the production at the reconstructed Globe in
London last year. At the end, somebody tossed stones representing the
souls of the dead characters into a bucket, but the stone representing
Macbeth missed the bucket and rattled across the stage. I don't know if
this qualifies as a curse, but it sure gave me an unheimliche
experience. I've also noted that every time I teach the play, half my
students come down with the flu (but this curse doesn't seem to be
limited to this play).

Clifford Stetner

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jan Pick <
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Date:           Tuesday, 5 Nov 2002 18:25:46 -0000
Subject: 13.2199 Disasters in Performance of the Scottish Play
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2199 Disasters in Performance of the Scottish Play

'Shakespeare and the Actors' by Sprague has some hilarious doings in
performances of 'Macbeth' and is well worth trawling through if you have
not come across it before!  My favourite report is on the performance at
Leamington by Frank Benson's company where the First Witch was drunk and
started out with 'The cat's mewed three times!'  And ended up somehow
attached to the cauldron!

Jan

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Anthony R. Haigh <
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Date:           Tuesday, 5 Nov 2002 14:14:57 -0500
Subject: 13.2199 Disasters in Performance of the Scottish Play
Comment:        RE: SHK 13.2199 Disasters in Performance of the Scottish Play

I recall a production at Greenwich Theatre in London during the 1970
season - give or take a year.  I may be fuzzy about the details - but
the whole point of legends is that they tell about remembered events,
imperfectly remembered.  In this particular production one actress, who
had been in a car wreck the previous day and was heavily sedated, walked
of the set (which was a series of ramps and platforms) and fell through
to the concrete floor of the basement.  Luckily, because she was so
relaxed she landed without serious injury.  Also the Macbeth of that
production lost a finger during the fight sequence.

I believe that one of the problems with this play is that the actors
rehearse in well lit and well ventilated rehearsal rooms, only to find
that they are performing on ill lit, atmospheric stages that are
suffused with smoke effects.  Add to this atmosphere a need to wield
large medieval swords in a menacing way and you have a recipe for
disaster.

On a side note - the night I saw the Greenwich production I sat next to
Dame Sybil Thorndike.  She knew the whole play and muttered every word
along with the actors on stage.  At the interval she engaged this
awestruck young actor in a delightful and witty conversation - the
delight was mine and the wit all hers.  I would encourage list members
to seek out the lecture she gave at the National Portrait Gallery about
that time on the life of Ellen Terry - it was released on Argo Records
(ZPL 1157).

Cheers,
Tony Haigh

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John W. Kennedy <
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Date:           Tuesday, 05 Nov 2002 14:58:49 -0500
Subject: 13.2199 Disasters in Performance of the Scottish Play
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2199 Disasters in Performance of the Scottish Play

It's tiny, and anecdotal, but I remember Paul Barry saying that his 1980
production, his fourth, was the first without a major cast injury.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Andrew Cooley <
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Date:           Tuesday, 5 Nov 2002 21:39:50 -0000
Subject: 13.2199 Disasters in Performance of the Scottish Play
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2199 Disasters in Performance of the Scottish Play

In the vein of Scottish Play supernaturals, I think it's rather spooky
that when the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford upon Avon burned
down in 1924 (?), a statue of Lady Macbeth was left intact and framed
perfectly in a window void.  I believe there is a photo of the statue in
situ in an old history of the RST booklet that I bought in 1975.  I
still have the pictures: if anyone would like a scanned copy, drop me an
email.

Andrew Cooley

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Virginia Byrne <
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Date:           Tuesday, 5 Nov 2002 18:06:14 EST
Subject: 13.2199 Disasters in Performance of the Scottish Play
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2199 Disasters in Performance of the Scottish Play

Try Norrie  Epstein's FRIENDLY SHAKESPEARE  .There is a chapter on the
cursed play's tragedies.

Theater and life have a lot in common. They both often have problems in
the third act.

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