The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.2185  Monday, 17 September 2001

From:           David Wallace <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Saturday, 15 Sep 2001 00:56:18 -0700
Subject: 12.2179 Re: 'The Scottish Play'
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2179 Re: 'The Scottish Play'

Actors have quite a few superstitions that are consistently observed.
Few actors will wish a fellow "good luck" before a performance. "Break a
leg" is the preferred blessing. I've heard dozens of stories that claim
to trace the origin of this expression - none of them very convincing.
(In Quebec, Francophone actors simply say "Merde" - who knows why? Some
Anglophone Canadians favour the French expression.)

Stage techies will admonish actors who whistle on-stage, which they
consider bad luck. The explanation for this seems reasonable. Sailors
often worked the rigging and the fly gallery in the 19th Century.
Traditionally they signaled each other by whistling. A whistling actor
risked cueing a rigger to fly scenery in or out before his cue.

The most convincing explanation (I've heard) for the superstition
regarding "The Scottish Play" maintains that, historically, Macbeth has
always been a crowd-pleaser. If a repertory company's newest production
was fairing poorly, the manager might drag out the company's Macbeth to
replace a faltering play and stimulate some box office receipts. Thus,
uttering the title Macbeth risked jinxing a new play. Most actors I know
will tolerate the phrase "one swell foop" but quoting from the play in
the dressing room will elicit some severe looks.

In the film version of the play "The Dresser", Tom Courtney (Norman, the
dresser) forces Albert Finney (Sir) out of the dressing room for quoting
from "The Scottish Play". Sir is required to turn around three times,
spit, and swear ("piss pot" is offered as the profanity in this
instance). He must knock to be re-admitted. There are many variations -
but spinning around seems to be universal.

Cheers. David Wallace

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