The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1959  Tuesday, 7 August 2001

From:           David Kathman <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Monday, 6 Aug 2001 23:45:39 -0600
Subject:        Hal Berridge and the First Performance of Macbeth

I've seen numerous accounts of the supposed curse surrounding Macbeth
which claim that the curse originated in the play's first performance on
7 August 1606, when the boy playing Lady Macbeth, named Hal Berridge,
became ill and couldn't perform.  Some versions say that Shakespeare
himself had to take over the role, and some versions say that Berridge
died of his illness.  However, the date (7 August 1606) and the name of
the boy (Hal Berridge) are common to most versions.

Now, I'm not aware of any documentary evidence directly supporting this
story.  The earliest recorded performance of Macbeth was that seen by
Simon Forman at the Globe on 20 April 1611, though there could have been
(and almost certainly were) earlier performances.  James McManaway
suggested (in Shakespeare Survey 2 (1949), 149) that Macbeth was
performed on 7 August 1606, as one of three plays that the King's Men
were paid for performing before King James and the visiting King
Christian of Denmark around that time.  Kenneth Muir's 1951-84 Arden 2
edition of the play cites McManaway and says that Macbeth was "probably"
performed on 7 August 1606; I assume this is where that date comes from
in the anecdotes.

There is no record of a boy actor named Hal Berridge, though that
doesn't mean such an actor didn't exist, given the scantiness of
records.  I've looked through the 1873 Variorum Macbeth, Muir's Arden 2
edition, Nicholas Brooke's 1990 Oxford edition, and A. R. Braunmuller's
1997 Cambridge edition, and none of them mention the Berridge anecdote.
(At least that I could find in my searches.)

But.  A boy named Henry Berredge was christened on 28 July 1593 in
Bitchfield, Lincolnshire, the son of George Berredge.  This would make
him 13 years old in 1606, just about the right age to play a female role
on the London stage at the time.  (Well, 13 is toward the young end of
the range I've found, but well within it.)

I'm not prepared to accept the Berridge anecdote just yet, but this is
still interesting, and it's started me wondering about the provenance of
this anecdote.  A couple of the versions I found on the Internet assert
that it came from John Aubrey, but there's nothing of the sort in my
edition of Aubrey.  It's also not to be found in the "Shakespeare
Mythos" section of E. K. Chambers' *William Shakespeare: A Study of the
Facts and Problems*.  Does anybody out there have any idea when and
where this anecdote was first written down?  I'd be very interested to
know, because that would help me decide how much credence, if any, to
put in it.

Dave Kathman
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