The Curse of Macbeth

A superstition of history

"Macbeth" is a tragedy play written by William Shakespeare. It is believed to have been written between 1603 and 1607 and is one of Shakespeare's most well-known and frequently performed plays. The play is set in Scotland and tells the story of a Scottish general named Macbeth who receives a prophecy from three witches that he will become the king of Scotland. Encouraged by his ambitious wife, Lady Macbeth, Macbeth murders King Duncan and takes the throne.

Macbeth is surrounded by superstition and the fear of uttering the play's name aloud in theatre, which is universally believed to bring about bad luck or even disaster. But where did this superstition come from?

During Shakespeare’s time, many people believed in witches and witchcraft. The fear of witches and witchcraft has a long history in Europe, and common beliefs about witches can be found in the portrayal of the “three weird sisters” in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. 16th-century Scotland was notorious for its witch-hunts, mainly due to King James. James I of England was actually from Scotland as well. He ruled over both England and his own home country, where he was called James the 6th. In 1589 when James was sailing back to Scotland from Denmark with his new wife, Anne, their ship encountered violent storms at sea, and they were nearly drowned. The Scottish King blamed the evil spells of witches for conjuring the storm, and following his return to Scotland, he ordered a witch-hunt in the coastal town of North Berwick. Witchcraft seems to have been a real obsession of James, as he was heavily involved in a series of witch trials in 1590. Supposedly, a coven of witches was trying to personally attack him, which was considered high treason, so James had them tracked down, forced them to confess to witchcraft, tortured them, and had them burned at the stake. So it’s no wonder that the witches in Macbeth are so demented and evil.

King James, took a special interest in the subject of witchcraft. James the 1st was known for his hatred of all things connected to witches and demons and he had written a book about it. He wrote Demonology, a treatise on witchcraft to further inspire persecution against witches. The King had direct involvement in several witch trials and published his views on how to seek out and punish witches who threatened the security of the monarchy in his book, Demonology. In his work, James put the traditional arguments in favor of a belief in witchcraft. Many elements of the witchcraft scenes in Macbeth conform to James’s ideas and beliefs in witchcraft, as expressed in Demonology. Shakespeare was believed to have written the play to please King James 1st. The intensity of James’ beliefs, specifically those regarding witchcraft and regicide, couples with the portrayal of these same beliefs in Shakespeare's Macbeth.

The play Macbeth was written by the Renaissance playwright Shakespeare, and rumors about a curse on the play have existed almost from the beginning. Saying the word “Macbeth” inside a theatre is strictly taboo unless one is rehearsing or performing Shakespeare’s dark tragedy. Macbeth is believed to be cursed in particular when exploring the origins of the play and the presence of witchcraft. To avoid the curse, people have turned to calling Macbeth by other names. Some alternatives are the “The Bard’s Play” or “The Scottish Play” and Mcbee.

Shakespeare’s play begins with the three witches that come to Macbeth and they prophesy that Macbeth will be a thane and a king. The witches make several appearances throughout the play, continually casting spells to make prophecies. Those who believe in the ''Curse of Macbeth’’, also called the “Scottish curse”, believe that Shakespeare included authentic spells from actual witches, and because the spells were real, the witches are awakened when the play begins to be performed. The witches were not thrilled that their black magic was being used, therefore they cursed the play's performance which originated the curse that throws suspicion on those who are about to utter the forbidden word. In the play, the witches are also known as the weird sisters and they perform an incantation called Hecate. There are believed to be various ways of attracting the curse to oneself. These can be by working on a production of Macbeth, by saying Macbeth in the theatre when you are not working on the play, or even reciting a line from the play if you are not rehearsing or performing it.

Furthermore, throughout the years there have been several vehement and mysterious accidents which have been ascribed to the curse of Macbeth.

In the 20th century, the Curse of Macbeth continued. During productions, sets fell, fires broke out, actors were in car accidents on the way to the theater, an actress playing Lady Macbeth fell off the stage, actors were stabbed by real swords, and one actor even had a heart attack. Some believe Shakespeare brought the curse upon his play by using authentic spells in the three witches’ dialogue.

However, for those who believe in superstition, there are ways in which you can reverse the curse. If you do slip up and utter the dreaded name you can change the bad luck by performing a traditional cleansing ritual. You must leave the theater immediately and you have to spin around three times or run around the theater three times, spit over your left shoulder, and curse or recite an appropriate line from a different Shakespeare play.