The Unfortunate Curse of the Scottish Play
Three major explanations behind the curse of Macbeth include the reasoning of the witches’ spells, the words of the witches, and the coincidences surrounding the play and venues, all of which supposedly lead to the ominous atmosphere of the play.
First, the repeated occurrence of the witches and their spells give the superstitious play a more reputable backstory behind the curse. Legend has it that “Shakespeare used an authentic ritual when his witches create their magical brew… [And] a group of real witches were so displeased with it that they put a curse on the play” (King), indicating that those injured or killed by the play have Shakespeare to blame. Shakespeare may have had different motives: Aiming to please James I in his work, he may have hinted at his use of “Daemonologie which discussed witchcraft ... [using] ... King James' documented incantations... hoping to ingratiate himself with the King” (Dunning), showing that he may have placed the curse himself in order to warns actors and audiences against the use of witchcraft. Due to the severity of the curse, modern witches attempted to reverse the spell placed on the play, however, “all fell victim to different mishaps preventing them all to make to their meeting” (O’Neill), showing that the curse placed applies to those who try to defy it. The role of the witches in Macbeth shows their superstitions extended not only from the stage but also to those who attempt to break the curse in any way.
Another reason behind the curse of Macbeth is the meter and diction of the witches’ speeches. Majority of Shakespeare’s work is in iambic pentameter, however, “the witches’ rhythm is opposite the heartbeat: BUH-dum, BUH-dum, BUH-dum, etc. [indicating] anti life, hence, death, or at least curse” (Quealy), which indicates that Shakespeare writing causes the curse indirectly. However, the presence of trochaic tetrameter (eight syllables with stresses on 1, 3, 5 and 7) indicates that Shakespeare may have not written those lines himself, since, “In the speeches of Hecate on the other hand the rhythm is iambic. There is . . . not a single trochaic line. This is one of several arguments against the Shakespearean authorship of these passages” (Parrott), indicating that the curse could also from Shakespeare’s lack of contribution to the lines of the witches. However, the characterization of the witches could be to blame for the curse, as “Shakespeare has placed in [their] mouths … imagery and diction … as to render them objects of alarm and fear … and we shrink back, [being] at war with all that is good” (Mabillard), which says that the maladies associated with the play stem from the fear instilled by the witches. However, the words of the witches apply to the entire play, making the curse of Macbeth a curse of rhetoric, fitting for a Shakespearean play.
Finally, the curse of Macbeth can simply be justification of the circumstances and coincidences of a venue an actor. For example, an oft-cited example is that Macbeth often causes a theater to close or go bankrupt, since “As a known crowd-pleaser ‘Macbeth’ is often performed by theater companies with money problems trying to fill seats…And then if the company does fail – what’s to blame…why ‘the Scottish play’” (Kerr), which may both disconnect a theater’s problems with the curse, but also keep theaters wary of the play in general. The play also has a number of violent scenes, involving prop swords and daggers, and though they may go awry, “a lot of scenes [are] in the dark, which increases the possibility for something to go wrong” (Kerr), thus making the violence and setting another possible cause and consequence of the curse. However, much of the curse can sum up to a history in bad luck, and belief in such a curse is often the reason behind more incidents. Overall, the curse of Macbeth could very well have originated from an unfortunate series of events that turned into a believable superstition.
Dunning, Brian. "Toil and Trouble: The Curse of Macbeth." Skeptoid. Skeptoid, 7 Sept. 2010. Web. 04 Feb. 2015.
Kerr, Euan. "Mystery Surrounds Roots of the Macbeth Curse." MPRNews. Minnesota Public Radio, 5 Feb. 2010. Web. 04 Feb. 2015.
King, Warren. "The Curse of Macbeth." No Sweat Shakespeare. No Sweat Shakespeare, 19 Feb. 2011. Web. 04 Feb. 2015.
Mabillard, Amanda. Introduction to the Characters in Macbeth. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2000. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/macbeth/macbethchars.html >.
O'Neill, Laura. "The Curse of Macbeth." Pascack Valley Regional High School District. Schoolwires, Inc., Mar.-Apr. 2008. Web. 4 Feb. 2015.
Quealy, Gerit. "Curse of the Scottish Play." The Huffington Post. Huffington Post, 30 May 2012. Web. 04 Feb. 2015.
Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Ed. Thomas Marc Parrott. New York: American Book Co., 1904. Shakespeare Online. 10 Aug. 2010. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/macbeth/macbethmetre>.
The Curse of Macbeth
The reoccurring misfortunes, including injury, resulting from productions of the play, “Macbeth”, have several theories of their cause, including bad luck, how the play is written and meant to be performed, and superstitious forces.
In Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”, the play is said to be so unlucky that actors or producers call it the “Scottish Play”, in order to avoid calling it by its real name and becoming cursed. The commotion over a supposed curse could be over nothing but a serious of coincidences. For example, the incident where “In 1934, four actors played Macbeth in a single week” according to Nathaniel Hirtle and Marco Saad, could be attributed to simply an unfortunate series of event that happened to occur to actors of Macbeth, since the play is very popular. The curse attributed to the specific play could be no more than bad luck that could happen to any play production, not specifically “Macbeth”. The recurring injuries and misfortunes during the production of “Macbeth” plays could be in a series of bad luck instead of a curse.
Next, the play “Macbeth” has an environment that is dangerous to the actors, which could contribute to the large amount of accidents experienced. Daria Plumb states that the way the play was written could be considered rational reasons for the curse, including dim lighting, a large amount of stage combat, and a “logical last-minute addition to a company's repertoire”. The dim lighting could reduce visibility and increase accidents from falling, while the stage combat could easily cause physical injury. Since many companies choose the play as a last-minute addition, it is sometimes under-rehearsed, which increased the chance for an accident to occur. Injuries from falling, stage combat, and under-rehearsal remain possible causes of the large amount of accidents, instead of the superstitious curse that is part of the play.
Finally, the myth surrounding “Macbeth” revolves around Shakespeare’s use of incantations angering witches, who cursed the play forever. Daria Plumb explains that with the instructions of witchery included in the play, the ritual practitioners were not pleased and then “cast an everlasting spell on the play”. Then, ever since the first production in 1606, the play has been believed to flirt with the “Powers of Evil”, perhaps explaining the constant misfortunes during the play, which occur so often that many believe in the curse. Due to supernatural incidents like a large number of deaths to people involved in the play and a history of sickness to actors in the play, there is a plausible theory to many people that “Macbeth” is really cursed.