Simanaitis Says

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THE WORD “MACBETH” is never, ever uttered in a theater, except when performing in the Shakespeare play. To avoid the curse, it must always be referred to as “The Scottish play.”

Ha. It is to scoff.

But consider tidbits here, today and tomorrow in Parts 1 and 2, gleaned from Brewer’s Theater: A Phrase and Fable Dictionary and my usual Internet sleuthing.

Brewer’s Theater: A Phrase and Fable Dictionary, written and edited by Jonathan Law et al., foreward by Sir Peter Ustinov, HarperCollins, 1994.

In his Foreward to Brewer’s, Ustinov says a British tragedian Macready is known for inventing the meaningful pause in theatrical oration. What’s more, William Macready, 1793-1873, also played an important role in the curse of The Scottish Play. But let’s begin at the beginning, with the prophesy uttered to Macbeth by three witches in Act I, Scene 3.

Enter Three Witches. The three witches say, “All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee, thane of Glamis!” “All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee, thane of Cawdor!” And “All hail, Macbeth! that shalt be king hereafter!”

Note, they omit mentioning that overweening ambition in fulfilling these prophesies will be Macbeth’s downfall.

Above, in Holinshed’s Chronicles, 1577, the witches appear as well-bred gentlewomen. Below, Théodore Chassériaau’s 19th-century rendering of the scene gets more to the point.

Origin of the Curse. In Act I, Scene 1, Shakespeare describes the witches’ modus operandi: meeting in “thunder, lightening, or in rain,” to cause “hurlyburly” with their familiars, a grey cat “Graymalkin” and toad “Paddock.”

William Shakespeare, 1564–1616. The Chandos portrait, artist and authenticity unconfirmed. National Portrait Gallery, London.

The playwright evidently knew his witches well. In fact, perhaps too well. Some say The Scottish Play’s curse arose because Shakespeare snitched unholy incantations from local covens.

The Globe Theatre, August 7, 1606. As cited in Brewer’s, “The history of bad luck began with the first performance, on 7 August 1606 at the Globe Theatre, when the boy-actor playing Lady Macbeth died of a sudden fever in the middle of the play.”

The Globe Theater. Image from

True, sudden outbreaks of disease were not unknown in Elizabethan times. During one outbreak in 1592-1593, the Crown ordered a complete closure of London theaters. And you know how susceptible kids are to catching things.

But yet….

Tomorrow in Part 2, there’s the real-life tragedy of the 1849 Astor Place Riot. And there’s Orson Welles’ witch doctors in 1936. Each involved The Scottish Play.

Fortunately, there’s a way to undo the curse as well. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2020

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