The Scottish play

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 April, 2011, 12:00am


'Is this a dagger which I see before me, the handle towards my hand?' Lady Macbeth

A tartan tragedy

Macbeth is a play by William Shakespeare (1564-1616), written some time between 1603 and 1607. Shakespeare's plays can be divided into three groups: comedies, histories and tragedies.

Macbeth, a violent story of murder, sinister plots, ghosts and deadly ambition, definitely belongs to the last group.

Shakespeare based the play on the true story of Macbeth, an 11th-century king of Scotland. Like many playwrights do when they put a real historical figure at the centre of a stage drama, Shakespeare changed actual events and characters to make the story more exciting.

The actual Macbeth was a good king. But Shakespeare's title character is a murdering villain, encouraged by his ambitious wife to seize the throne of Scotland at any cost.

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are two of the nastiest characters you will ever find in a play. Be warned! Blood is spilled as Macbeth and his dreadful wife fight their way to the top.


Many actors and directors believe the play is cursed. Ghosts have appeared in theatres where the play has been performed. Actors in the play have suddenly become ill just as they were about to perform.

It was rumoured that Shakespeare had used real witches' spells in the play's text and that the witches he had consulted became angry and cursed the play. During the first performance of Macbeth, Shakespeare himself had to take over the role of Lady Macbeth when the boy playing the part collapsed and died. It was the start of the curse, people said.

Stage superstition

During a 1937 performance in London, a huge object fell down onto the stage, almost killing the famous actor Laurence Olivier. In the same production, both the director and the actress playing Lady Macduff were involved in bad traffic accidents on their way to the theatre, and one night the theatre owner died of a heart attack.

In another British production, the actress playing Lady Macbeth fell 4.5 metres off the stage. She had to be taken to hospital with serious injuries.

In New York in 1988, during a performance of the opera version of Macbeth at the Metropolitan Opera House, a man died when he jumped from the top balcony into the orchestra below.

Macbeth is powerful stuff, with a long list of accidents and mysteries affecting both amateur and professional productions over the years.

Approach with care

Whether or not they believe in curses, people involved with productions of Macbeth always do one important thing as they begin working on the play. At no time during the rehearsal or performance period of Shakespeare's Macbeth must anyone actually mention the title of the play. If they do, it will bring bad luck to the play and anyone taking part. It is okay to say the word 'Macbeth' if it is included in a line in the play, but otherwise, they must avoid the word.

Over the years, people who work in the theatre have started a tradition. They always refer to Macbeth as 'The Scottish Play'. Actors say this to avoid being affected by the curse. If your school drama society ever decided to put on this famous play, don't forget to call it 'The Scottish Play'.