TABLE WORK: Why do actors call it ‘The Scottish Play’?

“Double, double, toil and difficulty; / The fire burns and the cauldron bubble” are perhaps two of Shakespeare’s most famous lines. So famous, in fact, that they are more often quoted by accident because the most people probably know them as a generic magic spell, rather than lines of Macbeth’s Tragedy.

Likewise, many are aware of the superstition that the play is cursed – that it is not permissible to say one’s name aloud in a theater – but few know that it is the “toil and trouble” line in particular that caused all the hubbub.

Legend has it that a coven of witches discovered Shakespeare was using ‘real’ spells in his play – namely, ‘Double, double labor and trouble’ – and they were so upset they cast a spell on the play for all time. So if someone said “Macbeth” out loud in a theater, tragedy would surely befall the production.

Now when you hear actors talk about “The Scottish Play” it’s to circumvent that curse. However, if someone is wrong while saying the name of the play out loud, each theater has a specific counter-curse to perform, many of which include some form of spinning, reciting something, and spitting. Failure to do so will have disastrous consequences.

A headline in a 1947 issue of the Cairns time read, “Dies after Stage Battle: Accidentally stabbed as Macbeth.” He continued: “Harold Norman, the actor from the Repertory Theatre, Oldham, who was injured with a dagger in a stage battle on January 30, died at the Oldham Royal Infirmary. Norman, who played Macbeth, was injured in the fight between Macbeth and Macduff.

Perhaps the most obvious effects of the curse come in the form of theaters permanently closing their doors after productions of macbethalthough this is where I think we can see the real cause of all the woes surrounding the piece. macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, and because all of his works are in the public domain and therefore free to play, it is often picked up by theaters with low budgets – often struggling. When the financial situation of these cinemas does not improve, macbeth might just be the last show they put on.