So You Said “Macbeth”…Now What?

Jon Royal as Banquo in MACBETH. Photo by Rick Malkin

Jon Royal as Banquo in MACBETH. Photo by Rick Malkin

To believe or not to believe in the curse of Macbeth, that is the question. We here at the Nashville Shakespeare Festival do not personally believe in the curse of the Scottish play (obviously…we’ve performed it three times over the last twenty-five years and that doesn’t include the times we’ve brought the play into local schools) but stories abound of accidents, falling scenery, even deaths linked to the play, so we understand that many of you do. To help you out, we thought we’d do a little research and find out when and where you can say “Macbeth” and what to do about it.

The most common superstition that floats around Macbeth is that it’s bad luck to even say “Macbeth” except during rehearsal or performance. As a result, people commonly refer to the work as “the Scottish play” or “Mackers” or “the Glamis comedy” or just “that play.” This rule applies only when inside a theater and only if you are NOT in the play yourself. It is therefore OK, to loudly use the name in other settings – like classrooms and online, for instance.

Shannon Hoppe as Lady Macbeth. Photo by Rick Malkin

Shannon Hoppe as Lady Macbeth. Photo by Rick Malkin

So, what to do if you utter the unutterable? The first, and preferred option, is to leave the theater (or room), close the door, turn around three times and spit over your left shoulder. If you are in polite society and feel it is inappropriate to spit, you can substitute brushing yourself off and saying “Macbeth” three times. Some people believe that you then need to knock on the door and ask to be let back in. We believe this part is only necessary if you are secretly punishing the offender for another offense (like borrowing your Complete Works of Shakespeare and not returning them).

The second option, to be used only if you cannot, for some unforeseeable reason, leave the theater, is to say one of the following lines from one of Shakespeare’s other plays:

  1. “Angels and ministers of grace defend us” (Hamlet 1.IV)
  2. “If we shadows have offended” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream 5.ii)
  3. “Fair thoughts and happy hours attend on you” (The Merchant of Venice 3.IV)

Easy enough, right? Happy “Macbeth”-ing!

Macbeth will run through January 27 at Belmont University’s Troutt Theater. For a complete listing of performance dates visit our website.

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