“Macbeth” and Other Unmentionables

The world of theatre is one filled with words, but some words should never be uttered.

Vanessa Wasche (Lady Macbeth) and Michael Ooms (Macbeth) (Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

Vanessa Wasche (Lady Macbeth) and Michael Ooms (Macbeth) on Park Square Theatre’s Boss Thrust Stage until April 9
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)


One of the most famous superstitions in theatre is the belief that saying the actual name of “The Scottish Play” or quoting lines from it in the theatre where it is being performed will bring bad luck to the speaker and/or the production itself. One counter curse to its utterance requires the transgressor to, in front of the play’s entire cast, spin around seven times while saying “I am sorry” to Dionysus, the Greek god of the theatre. Another way to remove the curse is to leave the theatre, spin around three times, swear, spit over one’s shoulder, then knock on the theater door to humbly ask for readmittance (or some variation of these steps). One can also break the curse by reciting other Shakespearian quotations, such as lines from Hamlet or “If we shadows have offended” from A Midsummer Night’s Dream; or one can recite the incantation, “Thrice around the circle bound, evil sink into the ground.”


A well-known superstition is that wishing a performer “good luck” is extremely bad luck. One must not tempt the Fates or Evil Spirits to do the opposite of the true wish. So, instead, curse one of the actor’s most important attributes; tell an actor to “break a leg.” In Shakespearian days, “break” meant “bend” and, hence, taking lots of bows. In actuality, your curse translates to something like, “Take some well-deserved bows after your awesome performance.”


It is considered bad luck to say the last line of a play before opening night. To leave the “tag line” unrehearsed creates an element of worry during the first performance, thus lending a natural tension to inspire a good performance.


Thirteen is very bad luck in theatres, but plays with thirteen-letter titles are considered to be very lucky. So are plays with “green” in the title. However, having “peacock” in the title is unlucky (the eye of the peacock feather is associated with the evil eye) as well as–but only in America–including the words “bomb” or “turkey.”


The best way to get rid of bad luck is to swear. Banish evil spirits with obscene words.


Some believe that Shakespeare deliberately included real witches’ spells in Macbeth. This angered the actual practitioners of the sacred black magic ritual depicted in the play, causing them to curse it. “Double, double, toil and trouble,” indeed!


from Macbeth by William Shakespeare

. . . . Eye of newt and toe of frog,

Wool of bat and tongue of dog,

Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,

Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing,

For a charm of powerful trouble,

Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.




Macbeth Study Guide, Park Square Theatre





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