The Macbeth Curse: A History

May 25, 2017

Macbeth is known for being more than just a Shakespearean play. It has a bizarre and dangerous past that haunts it since its premiere back in the 1600’s. Let’s take a look at that history.


The First Performance

All we have is legend concerning the first performance, however, the story goes as follows.


The boy cast as Lady Macbeth fell ill and died right before going on stage. With no one else to play the role, Shakespeare himself took it upon himself to play the part.



King James I

The King himself was said to have been so disgusted by all the bloody action that took place in Macbeth, that he forbade the play from being performed again. We also know that the play itself skirted the rules of the day by placing itself in the past, so as not to portray reigning monarchs.



The Role of Lady Macbeth

The role of Lade Macbeth was especially risky. It is said that actresses who portrayed here were chased out of theatres due to audiences believeing they were real killers. Now that’s good acting!


Another actress feel 15ft off the stage during the sleepwalking scene and in 1926, a minor actor trying to show his range, decided to strangle Lady MacBeth onstage.


The 20th Century

20th-century performances especially had it bad. So true to life was one particular 1849 performance, that the audience itself broke into a riot where more than 30 people were killed.


When Laurence Olivier played the title role in 1937, a weight above the stage mysteriously became untied and crashed down within inches of him. To add to this production’s bad luck, their use of real swords during one fight scene caused a tip to break off, fly into the crowd, and cause a man to have a heart attack. Actually.


In 1942, John Gielgud starred in a production that holds the record for misfortune. Three actors died during its run, and the costume designer killed himself right after the premiere.


Charlton Heston played the lead in 1953 and suffered severe burns to his legs. It was later discovered that his tights had been mysteriously soaked in kerosene.


The list goes on and on.


Though theatre folk are known for their superstitions, Macbeth has given them good reason to continue the traditions that keep bad luck at bay.




All this brings us to one very important question, what caused the Macbeth curse in the first place?


Many stories claim to know the reason. One such tale says that Shakespeare used an actual incantation within the play and witches who attended the performances were so angered that they placed a curse on all future productions of the drama. Another said that Shakespeare himself cursed the play once King James I forbid it to be performed again.


Regardless of why, actors remain wary of the play, even though it proves to be a crowd pleaser.


The Shakespeare Company presents



By William Shakespeare    Adapted by Anna Cummer

Directed by Craig Hall

May 12 – 27

ADDITIONAL 2:30PM MATINEE’S ON MAY 13, 14, 20, 21, & 27

Inspiration respectfully take from Doug MacGowan’s The Macbeth Curse