Why do actors avoid saying the word ‘Macbeth?’


The superstitions concerning the play Macbeth mean that many actors avoid saying its name while in a theatre. If an actor does utter the name of the famous Shakespeare play before a performance they are made to leave the building, spin around three times, spit, curse then knock before they’re allowed to return. The superstitions run so deep that even the opening lines are believed to be cursed and it is referred to strictly as ‘The Scottish Play.’

The roots of the curse concern the supernatural elements of the play, with some legends stating that real-life witches and witchcraft were used in the original production, or even that real witches cursed the play as it revealed their secrets. Although there’s no factual evidence for it, there are also rumours that actors appearing in the original production suffered terrible fates, with the actors playing Macbeth and Lady Macbeth dying either before or after the production. In one legend, a real dagger replaced the prop one, and it’s even said that Shakespeare himself cursed the play so that no one other than him could direct it.

In reality, more actors have died in productions of Hamlet than Macbeth, and as Macbeth is an expensive play it had a habit of putting struggling theatres out of business, adding fuel to the ‘curse.’ In 1849, a riot broke out during a performance and 31 people were trampled to death, and in 1942 three actors in a production died, with two others committing suicide. With such a string of disasters and mishaps, and considering the supernatural elements of the play, it’s no wonder that the ‘cursed’ reputation of the play continues to this day.

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