Friday, January 8, 2010

The "Scottish Play"

(Hartenstein's Students begin rehearsal)

“Call me superstitious or cowardly or weak
But I’ll never play a character whose name I shall not speak.
I’ll play Hamlet in doublet and hose
And even one of the Dromeos
But sorry, I won’t play Mackers.
I’ll play Richard the Third with a hump and a wig
Or Henry the Eighth, that selfish pig,
But sorry, I don’t do Mackers.
Every soul who plays this role risks injury or death,
I’d rather sweep the bloody stage
Than ever do Mac-you-know-who.
So… give me King Lear, Cleopatra,
Romeo or Juliet, it doesn’t mat-ra
I’ll play them all for free.
But I’d be crackers,
To take on Mackers.
You see I’m skittish about the Scottish Tragedy.”

As we approach our Macbeth performance, the students are shocked to find out Shakespeare’s bloodiest play is cursed. Here are some of the odd occurrences over the years.

1. 1606, London. During the first performance of Macbeth, William Shakespeare was forced to play Lady Mac when actor Hal Berridge suddenly became unexplainably ill and died of a fever. Afterward, King James was so displeased he banned its production for five years.

2. 1672, Amsterdam. The actor playing Macbeth substituted the blunt stage dagger with a real one and killed the actor playing Duncan in front of a live audience.

3. 1721. The actors, responding to hecklers, attacked them with swords.

4. 1775. Sarah Siddons, playing Lady Macbeth, was almost ravaged by a disapproving audience.
5. 1849, New York’s Astor Place. Thirty-one people are trampled to death in a riot during Macbeth.

6. 1926. Sybil Thorndike, playing Lady Macbeth, is almost strangled during performance.
7. 1937, Old Vic Theater in London. Laurence Olivier, who was playing Macbeth, is almost killed when 25 pound weight crashes inches from his head. Later during a performance, his sword broke and flew into the audience hitting a man who later suffered a heart attack. Then later, both director and actress playing Lady Macbeth were involved in car accident on way to theater, and proprietor of theater died of heart attack during dress rehearsal.

8. 1942, London. During a John Gielgud performance, the actor playing Duncan died of angina and one Witch actress died of a heart attack. Then another Witch actress died on stage while dancing around the cauldron, unable to keep up, and the costume designer committed suicide amidst his creations on stage.

9. 1947. Actor Harold Norman was stabbed during the final sword fight in Act V and later died of his wounds a month later. On his deathbed he confessed he had been repeating Macbeth’s name over and over in his dressing room that night before going on stage.

10. 1948. Diana Wynyard sleepwalked off the rostrum and falls 15 feet. She finished the night’s performance.

11. 1953, Fort St. Catherine, Bermuda. “From his Cold, Dead Hands” Charlton Heston suffered severe burns in his groin and leg from tights accidently soaked in kerosene.
12. 1865, April 9, River Queen on the Potomac River. Abraham Lincoln reads passages from Macbeth, those following Duncan’s assassination aloud to friends, within a week he is killed.

Of course, more detailed lists are available if you wish to do the research, but suffice to say, for these ghost-fearing Taiwanese students whose families burn offerings to ancestors twice a month, they believed every word of it.

And so do I.

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