Hamlet - why bad luck to mention in a theater?

I know the origins of such theatrical superstitions such as “Break a leg”, but I have never heard the origins of not mentioning the play HAMLET in a theater. Check out the episode of Blackadder where Edmund ticks off a couple of foppish actors by mentioning the name over and over again.

I think it’s “Macbeth”, not “Hamlet”. I seem to recall from my college days that the custom was to refer to it as “the Scottish Play”. Why, I don’t know.

[innocent] Is it in any way related to the tradition that it is bad luck to mention MacBeth in a theatre? [/innocent]

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Semper Ubi Sub Ubi

Yeah, I read the question.

Theatre people are generally nervous.
You gotta perform, you’re gonna get butterflies, comes with the territory.
So, a minor indulgence in good luck charms,is overlooked.
Whatever helps relieve the tension for you.

So stuff that teddy bear down your shorts, but for god’s sake, get out there and Play Yer Freakin’ Part!

They get cut a lot of slack, and most of the time, justifiably so.
Minor superstition is overlooked.

To cut the major superstition, there’s nothing like practice, practice, practice.
Prepared artists don’t worry about a thing.

I certainly wish I was one of them.
(Prepared artist, I mean.)

In “A Dictionary of Superstitions” it says that the superstition against Macbeth dates back at least to 1910, wherein it was reported that

The dictionary goes on to cite other sources to the effect that “there is an old stage superstition to the effect that its use is disasterous to any company which adopts it.” In 1924, an 80 year old actor reported that it had been a prevalent superstition for at least 30 years, and that bad things happened to theaters where the play was presented.

In 1936 it was speculated that

That’s the best I can do! Anybody else?


I can’t add anything to the meaning, but Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable from 1894 does not mention it–indicating that a very late 19th or early 20th century origin is probably correct.

Apart from the witches, it has an unusually high amount of violence in it – therefore more opportunities for accidents.

John W. Kennedy
“Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays.”
– Charles Williams

Yeah, you could get hit by a moving tree.

Most of the violence is off-stage, n’est-ce pas?

Unusually high? Not by Renaissance tragedy standards, JWK. Ever read Titus Andronicus?

“Don’t take life too serious, son – it ain’t nohow permanent.”

If you have seen the wonderful “Blackadder” series (Third series, during the Regency period), one episode features two very hammy actors. Edmund Blackadder takes every opportunity to say “Macbeth!” to them, result being the two actors recite some doggerel verse and tweak each other’s noses to remove ‘the curse’.

My wife has a degree in theatre, and I’ve heard her say that some people NEVER say the title of The Play That Must Not Be Named, using various circumlocutions to avoid doing so (I’m not sure if “TPTMNBN” is one of the commonly accepted ones or not) whenever they have to discuss it.

Yes, it’s kind of silly, but it’s also a sort of secret handshake: English majors say “MacBeth”, Theatre majors say “the scottish play” or something similar to that (and they also spell “theater” funny, but it’s hard to tell that when they’re just talking).

When we did “The Scottish Tragedy” in high school, we were forewarned by our drama instructor not to utter the show’s name while inside the theatre. Nevertheless, I remember we had a long list of “accidents” that happened throughout production: people stapling their hands to walls, costumes disappearing, etc.

Sucks to your assmar.

I suppose this is just UL, but I always heard that the reason it was unlucky was because the actor who played MacBeth in the original production was killed on stage when some accident happened (I don’t remember what the accident was – something about something falling on him, though).

Oooops! I MEANT to say MacBeth, of course. I’ve never been one to believe in superstions. In fact, I would be tempted to do what Blackadder did and mention the name as many times as possible just to see what the actors would do. Then I would break a mirror on a black cat under a ladder while stepping on a crack.

Wouldn’t that make it an EL (Elizabethan Legend)?

BTW, Trumpy, I once dated an actress who was in a local production of MacBeth a few years back and I did exactly what Blackadder did and rattled off a string of "MacBeth"s in the theatre at every opportunity.

Needless to say we’re no longer dating.

[[I can’t add anything to the meaning, but Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable from 1894 does not mention it–indicating that a very late 19th or early 20th century origin is probably correct.]] Tom

But how can that be possible, Tom? The Blackadder episode was set in the late 18th century. :wink:

Meanwhile, now all I can think of is “enormous trousers.”

“Titus Andronicus” has gore, but very little violence from a production point of view – just a few quick stabbings. “Macbeth” has the murder of Banquo, the murders at Castle Macduff, and the final battle; and it is not unheard of to represent the opening battle and the murder of the grooms as well. And several of these involve heavy weapons, not rapiers.

From the viewpoint of actual danger to the actors, they don’t compare.

John W. Kennedy
“Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays.”
– Charles Williams

MacBoo may be bloody and violent compared to some of the other tragedies, but compared to some of the histories, Henry V, Henry IV part 1 (I think), Julius Caeser, etc, I’m not sure it stacks up that badly. I think it’s just that theater people are a cowardly and superstitious lot.

Superciliousness, however, is apparently genetic.