Question for thespians

I was reading a news article, (sorry, I tried to find the link again, but it’s gone) about a new up-coming “Simpsons” episode, where the family goes to England and they meet up with one of the actors from “Lord of the Rings” who is acting in a local production of “Hamlet”. The article mentions that Homer accidentally mentions the name of the play in the actor’s presence, which is apparently bad luck, and this causes the character some untold grief.

I’ve never heard of such a thing. Is it true that saying the name of a play one is involved in is supposedly bad luck? If this superstition is true, does it apply to ALL plays? Just Shakespear? Or, just “Hamlet”? What’s the dope?

The superstition deals with Macbeth, not Hamlet. It is said to be bad luck to say the name of “The Scottish Play” inside a theater.

Hope this helps.

Yep, it’s MacBeth. It’s a fun theater superstition.

Of course, as soon as I say it’s a superstition that something bad will happen if you say it in a theater, a bunch of people will come in and say “no, really, it happened to a friend of mine, a light fell on him” or something similar.

Ah yes, you are right, it was MacBeth, my bad. Thanks for the answer. :slight_smile:

Actors have lots of superstitions like this.

  1. Don’t say “Macbeth” in a theater unless it’s actually part of the dialogue in the play. If you break the rule, you’re supposed to turn around three times, spit over your shoulder, curse, and/or some combination of these.

  2. Don’t whistle backstage. Supposedly, this is based in history, whereby the ropes and pulleys and stuff used to manipulate scenery and curtains were operated by sailors, who brought their whistle-based communications from ships when they began working in the theater, so an inappropriate whistle could get something heavy dropped on somebody’s head. I don’t know if I buy this, but lots of theatrical terminology has shipboard roots; all those ropes and things are called “rigging,” and the stage is sometimes called the “deck,” for example.

  3. Don’t wish somebody good luck before a performance. Hence the “anti-” incantation, “Break a leg.”

There’s lots more, ranging from serious to silly. I bet a quick Google on “theatrical superstition” would be revealing.

Regarding the rationale behind the “Macbeth” thing, the common story is that the witches’ incantations in the play (“double, double, toil and trouble,” etc.) were lifted from some “authentic” source of Shakespeare’s day. The play dates from the very early 1600’s, which is when James I succeeded Elizabeth on the throne. As James was something of an amateur witchcraft scholar (he even wrote a book on the subject, IIRC), Shakespeare, being the canny promoter he was, took advantage of the interest and stuck a bunch of related material into his newest play. According to the theory, because these are “legitimate” spells from some book Shakespeare found, they’ve still got a lot of “magick” associated with them, which has carried over to the play, and therefore casual invocation of the name of the play can attract the attention of bad spirits, yada yada yada. I think it’s a load of horse hocky, of course, but it’s still kind of a fun story.

Oh, and for what it’s worth, the actor who gets hammered by Homer’s indiscretion in the Simpsons episode will be Ian McKellen. Yes, he’ll be doing his own voice, too.

Another reason commonly given for why the play MacBeth is considered unlucky is that people believed that there was an unusually high incidence of accidents during productions.

Very possibly there were. For one thing, the play is often literally dark; people can trip, bump into things, etc. stumbling around in the shadows. For another, it used to be common to slop offal and animal blood around to simulate gore. It was easy for people to slip and fall on this disgusting mess.