Good to be back in the saddle! Last weekend was our performance of Macbeth. We spent all summer working on it. The road was hard, especially the last two weeks. My job was to pull together props, costumes, makeup, backdrops and a few last-minute casting decisions… I lived a few days of dread, and a few weeks where everything seemed to go wrong. Which made me wonder… Perhaps the play really is cursed.
The Curse of the Scottish Play
To some that will sound entirely superstitious. I felt that way in the beginning of the summer, too.
I’m not new to theater; this is the third play I’ve co-directed and the fifth I’ve helped produce. I acted in many before that. I know something is always going wrong. But this time, so many things went wrong, unconnected pieces that seemed to threaten the production at every level. The power-steering went out of the car I was driving while collecting props and costumes, a truck that we borrowed to move stage pieces broke down so we didn’t have a way to take them back, a bunch of costumes that are usually available to us went missing, the lights we usually borrow had to be tracked down, rain threatened both performances (As my co-director put it, “So foul and fair a day I have not seen.”)… and many, many more.
As we worked through it, I found my own theory about the Curse.
The Weird Sisters
Before they even encounter Macbeth, the witches, known as the three Weird Sisters, show their true colors. One of them has been scorned by a woman; she wouldn’t share her chestnuts. The Sisters plot a terrible revenge for the woman’s husband:
Weary se’ennights nine times nine
Shall he dwindle, peak, and pine.
Though his bark cannot be lost,
Yet it shall be tempest-tossed.
This speech, though unrelated to the meat of the play, pulls double-duty; it characterizes not only the witches but the nature of evil itself. Evil isn’t out to win. It is not allowed to bring about the man’s death; that rule has been determined by some unknown battle long before the setting of the play. A battle that Evil has already lost. Instead, the Sisters must be content with ruining the man’s life in other ways.
This fact of evil struck me particularly when we were looking at the end of the play. The witches last appear in the first scene of Act IV. I wondered, How do the witches feel at the end? Good triumphs in Macduff defeating Macbeth and in Malcolm taking his rightful throne. Evil seems to have been swept away like the sun bursting through the clouds. And yet… The Weird Sisters weren’t disappointed.
So what did they want? At first, I thought we had them wrong; perhaps they’re not the typical, scary witches I’d always thought them. Perhaps, instead, they were more like the Fates of Greek myth, stating men’s lots in life, but having no stake in history themselves. But the above speech against the chestnut wife seems to dispel any thought of the disinterested Fates.
In fact, all the Sisters desired was spite. They had nothing to win or lose. As they seem to acknowledge, evil has already lost in a big way. Now that they have nothing to hope for, they seek only to ruin the happiness of others.
This is evil at its core. To spite goodness, to ruin happiness, to warp greatness, to hollow goodness.
So how is this related to the curse? I think that, when this play is performed well, it shows this truth about evil. The glamor is gone. Evil is ugly. And I think Evil doesn’t like us to know it.
In the end, though the play was tempest-tossed, Evil couldn’t prevent it. Thank God!