May/June 2008


Dear Mom,

I know you were expecting a folklore column from me, and I promise to send you one very soon, but not this.

Oh no, not this!

I've wanted to write about this subject for some time, but, having finished it, I find myself sufficiently impressed with the facts in the case to say without reservation that this is one column that must never see print!

I would like to share it with you, however — I think we're safe enough doing that much. It's apparently only when one brings certain subjects up in a public forum, such as a newsletter, that one is tempting fate.

It's the story of a little play, and I was put in mind of the tale by the recent passing of Charlton Heston, who acted in this play many times. On one such occasion, in Bermuda, he was performing in it outdoors, and they had reached a climactic battle scene, when the winds changed.

Suddenly smoke and flames thundered into the audience, and Heston himself was accidentally doused with kerosene, and very quickly found himself ablaze. He suffered major burns as a result.

Now, this might seem an isolated incident, not much to build an entire column around, but this was no ordinary little play.
I'm talking about the "Scottish Play," the "Bard's Play," the "Comedy of Glamis," the play whose name must never be uttered inside a theater...

I'm talking about


Now, Shakespeare wrote the play for James I, who had just taken the English throne in the wake of Elizabeth I's death, and who was a descendant of Banquo, who figures prominently in "Macbeth."

Just before the very first performance, the boy who was to play Lady Macbeth suddenly sickened and died, and Shakespeare himself had to step in to play the role. To make matters worse, King James hated the play, and it would be some time before it began to enjoy its now unquestioned and deserved fame.

This inaugural bit of misfortune was just the beginning of the most amazing run of bad luck ever associated with a play, and it's all because of the witches.

You see, Shakespeare had written three witches into the thing as a sort of Greek Chorus, a device to simultaneously move the plot along and send a chill down the collective spines of the audience.

Unfortunately, as legend has it, he used some genuine sorcery incantations, and the real unnatural "powers-that-were" became very very angry. They immediately cursed the play, and misfortune has dogged it down to our own time.

For brevity's sake I will dispense with too many examples, but people have gotten very ill during the play, people associated with the play have been in horrible accidents, people have died during the play, people have been killed during the play, even audience members have died — none other than the late Sir Laurence Olivier was performing in "Macbeth" when a part of his stage sword broke off and struck a member of the audience. This member was soon dead of a heart attack.

Needless to say, theaters that have hosted the Scottish Play are particularly susceptible to hauntings thereafter.

Finally, it seems that one need not even be on the Stage to run afoul of the play's Curse. Nearly 150 years ago, a rather esteemed gentleman was taking a break from the demands of his office, relaxing on a boat ride and reading aloud from the Duncan's Assassination section of "Macbeth."

It was April, 1865, and the gentleman in question was Abraham Lincoln, who in less than a week would himself be assassinated...

By an actor.

So you see, Mom, I really didn't think it would be terribly wise to tempt fate by perhaps inviting an age-old curse into the happy world of Book Again, especially given the example immediately above. I shall have to think of something else to write about — something decidedly less dangerous...

It therefore occurs to me that it's worth reminding you again that this is NOT this month's folklore column — it would be terrible if this letter somehow accidentally found its way into the current newsletter... Can you imagine the catastrophes that would occur if Book Again's loyal patrons took such a newsletter home, expecting at best a mild few minutes' diversion, and instead found themselves face to face with the unnamable horror of Macbeth's Curse????

Your Son,

Joe Nolte