Tag Archives: macbeth

The M word

Main Piece: 

There’s a superstition in the theater world about saying Macbeth or Lady Macbeth or any like version of that. So you cannot say the M-word in a theater or I take it very seriously. I don’t even say it in like a classroom within a theater. I get really scared of that too. I don’t know why I mean I don’t know why, but I do. And oh my god, one of my professors, I think was Scott Ferris who explained the reason but the reasoning behind it, of why it’s Macbeth and not like any other character like Word or name, but if you do happen to say, the M-word in the theater, you have to go outside you have to spit on the ground, spin three times, something like that. And then or else like something terrible is going to go wrong with your show, or the theater is going to collapse or something’s going to happen. The spirits of Shakespeare will come after you. 

Informant’s Relationship to the Piece:

Me: Have you ever had an experience with like saying Macbeth and like anything bad happening? 

Informant: No. Well, actually, for one show one of our actors said it in the dressing room, and was saying “oh my god, I love Macbeth. It’s such a great play.” And the other actors were like ‘Go outside right now’ and I checked in on them during intermission. And they were saying and they were outside making this-this other actor who said the M word spit and like, spin around. And I was like, ‘what’s going on? I was like, you guys, okay? Like, I’m trying to make sure this show is gonna happen. And they were like, No, he has to do this. And the show went great, nothing happened. I personally have never said it. Um, I know that there’s some people who think it’s so silly and they’ll just say whatever they want, and I think everything turns out to be okay. But there is a part of me that always fears the spirits will come and give us some obstacle.


The informant is one of my friends, a 19-year-old theatre major at the University of Southern California. I was told this as we were hanging out in one of the theatres on campus as we were talking about folklore. 


I’m also a theatre major and I think the majority of us have different levels of belief about “the M-word”, where my informant takes it seriously to the point where she won’t even say the characters name unless it’s in one of her lines, but I’ve also met people who don’t really care, and of course, there’s always the one person that says it to annoy the people who really believe in it. But, those people are seen in a different light in a theatre space, because the whole point is to build an ensemble, a community, and when you have a person in the space who goes out of their way to scare people in the group, they take the trust out of the space. So even if you don’t believe it, it’s a sort of litmus test to see who you might not want to work with in the future if they know the superstition and like go out of their way to say it. I also think the “cure” for saying the word is fun because everyone has a slightly different way of doing it, where the steps are all basically the same, but with different variations within it, where like you have to spit over your left shoulder, you have to spin three times, then knock three times and someone has to let you back in. In some variations, you have to say the worst curse word you can think of. 

Mustn’t say MacBeth

Context: W is a 24 year old American born in California. As a young child W performed in major roles for a few productions at a local junior theater. This audio was collected over a discord audio call. 

Intv: “So if I remember correctly you were in the lead role for a few productions at the junior theater. Can you think of any folklore that would’ve come out of that community? For example, like, saying Macbeth or something.”

W: “Well it’s funny you’d say Macbeth actually, because I remember when I was staring in Oliver, during the first couple shows, I don’t know why, but I’d keep saying Macbeth. And, like, it eventually started to really bother some people. I remember some theater kids moving away from me out of fear that I’d say it. It wasn’t until like the fourth day that the director came up to me and personally told me to stop because he had received so many complaints about it.”

Intv: “No way? Really? The director personally told you to stop?”

W: “Oh yeah, it became a huge deal to them apparently. I’m pretty sure after that I stopped saying it during any future productions.” 

Analysis: When W told me about this story I couldn’t help but chuckle slightly at the idea of the director telling a roughly 12 year old boy to stop saying MacBeth, but it also speaks volumes on the legend surrounding this curse. It wasn’t the director who heard W say it off hand and told him to stop. He had received complaints from other actors regarding their concern over the production. All over a word.

The M-Word

“So in the theatre you’re not supposed to say the word Macbeth ever. And that is because in legend, Shakespeare used like actually witch spells in the beginning of Macbeth, um, and so the witches cursed him and cursed the play so every time it was said in the theatre like something would go wrong in the production. And I’ve heard stories of like this happening to, you know, not to my school but like my friend’s school or a friend of a friend’s school, where like someone said Macbeth like 40 times in the middle of the theatre, and, like the pipes burst during opening night and like the lead broke their knee or whatever. And the only way to reverse this curse is to go out of the theatre, spin around three times while spitting over your shoulder and saying Shakespearean curses, and then ask to be invited back into the theatre. That’s the only way to reverse the curse. And so um for a lot of thespians, they try and find new and creative ways to say Macbeth. So I’ve heard the M-Word, I’ve heard Mac Daddy, I’ve heard the Scottish Play…Mac Daddy is a funny one I heard that at a like regional theatre competition like out of the mouth of like a grown man so that’s fun.”

Notes: This is a tentpole of the theatre community. I’ve never met anyone who was tangentially involved in theatre and hadn’t heard of the M-word. I’m not particularly superstitious, and even I jump at hearing the word Macbeth. This is a long-persisting legend, I feel in part to the universal “friend of a friend” that we can cite as our real-life source. I do think its interesting that this is the play that was chosen to be taboo as opposed to any of the other tragedies, which can be more gruesome and more supernatural. Perhaps this is the most well known tragedy?

For more on the curse, click here for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s article on the M-word.

Saying Macbeth in the Theatre

Main Content:

M: Me, I: Informant

I: Yeah, uh I think I can talk a lot. About like theatre traditions and stuff. Folklore. There are a lot of thing that you are not supposed to do because its bad luck in the theatre.

M: Go ahead.

I: So uh like you can say uh Macbeth, unless it’s in context of the play that you are in. Like if it’s in the script, you can say it. And that’s just because um do you want me to go into the history of like

M: Uh-hm (yes)

I: Ok, so um the play Macbeth has been riddled with a lot of really bad luck I guess from past productions, its just known to be a cursed play. So you are not supposed to say the name or it will curse your play.

M: Hmmm

I: You are also not supposed to whistle in a theatre.

M: Oh, wait what happens if  you get cursed? If you say Macbeth, in a play, what happens?

I: yeah, so I mean um normally people will just yell at you, but different places have like. Different ways to counteract you know the curse. I remember like I think at our school you would have to go outside, spin around three times and spit on the floor.

M: Okay, gotcha, gotcha. And if you didn’t do that, what was going to happen. In the show?

I: Just ev- things go wrong.

M: Things go wrong. Okay. Perfect

Context: my informant has been a part of the theatre scene since she was a child and has learned a lot about things that are bad luck and traditions in theatre to the point where she now teaches new actors about the lore as an active-bearer.

Analysis: Like I said above, my informant has been an active bearer for this lore given that she has had to pass down this lore to the younger and newer actors. This is an example of how folklore can come out of authored literature, “Macbeth.” Given how unfortunate and riddled with bad luck many past performances have been of this show, which is referred to as “the Scottish play” when talking about it in the theatre, even just saying the name is said to invoke bad luck and curse your show to go horribly awry. Many theatre members, take this very seriously and will chastise your harshly for slip ups, keeping the folklore circulating to new people and reminding the old ones. Luckily, there are a variety of things to do to ‘reverse’ the bad luck, which almost acts as an initiation to the theatre folklore if they are new. Often afterwards comes the telling of all the times that the Scottish play was mentioned by name in the theatre and how each time things went horribly awry, only furthering the believability of the folklore.

Never Say Macbeth

Informant – “You know the story of Macbeth. There are a lot of witches in that play. Legend has it that the curses that they say are real. If you say the name of the Scottish Play in a theater needlessly, that theater is cursed. The name summons the witches and curses. To reverse it, you have to run around three times in a circle and spit, or say your favorite curse word. You also get shunned by your cast, which is not fun.”

Informant – “I heard it from my freshman theater teacher. He was crazy. I said Macbeth in class once and he yelled at me ‘YOU NEVER SAY THE SCOTTISH PLAY’S NAME.’ He almost threw a chair at me.”

I can’t think of any practical application for this superstition, so I believe it exists to create a more complex theater subculture. If you know about it then you are more of an theater person than those who don’t.