Did I Curse Myself by Quoting Macbeth Flowchart

I love infographics. Data in pictures – a world of meaning in one glance. With extra glances for decoding the details. One of my favorite upcoming Kickstarter rewards is an interactive infographic, with little pop-up tombstones I spent way too long perfecting.

Come to think of it, that infographic is the reason Something Wicked moved from concept to possibility … I entered those (perfect) tombstones in a data visualization competition as part of Northwestern’s annual Computational Research Day, and made it to the finals.

I didn’t win, but seeing as the other finalists were making visualizations of microscopic … somethings … and deep space quarks, I was just happy to be included. And as part of the competition, I met a group of data viz professionals who came from the video game and animation industries. They loved the idea of Something Wicked, and though they eventually scattered out of Evanston as breath into the wind, they’re the reason this project started to grow legs.

As a continuation of that moment, I present the “Did I Curse Myself by Quoting Macbeth?” flowchart. Actors are a superstitious bunch, and at the top of the taboo totem pole is quoting—or even saying the name of—the Scottish Play … if certain conditions are met.

HOWEVER, like a lot of taboos, the boundary lines have blurred over the last 400 years between what’s safe and what will burn the house down. Some nervous actors won’t say the play’s name in any context.

To clear up the confusion and liberate the legion of theatre-makers and fans who want to “double double, toil and trouble” whenever and wherever they please—without incurring the wrath of a Shakespearean curse—we interviewed countless theatre professionals and scoured a library of texts to present this flowchart. Use it to determine whether or not your quoting is sanctioned. But before you start, be sure to visit us our blessings page for the traditional “cleansing” blessings … just in case we’re wrong.

In the mood for a little history? Below the flowchart is our favorite summary of the curse of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. FYI, Professor Hobgood’s entire book is worth pestering your local library to hunt down.

Macbeth curse flow chart 2

“Among actors, The Tragedy of Macbeth has always been one of the most fearsome of Shakespeare’s dramas – not necessarily because of its difficulty or complexity, but rather because of a long, superstitious history of ill fate surrounding the play. Macbeth is, according to thespian Richard Huggett, ‘the unlucky play of the theatre [which] for four hundred years has carried in its wake a truly terrifying trial of disaster and bad luck.’ Unless rehearsal is under way, actors rarely quote this ‘cursed’ play inside a theater and refer to its title only through evasive circumlocutions: That Play, The Scottish Play, or The Unmentionable. Props and set pieces from Macbeth are also considered tainted or dangerous and often kept separate from the rest of a company’s production goods. In the early modern period especially, even poor, traveling playing companies refused to substitute or exchange Macbeth’s costumes and props into other performances for fear of exacerbating the play’s notorious curse and bringing it upon the rest of their repertory.”

From Allison P. Hobgood’s Passionate Playgoing in Early Modern England. Cambridge University Press, 2014, p. 34.

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