Today sees the release of my romantic suspense novella, The Scottish Diamond – hooray! Earlier this week I wrote about the setting in Edinburgh, along with some photos of that lovely city. Edinburgh can be a beautiful place in the sunshine, but I think even the Scots would agree that in the mist and rain it can be gloomy, steeped as it is in a sometimes bloody history.
One of the themes of The Scottish Diamond deals with the superstition surrounding Macbeth, otherwise known as “the Scottish play”. The heroine, Lizzie, is an actress, and Macbeth is the play she’s rehearsing with her theatre group. Right from the start, Lizzie feels the play is bringing bad luck. She tells the hero, Léon:
‘It’s full of wickedness, all right. It’s well known the play is cursed. For us actors, it’s a nightmare. We have to remember not to say the name “Macbeth” in rehearsals, because if we do, something terrible is bound to happen. We have to call it “the Scottish play,” instead. And if any of the actors forget, they have to go outside the rehearsal room, turn round three times, and knock on the door to be let back in.’
Later in the story, one of the actors does say the name “Macbeth” backstage by mistake – and bad luck surely follows…
As I was writing this story, I grew more and more curious to know why actors are so superstitious about this play. Here are some of the things I’ve discovered.
Some actors believe the spells in the play are actual spells used by witches in Shakespeare’s day. There’s a legend that a coven of witches were so enraged by this, they cursed the play for all time. If you’ve ever been to see Macbeth, you’ll know the witches can be terrifying when they first appear out of the mist, and the words they speak are chilling. It’s easy to see how this superstition grew up.
And it’s true that bad luck dogged Macbeth from the first. Shakespeare wrote the play especially for King James, who was Scottish and a
believer in witchcraft – but the King hated the play so much he banned it, and it wasn’t performed again for five years. There are many accidents associated with the performance of the play. Stories go that in the very first production, a prop dagger was replaced with a real one, and an actor died. In 1947, the English actor Harold Norman – who didn’t believe in the superstition – was accidentally stabbed during the performance and later died of his wound. There have been lethal riots, fires, broken limbs, and when Laurence Olivier himself played the part of Macbeth, he was almost killed when a heavy weight dropped to the stage, narrowly missing him.
Of course there are more prosaic reasons why the play attracts such bad luck. There are more fight scenes in Macbeth than any other Shakespeare play, and – since it’s now over 400 years old – it’s inevitable that there will be a number of accidents and tragedies associated with it.
My hero, Léon, certainly doesn’t believe in the superstition. Léon‘s mother was Italian, and he uses a phrase that sums up his philosophy on superstition exactly:
‘Do you know how we say “break a leg” in Italian?’ I shook my head, and he told me, ‘In bocca al lupo. It means “In the mouth of the wolf.” And if ever someone wishes you good luck in this way, you must never say “thank you,” because that is guaranteed to bring you bad luck. You must answer only crepi il lupo. It means “to hell with the wolf.”’
“To hell with the wolf” – I love that expression! It’s perfect for Léon, because he’s seldom afraid of anything…except for Lizzie’s safety – which becomes clear as the story progresses :)
The saying “In the mouth of the wolf” comes from the fact that female wolves carry their young in their mouths to protect them. The person saying it is wishing someone safe-keeping. It’s a lovely expression.
It was great fun finding out more about these superstitions as background research for The Scottish Diamond.
Here is the blurb:
“Fair is foul, and foul is fair…” What do you do when nothing is what it seems…even the man you love?
When Lizzie Smith starts rehearsing Macbeth with her theatre group in Edinburgh, she’s convinced the witches’ spells are the cause of a run of terrible luck. Lizzie’s bodyguard boyfriend, Léon, is mysteriously turned down for every job he applies for, until he’s finally offered the job of guarding “The Scottish Diamond,” a fabulous jewel from the country of Montverrier.
But the diamond’s previous guard has disappeared in mysterious circumstances. The Scottish Diamond has a history of intrigue and bloody murder, and Lizzie is plagued by nightmares in which Macbeth’s witches are warning her of danger.
Then Lizzie discovers she’s being followed through the streets of Edinburgh, and it seems her worst fears are about to be realised…
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The Scottish Diamond is available now on Amazon and will be available from other ebook retailers soon. Hooray again!
And if you’d like a FREE copy of Palace of Deception – the novella in which Léon and Lizzie first meet – I’m offering a copy to all new subscribers to my newsletter. Click here to download and I hope you enjoy!
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I hope you enjoyed my post about the superstitions surrounding Macbeth. Do you have any particular superstitions yourself, or any superstitious sayings you use? If you have any comments at all, I’d love to hear from you!
19 thoughts on “Witches, superstition, Scottish romance, and Macbeth”
Wonderful piece, thanks Helena. Having worked in entertainment (all mediums) I have to say that there are many rituals and superstitions still adhered to and so I elate all too well to the Scottish Play and what surrounds it. I wish you much success.
Thanks very much, Jane! It’s strange how actors and performers – and sportspeople – are often superstitious. I think a lot of us have some rituals we have to do, just in case “something bad” happens. Thanks so much for dropping in, and for your comment!
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My pleasure, yes, we all do. One of my Chinese artists used to knit ferociously at the side of the stage before going on, same piece of knitting went on forever. She would have thrown up constantly had she not knitted. :)
How funny! I can imagine that would work. Knitting has been relaxing therapy for me on many an occasion :)
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Hi Helena, I have always hated saying ‘break a leg’ to my sons and daughter. I now have a new phrase! ‘Il bocco al lupo!’ Of course, I’m not superstitious at all. :) great post!
Hi Ken, I love this phrase, too! So much more romantic than “break a leg.” I’m not superstitious, either…although I’d never put a pair of shoes on a table. You just never know what bad things might happen.
Thanks so much for dropping in!
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Helena, an interesting post about superstitions and the premise of your new story.
Best wishes with The Scottish Diamond!
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Thank you very much, Susan!
Love the post, Helena, and all the superstitions attached to this play, as well as the great Italian saying!.
Thanks so much, Rosemary. I really love the Italian saying, too. Thanks for dropping in!
Happy pub day Helena!
Hope you don’t mind me linking on #TalkoftheTown :)
Thanks, Shaz – and thank you so much for sharing! I really appreciate it!
I was an actress too and we all had to do that ritual. You must also never say Lady Macbeth, you have to call her The Lady. Funnily enough, one of my novels has the ghost of Macbeth haunting a production because he’s so angry with Shakespeare portraying him as a villain. I had to research the true story and it seems Shakespeare took it from Holinshed who twisted the truth. I love the play. Have directed a bowdlerised version, some of it modernised in speech, using three different styles. It’s the most wonderful play, I think, and such a terrific story.
Hi Elizabeth, how wonderful to direct Macbeth. I absolutely love the play, too, and there are parts of it that move me to tears. I love the idea of a ghost of Macbeth haunting the production. Hard to believe it’s four hundred years this year since Shakespeare died, and we’re still fascinated by and love his plays. Thanks so much for dropping in, and for your great comment!
Congratulations on the release of your newest novella! #TalkoftheTown
Thank you!! It loved writing this story. Feels great to have it available at last. Thanks for dropping in!
Reblogged this on theowlladyblog.
Every country has superstition.Supertition in relationship.If you are dating a Russian, you should never give even number roses. If you are dating a Chinese make sure you don’t have a mustache and beard because it is considered as a bad luck.And in India if your mehendi color is dark then your husband will love you a lot. It is silly but these are superstitions. It is said that there is no logic in love. The effects of falling in love are so powerful and uncontrollable. I think love romance and fear of loss is a perfect recipe for superstitious behavior.
I had never heard of those superstitions! How interesting. I love to hear about superstitions in different countries. I do know many Chinese are very superstitious. I used to play the Chinese game Mah Jong with some Chinese friends and they had many superstitions they had to stick to during the game.
I agree, powerful emotions and fear of loss can definitely make people more superstitious. It’s illogical, but we want to try everything we can and we fear something terrible happening. Thanks so much for dropping in, and for your great comment!