Macbeth is one of William Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies. Darker and more powerful than many of his other works, “The Scottish Play” was written around 1606. Macbeth was written during the reign of King James I, who had been James VI of Scotland and reflects the king’s patronage of Shakespeare’s acting company.
The story concerns the tale of Scottish general Macbeth, who is told by three witches that he will be King of Scotland one day. Spurred on by his wife, Macbeth kills King Duncan and seizes the throne. However, he is torn by guilt and consumed with paranoia, and becomes a bloodthirsty tyrant, committing more murders in order to protect himself. Lady Macbeth descends into madness as a result, eventually killing herself.
Macduff, another Scottish lord, organizes a rebellion with the help of English forces. Macbeth declares that he has no fear, as he cannot be killed by any man born of woman. Macduff tells him that he was ripped from his mother’s womb (Caesarian section) and is thus able to kill Macbeth, beheading the king.
Actors have a tradition of refusing to say the name of the play, calling it “The Scottish Play,” out of a belief that the play is cursed. It is also forbidden to quote from the play while backstage. There are numerous rituals that some actors perform whenever these informal rules are broken, although this is all superstition.