Ten Facts About Macbeth


This week sees the Scottish Opera’s production of Verdi’s Macbeth at the Glasgow Citizen’s Theatre.

With the best way to get to the theatre being via the Subway – Bridge Street is only round the corner – we thought we’d celebrate the fact with ten fascinating facts.

  1. A great many brilliant actors have played the role of Macbeth, including quite recently two of Glasgow’s finest: James McAvoy and Alan Cumming. Robert Carlyle also rose to fame thanks to Macbeth: Hamish Macbeth, that is, the likeable northern constable.
  2. Actors only ever speak of Shakespeare’s Macbeth as “the Scottish play” because mentioning its title while in a theatre is said to bring bad luck. Some claim Shakespeare himself cursed the play after learning that Kings James VI didn’t enjoy it. Others say there was an accidental death during one early performance – the play has many fight sequences where swords fly.
  3. Another explanation for the curse is that Shakespeare used the spells of real witches in his play. One cure is said to be that once the name is uttered you leave the theatre, walk round it three times, have a shoogle and spit over your shoulder.
  4. The historical basis for King Duncan, who is murdered by Macbeth in the story, is Donnchad mac Crinain aka Duncan I, King of Alba who ruled from 1034-40. Some historians claim that before becoming King of Scotland Duncan was King of Strathclyde – so we’re guessing he would have loved our ZoneCard.
  5. Shakespeare’s play famously depicts Macbeth’s reign as bloody and short. The real life Macbeth actually reigned for 17 years (from 1040 to 1057) and is considered by many historians to have been an OK bloke: “the generous king”.
  6. Horses and your own two feet were the main modes of transport during Macbeth’s time and the Shoogle never reached Birnam Wood. There was always the ability to travel via good correspondence, however, as Lady Macbeth notes (Act 1, Scene 5): “Thy letters have transported me beyond / This ignorant present.” (Perhaps the witches flew broomsticks, it is not clear.)
  7. Giuseppe Verdi, who based his opera on Shakespeare’s play, is a huge figure in Italian culture and remains closely connected to Glasgow — by air. Parma airport is named after the composer making it possible for opera fans to fly from Prestwick to “Parma Giuseppe Verdi”.
  8. In the run up to Italian unification the cry “Viva Verdi” was used by nationalists to stand for “Viva Vittorio Emanuele Re D’Italia – Long Live Victor Emmanuel King of Italy”.
  9. Verdi’s funeral, in Milan in 1901, remains Italy’s largest ever public gathering with over 200,000 people believed to have been in attendance.
  10. Glasgow boasts its own Macbeth Street, in G31, just round the corner from Macduff Street, named after the King’s fictional nemesis, and Glamis Road – Macbeth’s title at the beginning of the play is Thane of Glamis.