The Scottish business

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Art Neuendorffer

May 23, 2006, 8:24:44 PM5/23/06
William Shakespeare's play Macbeth is associated with many
superstitions. Actors avoid naming it, referring to 'that play' or 'the
Scottish business'. Laurence Olivier was nearly killed while playing in
Macbeth, when a scenery weight fell near him. It is unlucky to quote
from the play; it is thought that the witches' song (Act IV, Scene I)
is the reason for the superstitions.
Shakespeare's smoke and mirrors tricks

"The longstanding mystery of a floating dagger in Shakespeare's Macbeth
may now have been solved thanks to the detective work of an Australian
National University researcher.

"Professor Iain Wright, from the ANU Faculty of Arts, has uncovered a
potential source of inspiration for the famous scene. The source is a
description contained in a book edited by one of the fathers of modern
science, John Dee, who was fascinated with how the eye could be deceived
by tricks of the light.

"'Macbeth is a great enigma,' Professor Wright said. 'It's a bigger
mystery than Hamlet. We don't have any record of its first production.'

"Professor Wright estimates that Macbeth was written and first performed
in 1606, soon after Scottish monarch James I assumed the throne of
England. He made Shakespeare's players the official royal company,
meaning the bard would have been under pressure to please his royal patron.

"The new king and his family had a great appetite for theatre,
especially masques, which combined music, performers and special effects
to create an elaborate and illusion-rich amusement for the aristocracy.

"Professor Wright argues that although Shakespeare kept his distance
from the emerging masque hype, the bard acknowledged the trend by
incorporating references into his later works, and tailoring his plays
for performances in the closed, exclusive space favoured by the king.

"'You notice at once that Macbeth is full of optical illusions ' there
are floating daggers, the ghost of Banquo, ghostly kings, and ghostly
cauldrons. I thought, surely if that's the case, Shakespeare is probably
saying to himself, "What sort of special effects are available to make
these more spectacular'".'

"This train of thought took Professor Wright to the library at the
University of Cambridge where he picked up a copy of Euclid's Geometry
edited by John Dee. A contemporary of Shakespeare, Dee is now regarded
as one of the fathers of the modern age because of his talent for what
was then called natural magic ' science. He was especially interested in
how specially modified mirrors could create tricks of the light, making
things appear as if by magic."

John Dee in the Book of Days

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