Wednesday, August 22, 2012


OK, here's a silly question for anyone who teaches Shakespeare classes with lots of theater majors: what do you do with students who are Afraid To Speak Macbeth's Name? Do you call them on it, or do you just ignore it and let them use whatever silly circumlocutions they like? (I have been doing the latter, but I'm starting to think it might not be a good idea. I mean, this is an English class, and surely they can act not-superstitious for fifty minutes in order to conform to the norms of professional discourse in literary studies.)

Also, is there any way to get them to call a play a play instead of a "show" without sounding ridiculously nitpicky?


Bardiac said...

I tell them that it doesn't count in English classes.

The play thing... who would call it a show when it's a play! The show is what you put on, the play is the thing! Or something :)

Fie upon this quiet life! said...

Macbeth is only bad luck if you say it inside a theatre. Unless you're teaching the class in an actual theatre, then you are fine and they should say Macbeth loud and clear.

As for play versus show -- that might be a battle you can't win. But you could explain to them that it's a show when it's being put on. When you're talking about it in a literary context, it's actually dramatic literature -- aka a "play." You might also convince them to use "play" by saying that Shakespeare calls them plays, not shows. And if they really want to be "in the know" with Shakespeare, they should use his lingo. If they need evidence, cite "The play's the thing..."

And if none of this works tell them to get over themselves and stop being little pretentious theatre snobs. ;)

Fretful Porpentine said...

And if none of this works tell them to get over themselves and stop being little pretentious theatre snobs. ;)

Oh! I think you've just put your finger on why these two things are pet peeves of mine, which was what I was trying to figure out. (I usually try not to scold students for violating my pet peeves, so I think I bend over backwards sometimes and don't call them on things that I should.) It's totally an in-group signaling thing among the theater majors.

Anonymous said...

As a recovering theatre major... what Fie said--the only injunction against saying it is inside the theatre itself. Point that out.

The history behind the superstition makes sense, and theatre folks are nothing if not superstitious by nature. A lot of those superstitions are matters of safety, too--don't walk under a ladder, don't forget to turn on the ghost light, etc. The "Scottish play" thing is fine in the theatre--it's a marker of tribe in a way.

But outside that venue, it's cliquish and silly. And that's coming from a gal who still pays her bills with theatre.

And as for play versus show, good luck, but you might make the distinction that it's only a show when it's being performed for an audience. On paper, it's a play. Sorry--you're fighting theatrical inculcation there.