August 15: So foul and fair a day I have not seen

Macbeth_of_ScotlandSo, this is spooky. According to various historical accounts, it was on this day in the year 1040 that King Duncan of Scotland was killed in battle by the King of Moray, who promptly took his throne. Then exactly 17 years later on August 15, 1057 that vay same King of Moray and Scotland was killed by King Duncan’s son, Malcolm. What was the name of this king, who’s reign over Scotland lasted exactly 17 yeas? His name was Mac Bethad mac Findlaích, or alternately Macbeth.

Yes, Macbeth, from William Shakespeare’s famously “cursed” play. Now, unlike the fictional Macbeth made famous in the bard’s 17the century play, contemporary sources indicate that he was not generally viewed as a tyrant; and as far as we can tell, the real Macbeth never met three witches who prophesied that he would be king. In fact, Shakespeare took more than just supernatural liberties with the story of Macbeth. In the play, Macbeth murders the old King Duncan while hosting the king in his home. In reality, Duncan invaded Macbeth’s land, and as mentioned above, he was killed on the battlefield.

I hinted at this earlier, but those of you who have a familiarity with the theater world probably know that there is a quote-unquote curse associated with Shakespeare’s Mac– Excuse me, The Scottish Play. According to superstition if you say the name of the play or its title character inside a theater (outside of an actual performance or rehearsal of the play) you must run outside the theater, spin around three times and either spit, swear or recite a line from another Shakespeare play. As the theme tune from the cult classic tv series Slings And Arrows says, “But I’d be crackers to take on Mackers. You see, I’m skittish about the Scottish tragedy.”

So, what’s the reason for this superstition? Well, there are several unsourced theories, some involving Shakespeare actually working with witches to write the play, but there is a very practical explanation: Since Ol’ Mackers is a very popular play, theater troupes have been known to stage it when their financial future looks particularly dark. Not to mention, it’s a complicated play to stage; full of technical effects and sword fights that could easily go wrong if someone makes a minor mistake.

Now rather than dwell on any curse, why not sip on a nice strong cocktail? The Scottish Play was created at Cambridge, Massachusetts’ Russell House Tavern as a scotch-based variation on the Negroni. Thankfully, unlike the Weird Sisters’ brew it does not require eye of newt or a bubbling cauldron, but does have an interesting mix of smoky and bitter notes.

The Scottish Play

  • 1 3/4 ounce Laphroaig 10 Year Old Scotch
  • 1 1/4 ounce Cynar
  • 1 ounce Aperol
  • 1/8 ounce Drambuie

Stir with ice and strain into a rocks glass. Twist an orange peel over the top and discard.

Tomorrow: Gabba gabba hey!


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