February 12th, 2009
03:33 PM ET
11 years ago

In Ford’s Theater, Obama invokes forbidden word

 On a trip to Ford’s Theater, site of President Lincoln’s assassination, Obama paid tribute to the 16th president’s ability to recall passages of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Macbeth.

On a trip to Ford’s Theater, site of President Lincoln’s assassination, Obama paid tribute to the 16th president’s ability to recall passages of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Macbeth.

WASHINGTON (CNN) - It’s a word so fraught with superstition, its very mention can send grown men ducking for cover — and President Obama used it Wednesday night.

Macbeth.

On a trip to Ford’s Theater, site of President Lincoln’s assassination, Obama paid tribute to the 16th president’s ability to recall passages of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Macbeth. And with that reference, he unwittingly ventured into what many theater hands believe to be dangerous territory: any mention of the name of the doomed Scottish king in a theater outside of a performance is considered verboten by many actors, who believe it will result in a cursed production — including a greater possibility of injury, bankruptcy, even death.

So does Obama have anything to fear from uttering the unluckiest word in what may be the unluckiest theater in American history? Theater-goers can relax: Many stage afficianados believe that the prohibition only applies to performers or theater hands, and non-actors have nothing to worry about.

But in the near future, the president might want to stick to movies. Just to be on the safe side.


Filed under: President Obama
soundoff (318 Responses)
  1. Jon

    Tell us when Obama looks in a mirror and says "Candyman" three times.

    February 12, 2009 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  2. Larry

    I consider myself a reasonably intelligent, well-read person. I was involved in high school theatre, and volunteer at a local theatre. I've never heard of this superstition.

    And I bet that President Obama and his speech writers never had either. Like voodoo, where the cursed person has to believe in the curse for it to be effective, I doubt there will be any long-term impact.

    February 12, 2009 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  3. Grant

    To Wally,

    Actually, you are not quite correct. Lincoln was extremely anti-slavery. He could not fathom how one man could "own" another. Where you are correct is that he did not want the Civil War to be about slavery, but about preserving the Union. One of the major motivations for the Emancipation Proclamation was to keep Europe – specifically England, who had recently outlawed slavery – out of the war.

    February 12, 2009 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  4. JW Booth

    I just hope he doesn't try too hard to emulate Lincoln.

    February 12, 2009 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  5. history

    Mary Lincoln “Peggy’ Beckwith (b. August 22, 1898 – July 10, 1975) was a prominent descendant of Abraham Lincoln. She was one of the last two descendants (great-grandchildren) of Abraham Lincoln with her brother, Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith.[1]

    "Peggy" Lincoln at age 14.Mary Beckwith, or “Peggy” as she was occasionally called, was born to Jessie Harlan Lincoln[2] and Warren Beckwith on August 22, 1898, in Mt Pleasant, Iowa. Raised in Hildene with her brother, Peggy later grew up in Washington, D.C., and was said to have become ‘a squat, fair-haired, blue-eyed, chain smoker who golfed and dabbled in oil painting and sculpture. [3] She got the nickname “Peggy” when her grandfather, Robert Todd Lincoln, described Mary Lincoln as her hair ‘flying in the sun’ when he wrote to his Aunt Emile Todd Helm and gave Mary the name. She once saw her grandfather throw some of the Lincoln Papers into a fire grate. Peggy was apparently a lesbian, she became an eccentric recluse on the family estate in Vermont.[4] She never married and died on July 10, 1975 at around 2:15 a.m. Mary Lincoln Beckwith died at Rutland Hospital in Rutland, Vermont. She requested when she died that her ashes be spread over her estate, this request was granted and there was no funeral or memorial service held. At her death, her brother, Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith, became the last living Lincoln descendant

    February 12, 2009 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  6. Joe the Republican

    This is not news. Next time Obama walks under a ladder please refrain from wasting my time.

    February 12, 2009 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  7. Pierre Podo

    The only forbidden words is found in the Bible. The Ten Commandments. That's what America stands for? Words of men are passive, meaningless and full of rancour.

    Pierre Podo

    February 12, 2009 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  8. Anne E.

    I can think of worse words to utter:

    Bush
    Cheney
    Rumsfeld
    Rove
    Libby
    Gonzales
    Palin
    O'Reilly
    Hannity
    Coulter
    Scarborough
    Joe the Plumber

    February 12, 2009 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  9. Sniffit

    @ billy-bayou, who said "all those poor fools that blindly voted for the obama with no understand of what he is….SUFFER the consequences of your stupidity."

    Thank you for so clearly illustrating the GOP's hatred for our nation when it is not under their control, and the fact that it is their core strategy for the next 4 years to cause us all to suffer horribly...both as punishment for ousting them and in an attempt to blame Obama and the Dems for it all. I'm sure you have earned your promotion from acolyte to the rank of priest in the virulent Church of Limbaugh.

    February 12, 2009 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  10. Doug

    My father was passionate about the theatre, having been a theatre prof for almost 40 years. My mom was involved with theatre when she taught junior high and also with our community theatre. Both of my brothers and I were theatre people in high school and enjoyed it a lot.

    That said......theatre people are a strange lot in a multitude of ways. Eccentricities are many and varied and weirdness is the norm. I never did much theatre after high school and my basic sanity seems intact.

    I have never in my life heard of this superstition about Macbeth. Perhaps I wasn't listening, which probably ended up serving me well, but I never was fearful of anything as I walked out on the stage to do my bit, except for the occasional butterflies fluttering about in my belly.

    So relax, people. Superstition has its place, but don't go nuts over it. Something wicked frequently this way comes. Get over it.

    February 12, 2009 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  11. Emily

    what a bunch of BS. Some folks need to wander on into the 21st century. Make friends with a couple of black cats, maybe.

    February 12, 2009 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  12. BattleCat

    Well, everything else that comes out of BHOs mouth causes destruction, why should this be any different?

    February 12, 2009 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  13. Highly Favored

    Give me a break! President Obama is a child of the most high, the True, one and only Living God! If uttering the word "MacBeth" is his only worry. He has no WORRIES at all!

    He's blessed and HIGHLY FAVORED! Haven't you figured that out yet?

    February 12, 2009 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  14. jupiter mcsuede

    Thanks CNN for posting such hard-hitting and thought provoking news in the time of our nation's crisis.

    February 12, 2009 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  15. gslippy

    I thought the forbidden words were "George Bush was a good president after all".

    Perhaps Mr. Obama was demonstrating that he's not superstitious, driving the Rick Warren haters into another frenzy.

    I thought I might read something soothing in CNN's ongoing "The Victim Series", depicting how another high-income person has lost their job and has to adjust to a normal life with healthy spending patterns, and now they are asking for their own personal bailout.

    Gimme a break.

    February 12, 2009 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  16. carlo

    CNN, are you serious? Not only is this irrelevant and trivial, but all some of these loons need is a story like this to get them riled up.

    February 12, 2009 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  17. Derka Derr

    slow news day is right, so now Obama is to blame for peoples lack of luck?? lol, wow, can we get any more pathetic. I really cant even recognize this dump of a place anymore. Break a leg?!?! =/

    People really still asking where "their" money went....wow you gotta be kidding. Were you alive the last eight years? do you not see on the news the size of our embassy in iraq, or the amount we poured into Saudi Arabia just to watch it train terrorists all over again just like iraq and afghanistan will do....or the amount contractors were given that only 1 mill was constantly being spent while the rest simply disapeared off the face of the earth...or those nice new marine vehicles that cost a killing each, or the gas you pay for the humvees, the list goes on and on, where have you been?? then madoff came along...and well..the rest is history. So hmm where did "our" money go....if you couldnt think of atleast one place it went than its no wonder it continued for so long. Derka Derr.

    February 12, 2009 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  18. Sharon Kitchen

    good grief..........................................................................................

    How about a more worthy newsstory.....etc......United Nations report on Human trafficting............the new report just out.........

    Or better yet..................the salmenlla peanut butter ceo that should be prosecuted..................he is pleading the 5th. Guilty?

    Or, this nations finacial stability. Please arrest those ceo's that paid themselves millions while bankrupting this country.They should give back all that bonus $.

    there is plenty of real news out there...........

    February 12, 2009 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  19. Jer

    I found the comments to be more informative then the news.... here's to the 24 hour news cycle. In other news Michelle Obama sneezed three times today.

    February 12, 2009 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  20. Craig in Flagstaff AZ

    What a crock, and WHY is this crap newsworthy? We have a lot more to worry about than some STUPID superstition. I have been in theatre for years and have broken the rule many, MANY times. What TERRIBLE thing has happened to me? NOT A DAMNED THING. Grow up CNN and report some NEWS.

    February 12, 2009 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  21. Kevin

    This is why I only check CNN sporadically now. Why don't you guys just partner up with the National Inquirer and get it over with.

    February 12, 2009 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  22. obama supporter in NC

    Kevin in Ohio – Hw about the diaster GWB put us in?? Forgot about your golden child so soon?

    February 12, 2009 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  23. Kevin in Ohio

    Its even more interesting that he is saying this with Lincoln and his birthday as a backdrop. Lest anyone forget...Lincoln was a REPUBLICAN, a man of his convictions who didn't concern himself with public opinion, a man who ultimately saved our country, and a man who believed that government's primary role was to protect and defend the country. Maybe Obama can learn a thing or two from this TRULY great American.

    February 12, 2009 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  24. M. Lamb in Fresno

    Now, I know mentioning The Scottish Play by name is a theatrical, cultural faux pas, but it's nothing more. There is no incantation or phrase to rain down misfortune, only bad judgement and lack of confidence. Thank God we have a president who puts no stock in ridiculous superstitions.

    February 12, 2009 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  25. Daniel David, Atlanta,GA

    Great! Another things to make us all worry!

    February 12, 2009 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
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