shakespeare close up

Things got so wild at one performance of Macbeth that a full-blown riot broke out – and it lasted 64 days!

The particularly raucous performance of William Shakespeare’s famous play had taken place on 18 September 1809, and to this day, remains the longest riot at a Shakespeare performance.

And while you might think this record title is extremely specific, the events are certainly deserving of a place in the history books.

That night was the opening of the new Covent Garden Theatre in London, UK, following the destruction of the old venue in a fire.

The Drury Lane theatre had also recently burned down, meaning there wasn’t much on offer for fans of live theatre at the time.

shakespeare macbeth book

Macbeth was also incredibly popular, as was the leading actress Mrs Siddons, who was playing Lady Macbeth, meaning this was the hottest ticket in town.

These factors didn’t escape the theatre’s management, who decided to hike up the prices from between three and six shillings to four and seven to help cover the costs of the new theatre.

But it was a decision that proved incredibly unpopular with the masses.

The inflated price was even addressed in the playbill, which stated it had cost £150,000 (equivalent to around £9.9 m today), and that the rent had been increased sixfold.

Of course, that wasn’t a good enough excuse to raise the prices as far as the public was concerned.

shakespeare statue

The design of the theatre had also been changed.

The gallery, which was the cheapest place to sit, was made much smaller in order to increase the size of the private boxes popular with the rich.

Views from the gallery were also so obscured due to how high and steep it was that people sitting there could only see the legs of the performers.

Midway through the show, a riot broke out in the audience and the people didn’t stop protesting for 64 whole days. Magistrates even had to be called in to read the riot act.

People would turn up to protest at the theatre each night, banging pots and pans together, waving banners and singing songs in an attempt to disrupt the actors onstage.

shakespeare portrait

Things got so out of hand that the theatre was forced to close its doors a few days later on 25 September, until the committee could discuss the issue and agree what to do about the prices.

It was only when theatre manager John Phillip Kemble agreed to lower the ticket prices that people finally calmed down and normal service could resume.

He finally gave in on 14 December, and announced the prices would go back to what they were before.

All charges against the rioters were dropped.

If you like Shakespeare, check out the below video to see Sean Shannon (Canada) breaking the record for fastest talker (English) by reciting Hamlet's soliloquy, aka the famous 'To be or not to be' speech.

He said all 260 words in just 23.8 seconds - a rate of 655 words per minute. His record has stood since 1995.

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