How to Teach Macbeth
As an English teacher, you no doubt love Shakespeare...but you might just be the only person in your classroom who does! How can you overcome the fear that many students have toward Shakespeare and his works? By following 9 simple strategies and tips, you’ll help your students comprehend one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies, Macbeth, and discover why it is a timeless classic.
1) Consider using modern translations along with the original. You will find an eText of Macbeth with a side-by-side translation right here on eNotes. Be sure to stress to students that they are to use the translation as support for reading the original, not as a substitute. They will find that the original gets much easier to read with practice.
2) Add creative activities to your teaching unit. Macbeth will immediately become more relevant to students if they engage in a creative project. For example, ask your musically inclined students to create a soundtrack that highlights plot, characters, or themes. You could also ask any budding directors to cast a movie version of Macbeth using today’s actors and actresses. Your artistically talented students could create a 3D version of a scene and explain positioning of characters as they run through the events.
3) Assign short research projects. What did women wear during Elizabethan times? What did young people do for fun? How did playwrights come up with ideas and act out their works? Students may work individually or in small groups; ask them to present their findings to the class.
4) Become a history teacher every now and then. The more your students understand the life and times of Shakespeare, the better they can relate to the play. Discuss how witches were interpreted during Elizabethan times. Research the life of the aristocracy during the 1600s. Create ways for your students to experience the era as best as possible.
5) Allow students to act out select scenes. Comprehension skyrockets when students bring the play alive through dramatic renditions. Have groups work together to dramatically interpret scenes. After their performance, students should share how and why they presented the characters and the scenes the way they did.
6) Demonstrate the art of annotation and choosing quotes. Be sure to show students how to be active readers. Annotations may include citing figurative language, making observations, and drawing conclusions. In addition, give students a “quote focus” exercise, such as finding quotes that trace the changes in Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s relationship. This strategy also helps a reader zero in on important themes.
7) Label or organize characters to keep them straight. Who is the Siward versus Young Siward versus Seyton? Creating a visual organizer of how the play’s characters are connected helps students to keep them straight. This is particularly important when you are dealing with minor characters with unfamiliar names.
8) Use critical theories. Feminist and psychoanalytic theories in particular lend themselves to in-depth interpretations of Macbeth. Discuss Shakespeare’s before-his-time empowering of a woman in the character of Lady Macbeth. How does Macbeth’s unbridled quest for power lead to his destruction? In addition to getting some impressive discussions out of your students, you will be introducing them to a very important literary strategy.
9) Brainstorm modern-day manifestations of characters and plot. Students love to see how a classic work has relevance and importance today. One of the best ways to do this is to share some contemporary movies or books that follow the storyline of Macbeth or include similar characters. The Lion King from Walt Disney Productions has numerous parallels to Macbeth and will go a long way toward making the play more accessible to your students.