Macbeth - Lesson Plans and Activities

William Shakespeare

  • Macbeth Literary Devices Owl Eyes Lesson Plan

    Literary Devices: Character Revealed Through Literary Motifs This lesson plan focuses on Shakespeare’s use of literary motifs in developing the character of Lady Macbeth. Students will examine several motifs in the play and analyze what they reveal about her and how they contribute to symbolism and theme in the drama. In studying the motifs, students will be better able to describe the dynamic nature of Lady Macbeth’s character, her psychological and emotional disintegration at the play’s conclusion, and how her destruction contributes to themes in the play.

  • Macbeth Character Analysis Owl Eyes Lesson Plan

    This lesson plan focuses on how Macbeth develops as a dynamic character in regard to the internal conflict he experiences in murdering King Duncan. Students will work with Macbeth's soliloquy at the beginning of Act II, Scene i as he anticipates the moment when he will kill Duncan. In studying the soliloquy, students will be better able to describe and explain Macbeth's mental and emotional state prior to committing the heinous act that violates his conscience.

  • Macbeth eNotes Response Journal

    As the play begins, three witches appear in a lonely, deserted place, accompanied by thunder and lightning. What are some words you would use to describe the atmosphere and mood of this first scene? What role do you think the witches might play in the story of Macbeth? During Scene 1, the three witches chant, “Fair is foul, and foul is fair.” How do you interpret the meaning of their pronouncement? Do you see it as a prediction of future events or as an indication that the witches are evil in nature? Could it be both? Discuss your thoughts about the witches’ chant.

  • Macbeth eNotes Lesson Plan

    Macbeth is the last and shortest of Shakespeare’s four great tragedies (the other three being Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear). It is also considered by many scholars to be Shakespeare’s darkest play in its examination of evil and how briskly morality is sacrificed in the quest for power. Significantly, it is also one of Shakespeare’s most topical plays, as its exploration of the role of the monarchy paid homage to England’s new king.  For most of Shakespeare’s life and career, Queen Elizabeth I reigned in England. Her successor, King James I, ascended the throne in 1603, and Shakespeare probably wrote Macbeth around 1606. Importantly, King James was the first ruler of both England and Scotland, and Macbeth—set in Scotland—was likely intended as a tribute to King James’s heritage. King James was thought to be a descendant of Banquo and his son Fleance, the former whom Macbeth murders so that his own heirs—and not Banquo’s—might ascend the throne. Fleance survives the attack meant to kill him along with his father, making King James’s birth—and reign—possible.  Apart from King James’s lineage, Shakespeare offers other tributes to England’s new king and his philosophies. King James believed in witches, and witches open Macbeth and drive the action. King James believed in the healing power of the monarchy; the witches’ evil machinations are held in contrast to King Edward’s use of magical healing on his subjects. Finally, it was an accepted belief in Shakespeare’s time that English monarchs ruled by divine right; they sat on the throne because God had chosen them to rule, and attempting to usurp them was doomed to fail. This is a central argument of Macbeth: Though Macbeth tries to interfere with destiny, his illegitimate reign is as brief as it is bloody. Macbeth is destroyed, Scotland’s rightful heir takes his place, and the natural order prevails. Shakespeare used several stories from Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland as background material for Macbeth, and while much of the drama is fictionalized or embellished, the real Macbeth did exist and died in 1057.  Although Macbeth incorporates interesting historical elements, the play endures for entirely different reasons. At its core, Macbeth is an answer to a question asked in Macbeth’s day, in Shakespeare’s, and in ours: How does evil overtake a human being? At the play’s outset, Macbeth is a noble, loyal warrior who shuns the idea of betraying his good king. Time is a critical theme in Macbeth, and within a short period, Macbeth becomes a schemer, a murderer, a king, and a tyrant. While at the play’s beginning he has a passionate marriage and feels ambitious about his future, in the end he feels life is only “a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / Signifying nothing.” En route to his downfall, he leaves a trail littered with abominable murders. Shakespeare explores how Macbeth unravels so speedily and how plausible such self-destruction becomes when ambition obliterates the line between wrong and right.  Along with its examination of evil and the role of the monarchy, Macbeth explores a rich collection of themes and creates iconic characters. In particular, Lady Macbeth’s character, arguably one of the most sought-after roles for actresses, has stood the test of time. As the greatest challenger of Macbeth’s conscience, she also denies her own—and famously, her gender—in order to channel all into her pursuit of power. Her decline and destruction are even more rapid than Macbeth’s. Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene is one of the most famous in Shakespeare’s dramas, and “Out, damned spot! Out, I say!” is one of the most famous lines in literature. Her futile attempt while sleeping to wash away the blood she imagines on her hands expresses the depth of her guilt and the impossibility of redemption; her mind shattered, she soon commits suicide.  Guilt, madness, violence, and the supernatural all receive attention from Shakespeare in this short play, while he also explores gender roles, leadership, loyalty, and concepts of time. While accomplishing this lofty agenda in Macbeth, Shakespeare also creates passages of memorable language, from the sing-song witches’ “Fair is foul, and foul is fair” in Act One to Macbeth’s beautifully lyrical lament in Act Five. While examining Macbeth’s themes, structure, and context, therefore, it is important to savor its language as well.  Filmmakers continue to make cinematic versions of Macbeth, and theaters continue to stage interpretations of the play, productions using Shakespeare’s language or modern adaptations. New performances are not likely to cease any time soon. For as long as humankind bears witness to incomprehensible acts of malice, Macbeth will continue to resonate in its answer as to why.

  • Macbeth on Film Lesson Plan

    Through viewing Orson Welles’s, Roman Polanski’s, and Michael Bogdanov’s film versions of Shakespeare's Macbeth, students will see how one director interprets the text of the play. Students will answer questions to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of the main events and characters in Macbeth as they relate to the director’s choices. Sample student discussion question: How does Orson Welles set the mood for the film? Sample answer to guide student discussion: The film opens with white rolling clouds against a dark background. There is scary music playing. Three witches are standing on a carved-out rock, stirring a boiling pot. They reach into the pot and pull out a clay figure that is screeching. This clay figure will appear at critical points in the film. The witches stay here until they meet Macbeth and Banquo. NOTE: All the actors will use a Scottish burr [A rough sounding of the letter r (OED)].

  • Macbeth eNotes Curriculum Plan

    Macbeth was commissioned for a specific purpose: the accession of Elizabeth’s Scottish cousin, James, to the throne following her death in March 1603. Did Shakespeare in some ways model the character of Lady Macbeth on the recently deceased Queen Elizabeth? As Sigmund Freud noted, the play “offered remarkable analogies to the historical moment. ‘Virginal’ Elizabeth, who had once described herself as a ‘barren stock,’ was obliged by her own childlessness to make the Scottish king her successor.” Like Elizabeth, Lady Macbeth will produce no heirs. Might, as Freud argues, Lady Macbeth’s callousness be explained as a reaction to childlessness? To be barren during the Renaissance was no light matter. Barrenness was commonly thought to be a punishment for sin. Additionally, as Elizabeth well knew, only a male heir could inherit property, so the pressure was great for women to have male children. Lady Macbeth is subject to many of the same kinds of pressures regarding her barrenness as Elizabeth was. Macbeth knows that Banquo’s prophecy is that his children will inherit the throne. If this is to come to pass, it must mean that Macbeth himself will never have an heir. For all of her attempts at control, Freud argues, Lady Macbeth is powerless against nature.