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Last Updated on December 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 448

So you’re going to teach William Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Macbeth. Whether it’s your first or hundredth time, this classic text has been a mainstay of English classrooms for generations. While it has its challenges—murder, violence, elevated language—teaching Macbeth to your class will be rewarding for you and your students. It will give them unique insight into Shakespearean tragedies and important themes surrounding ambition, betrayal, and blood feud. This guide highlights the text's most salient aspects to keep in mind before you begin teaching.

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Facts at a Glance

  • Publication Date: 1606
  • Approximate Word Count: 18,700 
  • Author: William Shakespeare
  • Country of Origin: England
  • Genre: Shakespearean Tragedy
  • Literary Period: Early Modern, Renaissance
  • Conflict: Person vs. Supernatural, Person vs. Self
  • Setting: Scotland, 10th Century
  • Structure: Five-Act Play, Blank Verse, Heroic Couplets
  • Tone: Tragic, Eerie, Uncanny

Texts That Go Well With Macbeth

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens is a novel that traces themes of ambition and successful attempts to improve social standing. The protagonist, Pip, suffers along the way but eventually realizes his ambition through hard work and moral uprightness. When compared with Macbeth, Pip is an example of ambition used for good rather than violent ends. 

The Last King of Scotland by Giles Foden is a novel about the rise of Ugandan president Idi Amin told through the perspective of a Scottish doctor who works for the dictator. The doctor’s deteriorating moral compass and compulsion to corruption and paranoia offers an alternative perspective on Macbeth’s relationship to Lady Macbeth. 

Oedipus Rex, also known as Oedipus the King, by Sophocles tells the tragedy of a man, Oedipus, struggling against fate with disastrous consequences. Like Macbeth, Oedipus also becomes king at great cost, fulfilling the prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother. Similar themes of the struggle against fate and guilt over horrific actions complement Macbeth

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith is a novel about a man named Mr. Ripley who murders Dickie Greenleaf in an attempt to take his privileged social position. He continues murdering in order to secure his position. Ripley demonstrates similar themes of murder and ambition, but Ripley does not feel remorse for his actions. 

Throne of Blood, directed by Akira Kurosawa is a film from 1957 that depicts the story of a warrior who assassinates his king after hearing a prophecy that he will be king. If your course considers film as narrative art, this film serves as a direct retelling of Macbeth that dramatizes the relationship between Lady Macbeth and Macbeth. This is a great resource to demonstrate tone and the uncanny to your students.

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Key Plot Points