John Fennell, Cape Fear Academy, Wilmington, North Carolina.
Macbeth 4.1, 5.4, & 5.5
What's On for Today and Why
This activity involves the whole class in a simple but effective dramatization of the Third Apparition's prophecy in 4.1 regarding Birnam Wood coming to Dunsinane. The exercise employs a series of theater games that culminate in a reenactment of the moment in 5.5 when Birnam Wood approaches Dunsinane. This lesson works very well with both middle and high school students.
This lesson will take one class period.
What You Need
Folger edition of Macbeth
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts
A film version of Macbeth that includes the Birnam Wood scene.
Copies of Birnam Handout
What To Do
1. The day before you introduce this exercise, ask each student to bring an umbrella to class the next day. Umbrellas can be any size and any color.
2. The following day, divide the class into two groups facing one another without their umbrellas. Ask one group to chant the Third Apparition's prophecy to Macbeth in 4.1 and ask the second group recite Macbeth's response (see handout below). Repeat several times. Have the groups switch roles. Repeat the exercise until the class can recite the lines without referring to the handout.
3. Now have one group read the part of the Messenger and the other group read Macbeth's lines from 5.5 (see handout below). Ask the two groups to read the dialogue back and forth. When the class is comfortable with the language of the second dialogue, ask if anyone can explain what they think is happening. What is the tone or mood these two readings create?
4. Have three volunteers read the dialogue involving Malcolm, Menteith, and Siward in 5.4 (see handout below) and begin a class discussion. How does changing the chronological order of the scenes effect the reading?
5. Now ask your students to get their umbrellas and to hold them quietly by their sides. Explain that the umbrellas represent the trees of Birnam Wood, and that the students are now the troops Malcolm has brought from England to fight Macbeth. Ask your students to arrange themselves around the room so that they can open their umbrellas without bumping into their neighbors and tell them to hide behind their "trees."
6. Have a volunteer give Malcolm's orders from 5.4. Following the order, the troops march around the room (ideally accompanied by some percussion). As they march, have the troops chant the Third Apparition's prophecy from memory. Have a volunteer recite Macbeth's response from memory.
7. Ask the troops to freeze. Have the class close their umbrellas. Divide the students into two new groups facing one another. The umbrellas are now "swords" and "spears." Have one group represent Macbeth's army, the other group Malcolm's army. Have the two armies advance on one another, swords and spears raised towards the ceiling in slow motion (SAFETY MUST BE STRESSED). As the armies clash (umbrellas touch) have everyone give a mighty war cry and freeze again.
8. Ask students to return to their seats. Show them the Birnam Wood scene from any of the many movie versions of Macbeth available on DVD (the Japanese film, Throne of Blood, has a particularly striking sequence).
How Did It Go?
Did your students learn the dialogue without referring to handouts? Did they become more comfortable with Shakespeare's language? Did they enjoy performing?
If you used this lesson, we would like to hear how it went and about any adaptations you made to suit the needs of YOUR students.