Alisia Muir, Edmondson-Westside Senior High School, Baltimore, Maryland.
What's On for Today and Why
Usually when you tell students that they will be reading Shakespeare, you hear, "I don't understand what he is sayin'." or "I don't understand what is going on!" This lesson will introduce students to Macbeth by having them act out the scene where Duncan's murder is discovered. The trick is that all of the stage directions and characters' names have been removed from the text. This activity will enable students to use dialogue only to discover the structure and format of a scene, understand language and plot, and formulate introductory decisions about characters in the play.
This activity will take one 90 minute block period.
What You Need
Folger edition of Macbeth
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts
What To Do
1. You will need lots of room. If your classroom is too small, try to arrange to take your students to the cafeteria or auditorium. Your students should come to class without having read the scene or otherwise been introduced to the play.
2. Hand the students copies of Macbeth 2.3 from which all the stage directions and characters' names have been removed. (Use the handout below.) Expect that once they get the scene in this form, you will hear, "What is this?" The scene will look like a series of lines; your students will not have any idea who is speaking or when. They will not be able to see where and when entrances and exits occur.
3. Divide the students into groups of five. Tell them that they have 20 minutes to figure out what is going on in the scene and how to stage it. The group must decide how many characters are needed, who says what and when, who enters and exits. (You may choose to tell them up front that the scene has five characters in it.) The lines must be divided up so that everyone in the group has a speaking part. No lines may be cut; the group's task is to assign all the lines and plan out every action in the scene.
4. Have each group stage its scene for the rest of the class. After all of the groups have performed their scenes, ask the students to discuss any patterns or consistencies they observed in how the characters' lines were assigned and how the scenes were staged.
5. At the end of class, hand out the text of Macbeth, have the students skim through the pages, read the character list, and ask any questions they might have in preparation for starting Macbeth the next day.
How Did It Go?
The most obvious way to check how well the students responded to the activity is by the number of "I know what's going on!"s that you heard in your classroom. Did the students begin to speculate about plot: who committed the murder and why? Did different and distinct character voices emerge from the way students divided up the lines? Could they begin to speculate about character and motivation? Are they engaged and ready to start the play?
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.