Tim Clark, Contoocook Valley Regional High School, Peterborough, New Hampshire.
What's On for Today and Why
In modern theater, electric lighting allows a variety of lighting conditions which can be used for dramatic effect. In Shakespeare's time, outdoor theaters such as the Globe used natural light, and indoor theatres such as the Blackfriars used candles. In neither case could the lighting be controlled. As a result, actors had to indicate the level of light in a scene by their movements or with simple props. This exercise in learning how to act in the imagined darkness helps students better understand the challenges facing Shakespeare's actors.
This lesson will take one class period.
What You Need
Folger edition of Macbeth
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts
Rolled up newspaper
What To Do
1. Create a large empty playing space. Choose two students to play Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Both actors should be blindfolded and Macbeth should be given two pieces of rolled up paper to represent bloody daggers.
2. Place Macbeth and Lady Macbeth on opposite sides of the playing space with the rest of the class divided up into two groups, one on each side of the space. Students on Lady Macbeth's side read her lines, one sentence per student. Students on Macbeth's side read his lines in the same way.
3. As the students read the scene (2.2), have the actors attempt to suit their actions to the words. For example, on line 4 ( "Hark! - Peace") Lady Macbeth could mime hearing a scary noise, then relax, realizing it was an owl. On line 28 ( "This is a sorry sight "), Macbeth could look down at the daggers.
4. After reading the scene, have actors discuss how it felt to be unable to see. Did they feel vulnerable or empowered by the blindfold? Have students discuss essential staging, e.g the moment when Lady Macbeth discovers that Macbeth still has the daggers. How does she know that when she cannot see?
5. Have the class repeat the exercise but have two students read the actors' lines while walking directly behind the blindfolded actors. Discuss how different this was as an experience for the actors.
Optional extension activities include: Have students find scenes which take place in intermittent light and identify those in which the moral darkness of the text is reinforced by the lighting conditions. Or have students suggest props that might be used to remind the audience that it is dark.
How Did It Go?
By using their bodies, faces and voices to simulate a person groping in the darkness, were the students better able to understand characterization on both the literal and figurative level? Were the students able to appreciate the number of scenes in Macbeth that take place in darkness or limited light and make connections to the moral themes of 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.