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Can you hear Macbeth now?

Teachers' Rating:
  15 ratings

E.H. Sothern as Macbeth. Photograph, early 20th century

May 2009
Tory Talbot teaches English at the Saddle River Day School, Saddle River, NJ

Plays/Scenes Covered
Macbeth 1.2.1–45, Macbeth 3.3
What's On for Today and Why
This lesson will help students understand how sound can affect our understanding of a scene. By listening to the audio recording of 1.2.1–45, they will gain a sense of who Macbeth and Macdonwald are, and by creating their own versions of 3.3, they will be able to hear the murder of Banquo with new ears. This lesson will take 2 x 40 minute class periods.
What You Need
  1. Folger edition of Macbeth (1.2 and 3.3)
    Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts

  2. Audio recording of Macbeth
  3. A large bed sheet
  4. OPTIONAL: Audio recording device

What To Do
  1. Put the following on the board: a) Scored a goal, b) Game cancelled, c) Lost the game.
  2. Ask students to respond to each event, as a group, as if they were a crowd at a sporting event. (Do not take any questions yet.)
  3. Talk to students about why they chose the responses they did.
  4. If it has not yet come up, discuss why their reactions might be different based on which team scored the goal, made the save, or won the game; in other words, are these all positive events from all points of view?
  5. Have the class read aloud Macbeth, 1.2.1-45.
  6. Play the class the audio recording of Macbeth 1.2 (see below), having them note—on their texts—the vocal reactions within the audio recording—when they occurred and what they were.
  7. Discuss with the class what the reactions within the speech told the audience about the characters or events. (For example, ask why is there booing after Macdonwald speaks, cheering for Macbeth, or thunder at one point.) Make note of the fact that not all noises are realistic, some merely exist to set mood.
  8. Divide students into small groups (of at least 7 students each) and have each group read aloud 3.3 (the killing of Banquo).
  9. The students will then take the rest of the class period to decide what sound effects are necessary (all of which they will make themselves) to help the audience understand the scene. They will then need to assign roles and sound effects so every student in the group is participating (and some students can certainly be responsible for both lines and sound throughout the scene).


  1. Students should be given 15-20 minutes to review and polish their work from the day before.
  2. While students are reviewing, use the bed sheet to create a section of the classroom where student groups can stand or sit without being seen.
  3. When all groups are ready, draw numbers to determine performance order. In turn, each full group will then go behind the “screen” to do their audio performance, during which the remaining audience must put down their scripts and just focus on listening. (If the technology is available, you should record all of the performances on an audio device so students can hear what their own group sounded like as an audience member.)

Following all performances, discuss with students what was most successful or least successful. What made them hear the text in a new way? Could they picture the scene as they listened? Why did individual groups make the choices they did?

How Did It Go?
  1. Do students effectively understand Macbeth 3.3, based on their justification of their chosen sound effects?
  2. Do students see how effective sound—even without movement—can be, based on their ability, as audience members, to imagine the scene taking place? (You might ask students what they pictured the blocking as being, were the scene staged.)
  3. Did students acknowledge similarities and celebrate differences, based on their post-performance discussions about all of the pieces?

You may choose to have each student write a one page journal entry, summarizing their experience and elaborating on one thing that worked particularly well and one thing that could have been better.


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.

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