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Knock, Knock, or Whose Line is it anyway?

Teachers' Rating:
  8 ratings

Comedy mask

February 2011
Chris Lavold teaches English at Mauston High School, Mauston, WI.

Plays/Scenes Covered
Macbeth 2.3.1-45
What's On for Today and Why

In life, people are asked to think quickly and without preparation on a daily basis. Improvisational acting can help students prepare for situations where they are called upon to "think fast". The exercises in this lesson allow students to realize that even Shakespeare's works can be improvised at times and updating classical literature can be a worthwhile enterprise.


This lesson will take 2 x 40 minute periods.

What You Need

Macbeth DVD Folger/Two Rivers 2008 Production

Macbeth DVD Polanski version

Improvisation handout

Folger edition of Macbeth
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts

Handout: Porter scene text

Porter scene text
What To Do

1. Explain to students that the main focus of the lesson is improvisational acting and impromptu speaking.


2. Have students form a circle and give then copies of Macbeth 2.3.1-45.


3. Have a student begin to read the text until they reach a punctuation mark (other than a comma).Students take up where the previous reader left off, in  turn clockwise.


4. On completing the reading, ask students what they think is going on in the scene. Prompt with questions such as:

Why do you think Shakespeare inserted this scene where he did?

What is the purpose of the Porter?


5. Ask the students if they found the passage confusing.


6. Have the students watch the Porter scene from Polanski's Macbeth. Repeat questions from Step 3. Discuss with students if viewing the scene made their understanding clearer.


7. Have the students watch the same scene from Folger/Two River 2008 production. Repeat questions from Step 3. The answers should be quite different as the Polanski and Folger/Two River productions present the Porter in very different ways.


8. Ask students which version they prefer and why. What is their view on actors changing the original text slightly?


9. Have the students watch the Special Features video, Comedy in Macbeth on the Folger/Two River DVD.


10. After viewing the video, ask students if their opinion has altered about changing some of Shakespeare's lines to suit a modern audience.


11.  Discuss the importance of the skills evident in impromptu acting that can transfered to professional life in areas of innovation and negotiation.


12. Work through this roleplaying activity with your students:

  • Have two students act like a couple who are arguing about where to go out to eat.
  • Give each student a specific technique to use (intimidation/logic, guilt trip/kindness etc)
  • After a few minutes switch to a different technique.
  • Have the whole class spilt into pairs and work through the exercise, adding in new techniques  and new scernarios as necessary.

13. Using accompanying handout, have students block out any lines they find superfluous or archaic. At this point the improvisation element kicks in.


14. Give the student a choice of persona (cowboy, rapper, narcissistic celebrity, foreigner in a country etc). Voice inflection should be encouraged. The blocking out of lines should allow for insertion of lines that will allow the audience to figure out what kind of persona the student is trying to portray.


15. Ensure that the students adhere to the purpose of the Porter in this scene as discussed in Step 3 and have them stay faithful to that.


16. Allow a short time for preparation (not too long or the improvisation element will be lost)


16. Have students perform their 20 lines as a specific persona and then let other students guess the identity.


17. Ask students the same questions about what is going on and why.

How Did It Go?

How did the students handle thinking on their feet? Did their views on switching lines in Shakespeare change after this exercise? Were the students able to articulate why each production chose to present the scene in a particular way?


These improvisation techniques can be used with many scenes from Shakespeare and other texts-it works best if the students are unfamiliar with the material.

Good examples from Shakespeare include the opening scene from The Tempest, A Midsummer Night's Dream 2.1, Julius Caesar 3.3


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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  Common Core State Standards

There are no standards associated with this Lesson Plan.
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