Primary Source Spotlight: Holinshed’s Chronicles

Author: Susan Gibson, English teacher at Cumberland Valley High School, Mechanicsburg, PA

Editor: Greta Brasgalla, Folger National Teacher Corps and Curriculum Specialist at El Dorado High School, El Paso, TX

Lesson overview

Raphael Holinshed published his Chronicles of England, Scotlande, and Irelande in 1577. The second edition, published in 1587, was Shakespeare's primary reference work for most of his histories and many of his other plays, including Macbeth. The woodcut image appears only in the 1577 edition—it is the only image in the edition that is not repeated elsewhere in the book. The other excerpts are taken from the 1587 edition.

Materials:

King Duffe's murder excerpt, part 1

King Duffe's murder excerpt, part 2

King Duffe's murder excerpt, part 3

King Duffe's murder excerpt, part 4

King Duffe's murder excerpt, part 5

King Duffe's murder excerpt, part 6

King Duffe's murder excerpt, part 7

King Duffe's murder excerpt, part 8

Macbeth and the weird sisters excerpt, part 1

Macbeth and the weird sisters excerpt, part 2

Macbeth and the weird sisters excerpt, part 3

Macbeth and the weird sisters excerpt, part 4

Macbeth and the weird sisters excerpt, part 5

Macbeth and the weird sisters excerpt, part 6

Macbeth and the weird sisters excerpt, part 7

Macbeth and the weird sisters excerpt, part 8

What to do

Pre-Reading (One 45-minute class period)

After reading 1.3 of Macbeth, students can examine the woodcut using the elements of Visual Literacy. Students then create a written response which makes an assertion about the character of the weird sisters and uses the visual and play as evidence for their assertion.

During Reading (One 45-minute class period)

For studying the text excerpts, assign different groups of students various excerpts from Holinshed, and have the students read their section looking for parallels and subtle differences between Holinshed's account and Shakespeare. Then, back in a large group setting, have each group share their findings. Collectively, students should discuss the common characteristics of Shakespeare's changes—elaboration, omission, alteration—and whether or not his changes add to the dramatic nature of the play. Write the class observations on chart paper or on sentence strips around a picture of the woodcut or the text. Revisit the observations and add to them throughout the play.

Assessment

Use the primary source as well as the visual in conjunction with the play to form an AP English Language Synthesis Practice Essay or Mini DBQ essay. Sample Question: Using the sources, evaluate how England viewed witches and their power.