Macbeth: “What are these…?”

Author: Susan Gibson teaches English at Cumberland Valley High School in Mechanisburg, PA

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

Common Core Anchor Standards: R.9, W.1, W.9

Text: Macbeth 1.3

Lesson Overview

Students will analyze the weird sisters in Macbeth by examining a primary source: Holinshed’s The Chronicles of England, Scotlande, and Irelande. Students will use the elements of visual literacy to analyze a woodcut from Holinshed.  Students will synthesize the information from the primary source, the play, and the visual to create descriptions of the weird sisters.

Time: One 45-minute class period


What To Do

  1. After reading Macbeth 1.3, show students the woodcut of the conference among Macbeth, Banquo, and the Weird Sisters. Have students complete a quick write describing what they see in the picture, their reactions to the character’s depiction, and what may be different from what they read in the play. You can also review the basics of visual literacy (form, color, line/shape, space, content, and context) to help guide their responses. Allow for whole group share out and discussion.
  2. Hand out copies of Holinshed's version of this moment in the play.
  3. Have students read through Holinshed's account, circling any terms used to describe the three women.
  4. List the terms students have discovered on the board and discuss how the use of each of these terms has changed their perceptions of the three women. If Shakespeare had used any one of these terms, what would we expect the woodcut to look like? Have students record their new perceptions about the witches below their original quick write.


Students will synthesize their findings into a cohesive paragraph that summarizes their perception of the Weird Sisters. They must include evidence from the play, the woodcut, and the primary source as well as how this evidence supports their description.  Revisit this writing and add to it each time the witches appear.


Have students trace the histories of the other descriptive terms in the Oxford English Dictionary online and share their findings with the rest of the class. Add these terms to your word wall around a printout of the woodcut.