Explore Macbeth includes a literary overview, suggestions for teaching the play, extended learning activities, and bibliographies.
9 |
10 |
11 |
+ show tags
Teaching Strategies:
Page 5 of 5

One of the advantages of teaching a play like Shakespeare's Macbeth is the opportunity to extend the students' learning far beyond the original work. Here are some literary extensions that can be used before, during, or after reading Macbeth.

(1) Watch one of the excellent film versions of a Shakespearean comedy such as The Taming of the Shrew. Students enjoy the contrast between the comedy and tragedy forms employed by Shakespeare.*

(2) Debate Shakespeare's portrayal of women or the "battle of the sexes" in these two works.#%

(3) Research one of several topics concerning psychology.#% For example, the attitude of a person who kills for ambition. Macbeth is the first play to stress what the murderer is undergoing psychologically, rather than the action of the murder itself. Or, research the effects of guilt and contrast them to Shakespeare's approach to the topic by examining changes in Lady Macbeth resulting in her death, as well as Macbeth's attempts to protect himself and finally accepting the consequences of his deed. What would modern psychology say about Shakespeare's characterizations of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth? Or, research why a blindly ambitious person ignores society's laws and values to fulfill an ambition. Whey does this person believe he/she is above all laws? Why does this person appear to lack remorse?

(4) Analyze dreams.#% Compare modern research on dream analysis with Lady Macbeth's dreams and sleepwalking.

(5) Research witchcraft and its influence during the sixteenth century. Compare Macbeth to other literature such as The Crucible (Miller).#%

(6) Locate superstitions that are often woven into the plot of Macbeth,* for example, those of birds (I,vi) or those of disturbances of nature (II,iv). Research common superstitions throughout the ages.#% Use interview skills to determine the most prevalent superstitions in your community and try to determine their origin.* Write a paper on how these superstitions affect behavior.#%

(7) In a history of the theater or similar reference book, find pictures of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth as they have been portrayed on stage for several centuries of changing attitudes by and towards actors. Discuss this progression.*

(8) Research the life of James I of England and report on his works#% (Daemonologie or the King James translation of the Bible). Determine the extent of Shakespeare's attempt to please King James with his version of the Macbeth tale. #%

(9) Use the critiques and writings included in the Signet Classic edition of Macbeth to consider the variety of commentary generated by a Shakespearean work. #% Research one or more of the topics discussed in the critiques and writings. #% What other opinions do you find? Use one or more of the critiques or writings as a model for your own written interpretation of an aspect of the play. %

(10) Research the classic tragedy: % The role of fate and fortune, the inevitable nature of tragedy, or the isolation of the tragic hero. Find an example of a modern tragedy. Compare in writing the modern author's treatment to Shakespeare's treatment. Share your essay with the class.

(11) Search your literature anthology and library for works that explore similar themes.+ Develop a bibliography for each theme. Select one theme and read one or more works related to that theme. Discuss with the class.


There is a great wealth of materials to be found concerning Shakespeare, his Elizabethan times, the theater and audience of his day, and the play of Macbeth itself. The bibliography in the Signet Classic text is an excellent guide. The teacher, of course, must be guided by what is available in local and school libraries.

Teaching Shakespeare

Bailey, Paul. An Approach to Shakespeare through Drama. Use of English. v 36 n 2, Spring 1985, pp. 47- 56.
Davis, Ken. Rehearsing the Audience: Ways to Develop Student Perceptions of Theatre. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 1988
Dow, Marguerite R. The Shakespearean Play as a Theatrical Event in the Classroom. English quarterly. v 17 n 4, Winter 1984, pp. 16-22
Evans, Bertrand. Teaching Shakespeare in the High School. New York: Macmillan, 1966.
Mallick, David. Shakespeare and Performance. Use of English. v 38 n 2, Spring 1987, pp. 33-37.
Mallick, David. What Could Be on the Left Hand Page? English in Australia. n 64, June 1983, pp. 59-68.

Other Sources on Shakespeare and His Theater

Brown, John Russell. Shakespeare and His Theatre. New York: Lothrop, Lee and Shepard Books, 1982.
Browning, D.C. Dictionary of Shakespeare Quotations. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1963.
Chute, Marchette. An Introduction to Shakespeare. New York: Scholastic Book Services, 1979.
Ludowyk, E.F.C. Understanding Shakespeare. Cambridge: University Press, 1962
Thomson, Peter. Shakespeare's Theatre. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1983.

Aids for the Nonacademic Student

Barker, Fred G. Forty Minute Plays from Shakespeare. New York: Macmillan Company, 1927
Lamb, Charles and Mary. Tales from Shakespeare. New York: Thomas Crowell Company, 1942. (Also available in a Signet Classic edition.)
Serrailler, Ian. Selected Stories from The Enchanted Island: Stories from Shakespeare. New York: Scholastic Book Services, 1975.
Shakespeare, William. Macbeth: The Folio Edition. New York: Workman Publishing, 1982 (Illustrated).


An excellent series of three filmed lessons with interpretations and commentaries by actor/director Douglas Campbell is available through Encyclopedia Britannica Films. The subjects are (1) Politics of Power (28 minutes), (2) Themes of Macbeth (28 minutes), and (3) The Secret'st Man (33 minutes).

Other Literature Dealing with Themes of Macbeth

There are many works of fiction that explore the themes of Shakespeare's Macbeth. The books suggested below represent a variety of reading and interest levels.

1. Things Are Not What They Seem

Bograd, Larry. Travelers.+# Lippincott, 1986.
Bridgers, Sue Ellen. Permanent Connections.#% Harper & Row, 1987.
Brooks, Bruce. Midnight Hour Encores. #% Harper & Row, 1984.
Cormier, Robert. The Bumblebee Flies Anyway. #% Knopf, 1983. Dell, paper.
Cormier, Robert. I Am the Cheese. #% Pantheon, 1977. Dell, paper.
Duncan, Lois. Killing Mr. Griffin.+# Little, Brown, 1978. Dell, paper.
Hamilton, Virginia. M.C. Higgins, the Great.# Macmillan, 1974. Dell, paper.
Irwin, Hadley. Abby, My Love.* Macmillan, 1985. NAL, paper
Kerr, M.E. Gentlehands.+# Harper & Row, 1978. Bantam, paper.
Lasky, Kathryn. Prank.# Macmillan, 1984. Dell, paper.
Major, Kevin. Far from Shore.# Delacorte, 1981. Dell, paper.
Paterson, Katherine. Jacob Have I Loved.* Crowell, 1980. Avon, paper.
Peck, Richard. Remembering the Good Times.* Delacorte, 1985. Dell, paper.
Voight, Cynthia. A Solitary Blue. +# Atheneum, 1983.

2. The Corruption of Power

Cormier, Robert. The Chocolate War.#% Pantheon, 1986. Dell, paper.
Cormier, Robert. Beyond the Chocolate War.#% Pantheon, 1986. Dell, paper.
Duncan, Lois. Down a Dark Hall.+ Little, Brown, 1974. Dell, paper.
Golding, William. Lord of the Flies.#% Putnam, 1954.
Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World.#% Harper & Row, 1932
L'Engle, Madeleine. The Young Unicorns.+# Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1968. Dell, paper.
Rhue, Morton. The Wave.+# Dutton, 1984. Bantam, paper.
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings.#% Allen, 1954.

3. Blind Ambition

Dean, John. Blind Ambition: The White Years.% Simon and Schuster, 1976.
Warren, Robert Penn. All The King's Men.% Harcourt, Brace and World, 1946.

4. Superstition and Its Effects on Human Behavior

Hamilton, Virginia. Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush.# Putnam, 1982. Avon, paper
Miller, Arthur. The Crucible.#% Viking, 1954.
Myers, Walter Dean. Mojo and the Russians.+ Viking, 1977.
Peck, Richard. Ghosts I Have Been.+ Viking, 1987. Dell, paper.
Speare, Elizabeth George. The Witch of Blackbird Pond.+# Houghton Mifflin, 1958. Dell, paper.
Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.#% 1884. Available from a variety of publishers.


Currently senior English literature teacher in Buncombe County Schools in North Carolina, Linda Neal Underwood has taught English and Social Studies for twelve years in grades 5-12. She has received training and qualification to serve as Mentor for beginning teachers. She attended Appalachian State University and the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill where she received her B.S. in Education.


Currently Associate Professor of Education at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, Arthea (Charlie) J.S. Reed has taught for 20 years on both the high school and college level. She received her A.B. (Bethany College) and her M.S. (Southern Connecticut State University) in English and her Ph.D. (Florida State University) in Teacher Education. In addition to teaching, Charlie has been The ALAN Review (NCTE) editor since 1984 and served as Co-Director of the Mountain Area Writing Project (a part of the National Writing Project) from 1982 to 1988. She is also the author of Reaching Adolescents: Young Adult Books and the School (Holt, 1985) and Comics to Classics: A Parents' Guide to Books for Teens and Preteens (IRA, 1988).

Presently serving as Chair of the Secondary English Committee, Department of Language Education at the University of Georgia, W. Geiger (Guy) Ellis received his A.B. and M.Ed. degrees from the University of North Carolina and his Ed.D. from the University of Virginia. For over 25 years Guy has been active in teaching adolescent literature in the classroom and in training future teachers in its use, lecturing and writing extensively on the subject as well as on more traditional educational topics in the "probes" column of English Education and other journals. He developed and edited The ALAN Review (NCTE) from 1978 to 1984, changing its focus from a newsletter to a fully refereed journal with an emphasis on articles with research and instructional significance.

loading gif