“Macbeth” is a classic tragic drama by William Shakespeare. In the tragedy, three witches deliver a prophecy to the soldier Macbeth that he will become king of Scotland. Spurred on by his wife Lady Macbeth, Macbeth plots to kill the king of Scotland in order to fulfill the prophecy. In the aftermath of his murder of the king, insanity and further killing and prophesizing draws Macbeth to his eventual downfall. “Macbeth” is a powerful play dealing with themes of good and evil, freedom and destiny, ambition, murder, and betrayal. The play contains many memorable scenes, events, and characters that are still powerful to read and to watch and that remain culturally relevant.
Because of its dramatic Elizabethan English, “Macbeth” is a reach for most readers, but it also a text for which there is many other supports available for different reading levels. All the other readings in the Macbeth text set are available to support understanding of the play and to enrich discussion by providing historical, cultural, and analytical context. I chose “Macbeth” out of Shakespeare’s tragedies as the subject for this unit because of its limited number of characters and compressed but exciting and meaningful action. Finally, as a play, “Macbeth” can be accessed in many ways including reading, watching, and performing.
There are several aspects of this play that make it challenging reading. Straight reading of the language can be somewhat impenetrable without added supports. Although the text of the play scores low on the Flesch-Kincaid scale, I have to assume this is because much of Shakespeare’s dialogue is made up of short, monosyllabic words and because Flesch-Kincaid seems to score lower for poetry than for prose. However, although several of the words are short, they are often words that would be unfamiliar to a contemporary reader, words that are used in unfamiliar ways, or words used to imply multiple definitions. Additionally, the play requires much specific content knowledge in order to decode. Readers cannot be expected to grasp many of the metaphors, jokes, and allusions within the dialogue without explanation and translation. Full understanding of the play requires background on the cultural, political, and religious context of Elizabethan England. Finally, some understanding of the conventions of theatrical dialogue, such as monologues and speaking in verse, and of the genre of tragedy are required to comprehend the text. Discussion of Macbeth deals with content that may be sensitive for some readers. Reading “Macbeth” and discussing readings about “Macbeth” will mean covering subjects like murder, gender, and the supernatural. The play contains many references to gory and horrific images and to sexually charged metaphors. I tried to select supportive texts for the reading that do not contain too much graphic violence or nudity while still doing justice to the content of the play.
Use in Class
“Macbeth” is jumping point for the entire unit. My goal is to get students familiar with and able to summarize the general plot of the play. We will watch clips of the play as well as read some sections of this text aloud in class, with time given for students to rehearse. We will focus special attention on Act 1 Scene 3.
Submitted by Julia Katz