Drama: Macbeth and Signet Classic Edition

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A TEACHER’S GUIDE TO THE SIGNET CLASSIC EDITION OF

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE’S

MACBETH
LINDA NEAL UNDERWOOD

S E R I E S

E D I T O R S :

W. GEIGER ELLIS, ED.D., ARTHEA J. S. REED, PH.D.,

UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA, EMERITUS

and
UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA, RETIRED

A Teacher’s Guide to the Signet Classic Edition of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth

2

INTRODUCTION William Shakespeare developed many stories into excellent dramatizations for the Elizabethan stage. Shakespeare knew how to entertain and involve an audience with fast-paced plots, creative imagery, and multi-faceted characters. Macbeth is an action-packed, psychological thriller that has not lost its impact in nearly four hundred years. The politically ambitious character of Macbeth is as timely today as he was to Shakespeare's audience. Mary McCarthy says in her essay about Macbeth, "It is a troubling thought that Macbeth, of all Shakespeare's characters, should seem the most 'modern,' the only one you could transpose into contemporary battle dress or a sport shirt and slacks." (Signet Classic Macbeth) Audiences today quickly become interested in the plot of a blindly ambitious general with a strong-willed wife who must try to cope with the guilt engendered by their murder of an innocent king in order to further their power. The elements of superstition, ghosts, and witchcraft, though more readily a part of everyday life for the Renaissance audience, remain intriguing to modern teenagers. The action-packed plot, elements of the occult, modern characterizations, and themes of import to today's world make Macbeth an excellent choice for teaching to high school students. This study guide offers ideas for presenting Macbeth to a high school class. The activities have been divided into sections: 1. 2. 3. 4. a brief literary overview, including a synopsis and commentary on the play; suggestions for teaching the play, including ideas for incorporating it into a thematic unit, activities, discussion questions, essay topics to be used before, during, and after reading the play; ideas to extend students' learning beyond the play, including ways to address its themes, ideas for teaching literary analysis, techniques for using the play as a bridge to other works; bibliographies.

Since Macbeth is a play dealing with adult themes and emotions, it is difficult reading for many adolescents. Therefore, this study guide will focus attention on the ability levels of students, and specific activities, discussion questions, and topics will be labeled as to difficulty. * + # Appropriate for all students. Most appropriate for nonacademic students. Most appropriate for above average students.

% Most appropriate for academic students. OVERVIEW

ACT I Three witches meet Macbeth and Banquo on the heath as the men return from battle. They predict that Macbeth will be named Thane of Cawdor and King of Scotland and that Banquo will be the father of kings. The witches vanish; Ross enters to greet Macbeth with the title of Cawdor, the traitor whom King Duncan has determined must be executed and whose title and lands will be given to Macbeth. This immediate "earnest of success commencing in a truth" causes Macbeth to consider the extent of his ambition and Banquo to warn that predictions are often harmful as well as beneficial. (iii.) Announcing that his eldest son, Malcolm, is to be his heir, Duncan states his intention to visit Macbeth's castle, Glamis. (iv.) When Lady Macbeth reads the letter Macbeth has sent ahead, she determines her husband must take advantage of the opportunity Duncan's forthcoming visit offers as a way of fulfilling the prophecy. However, she fears that though Macbeth is "not without ambition," he is "too full o' th' milk of human kindness to catch the nearest way." (v.) Macbeth is not as determined as his lady about the need for murder. He considers reasons he should defend rather than threaten the life of his king. Lady Macbeth remains adamant...
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