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William Shakespeare

Theme: Lust for Power Can Lead to Loss of Humanity
Grades: Grades 11-12

Macbeth is the story of the quest of Macbeth and his Lady to attain the throne of Scotland. Macbeth is a gifted leader, a fierce warrior, an imaginative, sensitive soul. But he wants to be king, even if it requires doing something drastic. His wife, Lady Macbeth, has an even stronger passion for power that pushes him relentlessly toward both glory and tragedy.

  1. Concept Web.
    Ask students to work independently or in small groups to create a word web or other graphic organizer that explores one or more of the following concepts: fate, honor, ambition, guilt. You might encourage students who are having difficulty in getting started to (1)define the concept, (2) give examples that illustrate it, (3) list some of the consequences associated with it, and in other ways show their reaction to the concept.
  1. Role-Playing.
    Have students discuss or role-play one of the following situations: (1) Imagine that you are trying to decide whether to do something you know is very wrong, but which will benefit you. A friend says, "Come on, just do it. Do you want to be a loser all your life?" How would you react to such goading? Would you reaction be different if your friend said, "Yeah, that's a tough decision, but if you don't do it, someone else will"? If so, why? (2) You have done something illegal and then gotten caught. You now have a choice either to admit that you did it or tell a lie to cover it up. How far would you be willing to go to cover up your own wrongdoing? What role does fear play in your choice of action? What other considerations weigh in your decision?
  1. What Ghost?
    Have students debate the proposition, "There is no ghost in this play. Macbeth only imagines it." Tell students to take sides on the issue (or argue for deliberate ambiguity) and prepare a 2- or 3- minute opening speech defending their stand. They should also find as much evidence in the play as they can. When they are through, the class could vote on the proposition.

  1. Meet the Press.
    Have a group of students put on a press conference in which one or several main characters from Macbeth answer questions from the press about Duncan's murder. The "reporters" should write their questions ahead of time, while the Macbeths and the other actors review their characters' traits and alibis. The questions should focus on the action in the play as well as on the character's intentions.
  1. To Sleep...
    In his essay on Macbeth in Shakespeare, Mark Van Doren says, "For sleep in Shakespeare is ever the privilege of the good and the reward of the innocent." Have students discuss in a research paper whether Shakespeare's use of sleep in Macbeth supports this contention. Ask them if they see any other significance to the way Shakespeare uses sleep in the play. Have them research other Shakespeare plays for examples of sleep imagery to support their position.

  2. The King is Dead, Long Live the King.
    The Gunpowder Plot of 1605 was a plan to assassinate King James I. Have students research it and write a research paper about regicide and its consequences, using the case of Macbeth and Duncan as an example.