Lesson Plan - Get It!
Macbeth, or The Scottish Play, as it's known in theatrical circles, is one of William Shakespeare's most famous tragedies. This dark play is so associated with tragedy that actors won't even speak the name "Macbeth" in a theater unless they're on stage. Start this series of lessons to dive into the mystery behind this canonical tragic play!
Macbeth is one of Shakespeare's most famous tragedies.
It follows the psychological unraveling of Macbeth, a Scottish nobleman, who undertakes the quest to become King of Scotland. The play was first performed in 1606 for King James I, who ascended to the British throne after the death of his mother's cousin, Elizabeth I.
In the play, Macbeth receives three prophecies from a trio of witches in Act I. He then proceeds to make decisions based on the knowledge of these prophecies, along with guidance from his wife, Lady Macbeth. These decisions ultimately lead to the fate that Macbeth meets in Act V, but you'll have to wait to see what happens at the end of the play in Lesson Five of this series (no spoilers!).
Act I opens with a trio of witches who create the prophecies while Macbeth is involved in a battle against the Norwegian king and several Scottish noblemen who have become traitors to Scotland. After the battle, Macbeth encounters the witches, who give him his prophecies.
Macbeth has many characters, although only a handful are major, recurring characters. These include:
- Macbeth, the main actor or protagonist.
- Lady Macbeth, Macbeth's wife.
- King Duncan, the King of Scotland.
- Banquo, a Scottish nobleman and Macbeth's friend.
- Macduff, another Scottish nobleman.
- Malcolm, King Duncan's eldest son.
Follow this link to a list of Macbeth Characters from PlayShakespeare.com to get a complete list of the characters and their backgrounds in the play.
Now that you have familiarized yourself with the opening plot synopsis and the characters, it is time to read the play. While there are many versions of Macbeth, we recommend you use the following link from MIT because it provides the full text of the play, and the language has been revised to make it easier to read while still keeping Shakespeare's style of writing intact.
The Tragedy of Macbeth from MIT
Also, plays were not meant to be read quietly. If so, they would have been written as novels or short stories instead. So, read the play aloud. Listen to the words and get a sense of the emotions of the characters. When reading Shakespeare, because he writes in a more poetical style, don't stop at the end of a line; keep reading straight through until you reach a punctuation mark. It takes a little practice, but by reading aloud, it will help you make more sense out of the lines.
So, read Act I aloud, where you will first encounter the witches known as the "weird sisters," before meeting the more "earthly" characters that comprise the cast. When you have finished, move on to the Got It? section.