MACBETH Day One: Background and Banquo's Murder (Act III, Scene iii)

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SWBAT articulate understanding of background on Shakespearean tragedy and plot development for Act III, Scene iii of MACBETH through writing and discussion.

Big Idea

Readers can learn about Shakespeare's characters by what they say, what they do, and what others say about them.

Lesson Overview and Note to Teachers

My classes are held in 100-minute block sessions.  This lesson takes 70 minutes to complete.

The lesson below outlines my introduction to Macbeth, reviewing background on Shakespeare and the aspects of tragedy and beginning the play at the climax, Act III, Scene iii - Banquo's murder.

Think, Pair, Share: Remember Shakespeare and His Plays?

18 minutes

Since my students are seniors, I know they have read one or more of Shakespeare's plays during high school, including Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, and A Midsummer Night's Dream.  As some teachers begin a study of Shakespeare's plays by discussing his life, times, and work, I want to draw on student background knowledge.  

I have students participate in a Think: Pair: Share. I ask students to list what they remember about Shakespeare and tragedy. I give them time to think and write on their own.  Next, students discuss their lists with a partner. Then we debrief as a class.  Some items students note are as follows:

  • Tragedy is designed to teach about some aspect of moral character.
  • The tragic hero has a tragic flaw, or error in judgement, that leads to his/her downfall.
  • Shakespeare wrote in iambic pentameter.
  • Shakespeare was the creator of one of the greatest love stories of all time in Romeo and Juliet.
  • Shakespeare has a unique way of getting his point across through his diction.
  • Shakespeare wrote Julius Caesar and Hamlet.

Shakespeare and Tragedy: Note-taking and Gallery Walk

27 minutes

To give students an overview/refresher on Shakespeare's life and times, his use of language, and real life v. stage life in his plays, we view "Standards Deviants: Shakespeare, Program 1 - Introduction to Shakespeare" (Cerebellum, 2001; 25:11).  I tell students to list at least 10 bullets of information they find significant in the program.  

I stop the video to point out one key idea presented; readers can learn about characters in Shakespeare's plays in three ways:

  1. by what characters say 
  2. by what others say about them
  3. by what they do. 

I focus on this to remind students that it is important to stick with what the text says, something we have been working on since the beginning of the school year.  I do not want them to feel daunted by the complex text of Macbeth.

Examining student work from the Think: Pair: Share at the beginning of class and the Standard Deviants bulleted list (Student Work: Think, Pair, Share and Bullets from Standard Deviants), I can see that students expand their knowledge of Shakespeare and his writing.

When the program ends, I ask students to review their bulleted lists and write one thing they learned on the board.  We do a Gallery Walk as a class, noting what we have learned as a class.  Students see that they choose similar items, such as how Shakespeare wrote during the Elizabethan Era; wrote in iambic pentameter; and wrote in poetry and prose.

Beginning With Banquo's Murder: Act III, Scene iii

10 minutes

I decide to try something new this year; I begin Macbeth by starting with the climax: Act III, Scene iii - Banquo's murder.  I want to give students motivation to read the play. To facilitate student reading, I use No Fear Shakespeare: Macbeth (SparkNotes, 2003) to explore the play. On the left page, students can read the original text in Early Modern English; on the facing right page, students can read the Modern English translation.  I also use the audiobook of Macbeth (Arkangel, 2005).  Students can listen to the original text while reading.  I explain that students have several options for using these resources in class:

  • Read the original text while we listen to it on audio; when you get stuck with the original text, read the translation.
  • Read the translation while we listen to the original text.
  • Go back and forth between the two translations as necessary.


I do not give the students any background information on this scene or on the play because I want them to simply read and sort through the plot development for Banquo's murder.  First, we listen to the scene while reading. Next, I turn off the lights and ask students to simply listen to the scene. 


Ticket Out and Debriefing

15 minutes

After we read the scene twice through reading the text while listening to it, and then simply listening to the text, I ask students to answer two questions for a ticket out: (1) What happens in this scene? (2) How do you think the plot develops before this scene?

As students write, I circulate to check their understanding of the scene and their predictions about it. After students write, I ask them to share their answers (Student Work: Ticket Out on Banquo's Murder (Act III, scene iii)) with two classmates.  

I explain that next class we will begin the play, reading to find out what happens prior to Banquo's murder.