MACBETH Day Two: Act I, Scene i through Scene iii

10 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


SWBAT demonstrate understanding of MACBETH through writing and discussion.

Big Idea

"Man is fully responsible for his nature and choices." --- Jean-Paul Sartre

Lesson Overview and Note to Teachers

My classes are held in 100-minute block sessions; since today is a professional development day, class periods are about one hour.  The activities in this lesson take about 40 minutes to complete.

In the lesson outlined below, students review characters in Macbeth and explore the exposition of the play in Act I, Scenes i through iii.


5 minutes

Since we read Act III, Scene iii last class, I want to give students context about the play by reviewing a character map and asking questions based upon it and our work last class.  You can use this MACBETH Character Map Prezi to review characters with students.  I only reveal who characters are before the play begins, the roles. I do not reveal any action, even though students know Banquo has been murdered since I began last class with the climax of the play, Act III, Scene iii.

We discuss possible motives for Banquo's murder, such as he does something to offend Macbeth. Students do not yet know that Macbeth is king when he arranges Banquo's murder. However, when they learn that Banquo and Macbeth are close friends, they become further motivated to find out why Macbeth orders his murder, a purpose for going back to the beginning of the play and reading to find out what happens.   

Reading and Discussion through Act I Scene III

15 minutes

We read Act I, Scenes i-iii by using No Fear Shakespeare: Macbeth (SparkNotes, 2003) while viewing the clips with original text subtitles from the "Macbeth" film by the Royal Shakespeare Company (PBS, 2010).  I have provided the link to the full film on the PBS website, but I use the DVD with subtitles. You can purchase it online, or check your local public library to see if it is in stock.

After reading the first three scenes, as a class we verbally summarize the action chronologically:

  1. The witches discuss when they will meet with Macbeth and set the tone of the play with the paradox "Fair is foul, and foul is fair" (Scene 1, Line 10).
  2. A captain recounts to Duncan et al. that Macbeth and Banquo are valiant warriors and win the war for King Duncan; Duncan names Macbeth thane of Cawdor since the sitting thane of Cawdor commits treason and will be executed.
  3. The witches discuss and demonstrate their power over natural elements.
  4. The witches give Macbeth and Banquo predictions about their future.
  5. Banquo warns Macbeth about the witches' and their possible motives.
  6. Ross and Lennox tell Macbeth Duncan has named him thane of Cawdor.
  7. Macbeth considers murdering Duncan.

Since I want to ensure students understand the exposition of the play, we discuss the following through discussion questions (Discussion Questions: Act I, Scenes i through iii):

  • the role of the witches: agents of fate and the negative connotation of their label as witches as opposed to Shakespeare using oracles or prophets give predictions to Macbeth and Banquo; I point out that Shakespeare has Banquo refer to the witches as "instruments of darkness" in Scene iii, line 124 to reinforce the negative connotation. 
  • civil war in Scotland: Banquo and Macbeth's role in winning the war
  • the function of dramatic irony in the play: e.g., we know Duncan makes Macbeth thane of Cawdor before Ross and Lennox deliver the news to Macbeth and Banquo
  • how Macbeth becomes thane of Cawdor
  • Macbeth's reflection on the witches' predictions and possible actions he must take to become king
  • how Macbeth may transform from a valiant warrior and Banquo's close friend into ordering his murder 
  • how Macbeth may evolve as a tragic hero as the text progresses: students state that Macbeth may kill Duncan due to his ambition, losing his valiant, loyal qualities.

Ticket Out: Summary and Direct Quotes

15 minutes

Shakespeare uses dramatic irony to hook the reader and offers Macbeth's reflection on the witches predictions in a soliloquy. Since my students tend to focus on analysis more than comprehension and at times may forget significant plot events, I ask students to write a 5-7 bullet summary of the plot in these scenes (Student Work: Ticket Out - Summary) and to list three quotes (Student Work: Ticket Out - Direct Quotes) from the text they find the significant, identified by speaker and lines.  

For quotes to be selected, they must meet the criteria for direct quotes that I taught students in my Note-taking lesson earlier in the school year:  “Quoting is most effective when wording is worth repeating or makes a point so well that no rewording will do it justice” (Little Seagull Handbook, 2011). I remind students of this criteria.  

Without prompting, students clarify their interpretations and fill comprehension gaps by going back to the text and discussing it with a partner. They also discuss the significant quotes they have chosen with classmates after completing their work. Students are becoming proficient in independent practice of the critical reading and study strategies we have been exploring this year.