"You Should be Women": Bearded Rhetoric in Macbeth's Weird Sisters

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SWBAT synthesize the various Jacobian perceptions of beards in "Macbeth."

Big Idea

"Beards forbid me to interpret" a single story.

Teacher to Teacher: Lesson Context

The presentations today extends the previous lesson and addresses the question of "why do the women have beards?" This is a question raised by a student in the "30-Second Macbeth" lesson that led to a group task the following day. 

Thus, in this lesson a group of five students share their discoveries about various interpretations addressing the question: Why do the witches have beards? The groups worked with Macbeth's Bearded Women.pdf

In this lesson, students

  • Meet to read and think about five interpretation of beards in Macbeth.
  • Collaborate to record their findings on overhead transparencies.
  • Share their group's findings with the class.
  • Watch a special feature from the Two Rivers production of Macbeth
  • Choose a word to trace for their Image-Search papers. 

The Shape of Beards to Come: Student Meet and Collaborate.

25 minutes

Each student in the group receives the following:

  • A section from the academic article.
  • An overhead transparency on which to record their groups' audience interpretation.
  • Markers to use in recoding their information.

The five sections of the essay are

  • Bearded Witches
  • Bearded Saints
  • Bearded Bodies
  • Fashion and Travel: Beards at Home and Abroad
  • Aliens in Their Midst

The Jacobian Audience Responds to Beards: Five Groups Share

30 minutes

Groups share their information in turn. As students share, classmates record notes based on the discussion and overhead transparencies. 

After each presentation (and sometimes during) the teacher fills in any gaps, addresses any questions, clarifies any misinformation.

Our first presentation Bearded Witches #1 shows a cursory reading of the section. This is an example of a presentation the teacher needs to add to, which I did by reading some of the important ideas in the essay and giving students time to comment. I had my copy annotated and highlighted for this purpose. 

Our second group Bearded Saints #2 shows a more thorough reading of the document, but it's also necessary to clarify information as some of the presentations show notes that merely copy from the original rather than paraphrase or summary. When this happens, I rephrase the ideas or have the presenters do so. This makes understanding the material easier for those who don't have access to the complete essay. 

The third presentation on Bearded Bodies #3 gets into some sensitive information about female biology. The group handled this well, and I was able to offer some insight. 

Beards at Home and Abroad #4 did a good job explaining the difficult information. We all learned a great deal about both the popularity of beards, the rhetorical function of beards as accessories, and the British ideas about "other" cultures. 

Finally, Aliens in Their Midst #5, led to a discussion about the geographical implications of Macbeth. I was able to share w/ students the fears and suspicions the English had of the Irish and fill in gaps for the group. 

At the end of the group presentations I asked the class: "How do the various audience interpretations of the witches' beards help us understand their use of equivocation?"

The students responded to the question by noting that beards cause gender identity confusion for the audience just as Macbeth and Banquo are confused by the witches' predictions. One student also mentioned the line: "What are these so withered and so wild that look like not like the inhabitants of the earth yet are on it." 

Thus, students see that Shakespeare has Banquo/Macbeth nod to the Jacobian audience members' various perceptions of the bearded women. This also helps clarify the theme of equivocation, which I suggest students think about as uncertainty, in the tragedy. It's an idea I tell students they need to consider throughout the play. 

Brutal Beauty and Blood: Creating Images in the Two Rivers "Macbeth"

10 minutes

After the presentations, I introduce students to the idea that they will be composing an essay at the end of the unit and that I want to help them prepare along the way. That's why we're turning our attention to imagery in Macbeth.

For this section of the lesson, teachers need the Two Rivers production of Macbeth DVD. In the Macbeth Two River Theater DVD I discuss the value of teachers having this resource in their classrooms. 

I show the special feature "Blood Will Have Blood" to students in preparation for their Image-Search prewrite preparation because it offers a visual as well as an analytical commentary about blood in Macbeth. 

I tell students to notice the images of blood and to listen to the commentary about the decision to focus on blood in excess. I tell students that they can magnify the image by focusing on it and that the DVD feature offers a window into how this works in the production as well as into what they will do in their papers.

I-Search: Preparing to Prewrite

10 minutes

As a culminating task, to prepare students for one component of the summative assessment on Macbeth, I distribute the I-Search assignment, which is explained in the Macbeth.pdf This is a prewriting activity as well as a directed reading task. Specifically, it is integral to students' ability to compose the final in-class essay on Macbeth.

The handout offers suggestions of words for students to choose as the subject of their I-Search, but I allow students to make their own choice with the knowledge that the words listed are the most common ones in Macbeth and that they offer a wealth of thematic, as well as character, connections that will lead them to the successful completion of the essay at the end of the unit. 

In upcoming lessons, I will remind students to work on their I-Search prewriting, and we'll identify lines and comment on them as we continue studying the play.