"Is This a Dagger Which I See Before Me?" Comparing Film Versions of "Macbeth" 2.1.44-77.

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SWBAT compare and analyze three film versions of the bloody dagger scene based on sound, language, physical and camera elements.

Big Idea

Directors make interpretive decisions that affect viewers' perceptions of texts.

Teacher to Teacher: Lesson Context and Time Frame

This is lesson # 6 in our study of The Tragedy of Macbeth. This lesson is grounded in performance pedagogy from The Folger Shakespeare Library, my philosophy for which I explain here.

Given the tight time schedule, I assign different students different parts/tasks. I explain each in the section for each scene. 

What's important to remember is that each student is required to participate in "performance tasks" throughout the unit. 

Also, the various lessons in the unit can be divided and adapted to fit each teacher's individual class needs based on student ability and period duration. 

In this lesson students compare three film versions of the bloody dagger scene and complete a graphic organizer in which they analyze the various film components of each version. 


A Day at the Movies: Introducing Students to the Language of Film

10 minutes

Students love movies. That's a given. Indeed, they often beg to watch "the movie" rather than read the book. My job is to give students reasons to read before watching. To consider the choices directors make, I give students some tools that empower them to talk about film using the language of film. 

At the beginning of the period, I distribute the film comparison. This document introduces students to some important concepts they need to consider when viewing a film. It's these that I want students to note when they watch three filmic interpretations of Macbeth's bloody dagger scene. 

We read through the two-page handout together, and I tell students that although the document has an area for only one film, we'll be watching three clips so they'll need to divide the area either horizontally or vertically and number each part 1, 2, 3 to distinguish among the three films. 

They had no problem understanding and completing this task, which suggests an eagerness to get on with the show. 

Film 1: Roman Polanski's Vision of the Bloody Dagger

10 minutes

We begin our day at the movies with the classic Roman Polanski Macbeth (1971). 

In instruct students to watch first and then take notes. This is important so that they don't miss any of the details in terms of visual elements. With the clip being only 2:05, this is a doable request. 

After students view the segment, I set the timer for three minutes and give them an opportunity to complete the graphic organizer, which here shows space for only one movie, so I have students subdivide the form either vertically or horizontally since they have three film clips to analyze. 

Film Comparison Student Work (1) shows the specific sounds, including the dripping water, one student notices. This is a detail most observed. Additionally, students make observations about tone and atmosphere. 

Film 2: The Royal Shakespeare Company's Staged Production with Ian McClellan

10 minutes

After students complete their notes on the Polanski Macbeth, I show them a clip from a staged production starring Judy Dench and Ian McClellan, whom they know from the Harry Potter books and movies. 

Almost immediately after the clip ends, a student remarks, "Wow. The first one left out a lot of stuff that really adds to the play." 

"Excellent observation," but let's go ahead and take a few minutes to take notes on our film analysis handout: flm comparison.pdf

I set the timer and give students an opportunity to write for three minutes. 

Again, the completed graphic organizer shows specific film elements the student identifies: Film Comparison Student Work (2)

Film 3: PBS's "Macbeth" with Patrick Stewart: Modernizing a Classic

10 minutes

When the students finish writing, we move on to the third film clip, which is from the PBS Macbeth starring Patrick Stewart. This version uses a very contemporary setting, which appeals to students.

This is the longest bloody dagger interpretation at 3:45. 

"That's creepy," is the first sound I heard when the clip ended. 

Before opening up for discussion, we go ahead and take time to write for three minutes, again using the graphic organizer: flm comparison pdf

In completing the film graphic organizer, one student notes that Macbeth is in an empty room and that the camera is still. Additionally, the student notes the slow rate of speech and its effect: Film Comparison Student Work (4)

An additional example of student work shows more observations: film Comparison Student work (3)

What We Watched: Students Offered Observations

10 minutes

Before I could ask students about their observations of the three films, they began talking. Among their comments, I heard the following:

"The first one left out a lot that I think is necessary to understanding the play." 

"The second and third ones both had bells."

"I heard a heart beating in the third one."

I asked, "What effect on us as viewers does the heart beat have?"

One student commented, "It emphasizes life that ends. It makes you think about living."

To the student that said the Patrick Stewart version is creepy, I asked, "What makes it creepy?"

"It's dark," said one student in reference to Patrick Stewart as Macbeth.

"What did you think about the corridor?" I asked.

"That makes it eerie and adds to the creepiness."

"What did you think about the decision to show a dagger in the Hollywood version, which is the first one, and not to show the dagger in the other two? How do these decisions change our perception of Macbeth."

Several students noted that Macbeth seems to be hallucinating and seems a bit "crazy" at this point.

The conversation continued along these lines with students noting that the bell is in two of the clips. I told students that for a Jacobean audience they would recognize the bell as a symbol of death as whenever someone died the bell would toll.

Finally, I told students that these film versions of Macbeth can help them think about their performances in class as we move forward with the play.  

Comparing and Contrasting with the One-Minute Essay

2 minutes

After our brief discussion, I told students that I want them to write a one-minute essay. One Minute Essay.mp4

I suggested they write about which film version they prefer and why by comparing and contrasting their preference to the other two versions. I reminded them that they need to write for at least one complete minute without stopping. 

As students have already written notes, including summaries, about earlier scenes in Macbeth, they were ready, and fairly eager, to compose their one-minute essays. Student One-Minute Essay Collection (1)shows this student's preference for the third version, as does Student One-Minute Essay Collection (2).

Similarly, Student Composing One-Minute Essay also shows another student who prefers the Patrick Stewart version. Several students indicated they like the modernized version, saying it looks more modern. They tend to focus on the look of a production rather than the language in choosing their favorite. 

Here we see a student's film notes alongside the one-minute essay. One Minute Essay and Film Comparison Student Work (1).