"I Have Done the Deed": The Macbeths React to the Murder of Duncan (2.2-3.1)

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SWBAT cite textual evidence supporting or denying the claim that Macbeth is going mad.

Big Idea

All literature is rhetorical; all literature articulates ideas open to argument.

Teacher to Teacher: Lesson Context and Time Frame

This is lesson # 7 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.

The lesson continues the previous day's lesson. It specifically covers the following:

  • 2.2
  • 2.3
  • 2.4

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. 

Students Perform 2.2

10 minutes

In a previous lesson two students prepared a performance of 2.2. 

We began the lesson by watching the students perform the scene. This is the first time the Macbeths meet after Macbeth kills Duncan. 

The students used paper Bloody Dagger Propsto use during the scene and spoke slowly. This slow performance prompted a classmate to react to the presentation by saying, "Macbeth's going crazy." 

"Interesting," I say. "What makes you think Macbeth is going crazy?"

The student began explaining that Macbeth comes back from killing Duncan and can't sleep. She says that Macbeth seems flustered. 

Another student remarked, "Whoever has sleep has a lot of that word in this section." 

"That's right," I say. "There is a high concentration of the word sleep in this section. Be sure to track those in your notes by at least writing the lines down. That will save you time later when you write your paper. Each of you needs to listen for your word as you watch the scenes and listen to the discussion." Blood I-Chat/Images (Student Notes) shows one student tracking lines.

Next, I told the students that I'm interested in the claim: "In 2.2 we see Macbeth beginning to go mad." Then I passed out post-it notes to the students and said, "On this post it, write lines, observations, or comments about whether or not you think Macbeth is going crazy. We'll post these on the board. 

I wrote the following on the board: "In 2.2 we see Macbeth beginning to go crazy." And next to it, I wrote: "Other possibilities." 

We then turned our attention to the claims and counter claims: 



Macbeth is Going Crazy: Supporting a Claim/Denying a Claim

20 minutes

We began posting notes in support of the claim that Macbeth is going crazy:  Macbeth is Going Crazy Post-It Notes

Those who claimed they see madness in Macbeth note his inability to sleep, his uncertainty, and the guards' prayers. Macbeth Is Going Crazy (Student Notes 1) show one student's thinking. 

During the discussion, the general feeling among most students shifted to the position that other possibilities exist for Macbeth's inability to sleep. Other Possibilities: Post-It Notes shows a 2-1 ratio. As students posted their notes, they explained that Macbeth was anxious and that he had had a traumatic ordeal. They talked about how his anxiety didn't necessarily mean he was going mad and that it could be attributed to his lack of sleep. Macbeth Is Not Going Crazy (Student Notes 1) shows one student's thoughts.

Looking at the notes once the discussion wound down, I told the students that they had constructed the basis for an argument. They made a claim: Macbeth is going crazy. Then they gave support for that claim in the form of textual evidence. They also gave an important component of an argument: the rebutal, which is a qualifier that acknowledges another way of thinking. This is inherent to a strong argument, I explained. Finally, I told students that both the claim and rebutal require reasons and evidence. These are all necessary to argument.  

As a concluding activity, I asked students to synthesize their position in a one-minute essay. One-Minute Essay Macbeth is Going Crazy: Student Collection shows today's one-minute essay concluding those from previous lessons. 


Students Map 2.3-4

15 minutes

In an earlier lesson, as I mentioned above, I assigned students scenes to perform or map. Students mapping 2.3-4 took turns explaining their maps. 

2.3.73-112 was the first scene mapped. Student Map 2.3 Bloody Guards Discovered The group noted that Malcolm and Donalbain were sleeping and had to be awakened. They also mentioned that Lady Macbeth was referred to as "gentle lady" and that there were efforts to protect her. Student Map 2.3 shows more images from the scene. 

2.3.113-172 focuses on Malcolm and Donalbain's decision to flee to Ireland and England. The group explained that they did so because they feared for their lives since their father, the king, had been assassinated and that as the next in line Malcolm fears for his life.

2.4 completed the map presentations. Student Map 2.4 shows that Macbeth is now king. The group characterized the scene as filled with chaos and uncertainty and suspicion. 

The Porter Scene: 2.3 Film Comparison

20 minutes

The Porter Scene (3.1) is often difficult for students, particularly if they only read the text and not the glosses. This scene offers comic relief, and those students who understand Shakespeare's use of puns will laugh at the scene even though it's very dark. 

To assist students in discovering the humor in this scene, I show them three versions of the Porter Scene using the same film versions as I used in the Bloody Dagger scene. These are the Roman Polanski direct film, the staged version with Ian McKellen, and the recent PBS modern movie starring Patrick Stewart. 

We begin by defining pun: A play on words in which one word has two or more meanings; a play on words in which two different words that are pronounced the same but have different (often competing) meanings. Puns often have a humorous effect. 

Before showing the clips, I tell students I want them to answer the following questions:

  • Whom does the Porter imagine is knocking at the door?
  • What effect does alcohol have on the body?
  • What punning do you observe in the scene? 

Next I tell students that we're watching the three clips back-to-back, and then we'll discuss them. 

First up is the Roman Polanski film:

We then turn our attention to the Ian McKellen film:

Finally, we view the PBS film clip: 

After watching the film, I ask students the first question: 

"Who does the Porter imagine is knocking at the door?"

A student names the farmer first, so I ask why the farmer is going to hell. The same student says, "He hung himself." 

"That's right," I say, "he hanged himself and that would be a sin in the audience's mind." Then I ask, "Who else?"

"An equivocator," a student responds.

"What's that?" I ask. 

A student answers, "A lawyer." This student's father happens to be a lawyer, and prior to class we were talking about her father having to present both sides of issues as she told me a story. 

Finally, I asked the students, "Who is the third person?"

The students looked at their scripts and one replied: "A tailor." 

"What did the tailor do?" 

Again, they looked at the script until a student located the answer: "Stole from a Frenchman." 

Next I asked, "What's the effect of alcohol?" 

"It makes you pee, makes you a lecher, and makes him sleep." 

"What does it mean to be a lecher?" I ask.

The students became silent. A few giggled. Finally, a brave young man said, "Drinking makes you want to have sex but you can't if you drink too much." He used his hand and arm to show standing up and not standing up. That resulted in some giggles from the class and a "that's right" and a high-five from me." 

I told the class, "He is exactly right. When you drink, the alcohol makes you more interested in sex, but for men who drink too much, they have a biological malfunction. This is physiologically a biological reality." Porter Film Notes show one student's thinking about the Porter scene. 

After we exhausted the topic of sex in the Porter scene, I asked students to identify some puns, and they named several:

  • "provokes and unprovokes"
  • "stand to and not stand to"
  • "equivocates him in sleep"
  • "lie" in Macduff's response "drink gave thee the lie" to the Porter's line "giving him the lie"