When Tangled Up, Tangle On: Macbeth Tango

3 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


SWBAT choreograph a "dance" to a passage in "Macbeth" to show the nature of the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.

Big Idea

Life is a dance we learn as we go.

Teacher to Teacher: Lesson Time Frame and Context

This lesson is # 9 in our The Tragedy of Macbeth unit. It continues my commitment to teach Shakespeare as Shakespeare intended and audience to experience the plays--via performance. 

This lesson originates at the Folger Shakespeare Library, so I'm providing a link to the original lesson. Additionally, I've created a document with the original lesson: Macbeth Tango.

That said, this lesson has been rated fair on the Folger site, and I believe there is a simple reason for this: The students performing the "dances" must also read their lines (or memorize them). 

I don't have time to have students memorize lines for this activity, so I have adapted it so that students performing rely on two other students to narrate the scene. This frees up the performers hands so that they can concentrate on the choreography rather than have to worry about holding a script, reading lines, and "dancing." This simple modification has changed the lesson significantly. 

The lesson includes scenes from 1.5, 1.7, 2.2, 3.2, and 3.4 I use it just before we work with 3.4, but a teacher could use it after 3.4 or after any of the scenes listed. 

It Takes Two to Tango: Viewing "A Scent of a Woman" Tango Scene

10 minutes

To introduce students to the tango, and to give them a sense of the tension in the dance, I show the tango scene from The Scent of a Woman. Before playing the clip, I tell students that the Al Pacino character is blind, but he's still able to take charge of the dance.

After viewing the scene, I tell students that the tango has a sense of one dancer directing and moving the other one and that they need to think about who leads and who follows and how this may change during the dance as they choreograph their "dances." 

Choosing Dance Partners

10 minutes

As this lesson originated at The Folger Shakespeare Library, the library has made available the five scenes I use for pairing students up. MacbethTangonewupdated.pdf There are five scenes in the document. The number of copies needed depends on the number of students in the class and whether or not there are repeat performances. Since I had some students working on other tasks, I needed 10 students, two per scene, to perform the five "dances." Additionally, we needed students to read the parts of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth during the actual dance performances. 

In my class, student work collections will include performance tasks as part of the final unit grade. This is one way to get students willing to volunteer. They know their grades are based on preparation and progress more than on actual performance quality, and as they have had some experience w/ performance at this point, they have faith that the activity will be fun. Additionally, having students other than those "dancing" makes students more willing to volunteer. 

Choreographing the Dance

20 minutes

My room is located in an area that provides students some additional space in which to practice. Consequently, several students meet in the locker areas that have large open space where they begin choreographing their "dances." 

The students worry, at first, about having to say their lines while performing the dance, so I make a modification from the original assignment and have them choreograph using the script but assure the pairs that they will have two students ready to read the parts for them. Ideally, the readers would practice with the dancers. But I have students working on a scene for the next lesson (3.4 Ghost of Banquo), so the practices must proceed w/out the readers. 

As students work to choreograph the dances, some take notes, which I have advised them to do, on their scripts so that they'll remember their moves and hit their marks. Student Notes Macbeth Tango show the informality of the note-taking process. 

I monitor student progress and answer questions, as well as remind students that they need to show the tension developing between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. I remind them that the dance is about helping them and the audience understand the relationship between the Macbeths. 

The students must work diligently because I've only given them 20 minutes to practice. 

Star Students Dancing

30 minutes

Students present their "dances" in chronological order so that the scenes build in intensity and so that we watch them in the order in which they appear in the script. 

During the dances, Macbeth is transformed from a tragedy to a comedy. The iMovie I compiled from the "performances" shows students having fun with their scenes. Of particular interest is that students don't worry about gender issues, which we see with boys paired with boys in Performing Macbeth Tango and girls w/ girls. Indeed, one pair of girls talks about channeling gender issues in Macbeth. This is important because it shows students drawing on prior lessons, specifically the "Bearded Women" lesson. 

And while there is much stumbling, giggling, and uncertainty about movement, there is also obvious tension between the Macbeths in the student dances. Students in Macbeth Tango Additionally, the activity gives students yet another opportunity to experience these five important scenes. 

Below is a compilation of the student performances for five pairs in the order of their presentation: 

What Is the Nature of the Macbeths' Dance?

5 minutes

At the end of the period, I quickly ask students to characterize the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. We get a variety of answers:

  • loving. He calls her "dearest chuck."
  • one-sided. She says "leave all the rest to me."
  • controlling. Lady Macbeth taunts and mocks Macbeth until he agrees to kill Duncan.

I then asked students to write a one-sentence essay about how they see the relationship between the Macbeths or what they have learned today about the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.