Tableau Vivant: Living Pictures in "Macbeth"

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SWBAT collaborate to create and perform tableau vivant for selected lines in "Macbeth."

Big Idea

Shakespeare's language is full of imagery that translates from the page to the stage as living pictures, a.k.a. tableau vivant.

Teacher to Teacher: Lesson Context and Time Frame

Today is the finale, the final day of our Macbeth unit. The students were told in an earlier class that they would need to use costuming and props in their presentation and that they would need three possible short "scenes" or passages to work with. I instructed them to keep their selections short because the nature of the task necessitates this. 

Today's lesson includes

  • Checking students scene selection,
  • A short tutorial introducing students to tableau vivant,
  • Assigning groups and scenes,
  • Preparation and practice of tableau vivant,
  • Presentation of tableau vivant by each group.


Tableau Tutorial from Shakespeare in American Life

10 minutes

At the beginning of the period I quickly check to see who has come prepared w/ scenes and note this on the class roster. I know there will be some unprepared students who will need to "borrow" from their more astute classmates. It's important that those who are prepared get credit and that those who are not still be included in the activity. This is why I asked students to come w/ three scenes.

When I first introduce students to the idea of tableau vivant, they crinkle up their noses and say, "hugh," as thought the big word is off-putting. 

Even though I have explained that a tableau vivant is a "living picture," it's a difficult idea for kids to comprehend. Thus, I tell them this: "If you are familiar with store fronts that have live models, think about recreating that. Also, think about a mime who has very crisp movements." To help envision this idea, I do a couple of mime moves. This is the point at which kids began to "get the picture."

To further help students understand tableau vivant, I show them a tutorial from the Shakespeare in American Life website.  

Then we talk about what they saw: students create movement, use sound effects, use props, have a narrator, keep the scene short. 

Some of the students have brought scenes to use that might be a little to long for the project. Anticipating this, I tell them that it's okay to use only a few lines because it's their ability to create the images in the lines that matters most. 

Once the students are clear on the instructions, we move on. That said, there are times when it's necessary to show the tutorial more than once, but that didn't happen today. 

Picturing Tableau Vivant: Students Prepare and Practice

25 minutes

We then move to assigning scenes. At this juncture, students are used to performing and most have anticipated this culminating activity. They're happy about a creative assessment as opposed to an objective test as their summative assessment. 

We quickly form groups and select scenes, which I list on the white board in the order of presentation.Macbeth Scenes for Tableau Vivant I stick to the chronology of the play so that we have tableau from Act 1 through Act 5.

I set the timer and allow the students to begin preparing. As they work on their tableau, I remind them that they need to practice, that the tableau is a "living picture," that they each need to participate in the presentation.

Living Pictures Take to the Stage

40 minutes

When preparation time is up, I have students take their seats and we begin the presentations. 

Students announce their scene, the act, scene, and lines. Then they perform. After each performance, we applaud. Those who rush their scenes get a chance to repeat the performance, but I ask them to slow down first. 

I'm a bit surprised that we didn't have anyone select a scene from Act 1; otherwise, we had a good variety of scenes without redundancies. 

The Animoto video includes images from the tableau vivant. Additionally, I've included some images from the Folger Shakespeare Library. The music is "Macbeth's Comic Songs" performed by Tim Gillot and used with permission. I heard the music when I visited the Folger's "Shakespeare's the Thing" exhibit in celebration of the Bard's 450th birthday!