Teaching Macbeth

21 Jan
Books Shakespeare

Image courtesy of Matt Banks at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Well, it’s that time of year again when we go through a Shakespeare play. So far, in the past couple of years, we’ve done Julius Caesar and Hamlet. I wanted to save Romeo and Juliet for next year, when my son will be in 8th grade, so this year I had to figure out which play to choose.

I’m not overly familiar with all of Shakespeare’s works. The only other three I am familiar with myself are A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which I read and saw performed in 7th grade and HATED, Othello, or The Taming of the Shrew, which just didn’t seem like the right choice for an 11-year-old boy.

I went online to amazon.com as my first resource in choosing which play to use. Maybe, this isn’t the best approach, but with the past plays we’ve done, we’ve used a series called, “Shakespeare on the Double” and I wanted to see which plays they had available. These books are books I really enjoy. They have the Elizabethan English that the plays were written in on one page (the original text), but on the other page they have modern English so that those of us that are Elizabethian-challenged can muddle through Shakespeare’s works. Both my son and I have really enjoyed reading Shakespeare with these, so if it’s not broke, why fix it?

Unfortunately, this series didn’t have any titles that were plays I wanted to pursue this year. I went to the library instead. In my travels to Barnes and Noble I had discovered another similar series of books with the Elizabethan and modern-day English side-by-side versions, so I thought I’d see what I could borrow from the library. I was hoping for something a bit more “historical” because it would have fit nicely with our current history, but it didn’t work out tha way. They had TONS, just not the ones I had hoped for, so I basically grabbed every play by Shakespeare where they had these books, known as “No Fear Shakespeare”, put out by Sparknotes, and brought them home, so I’d have the copies of the one we were going to study.

I think at that point I had a choice of about 5 plays. Turning to the good ol’ Internet, I looked for a site that offered basic summaries of the play to decide which would be best for us. Narrowing it down to two, and still being undecided, I finally let my son choose which one he thought he’d want to read. It was a choice between The Tempest and Macbeth. Macbeth won out because that was the one he had heard of.

So this is how we go about reading through Shakespeare:

1) Basic Introduction

I have resources I bought from Scholastic awhile back that were only $1 and are a good way to introduce Shakespeare plays.

I used the Macbeth section from Unlocking Shakespeare: Macbeth . They have similar resources for various Shakespeare titles.

2) Mini-books

I had my son put together and read the Macbeth mini-book from Shakespeare Mini-books . This resource has many different titles all-in-one. It helps introduce the story in a less-threatening way than as a play.

3) Graphic Novels

Utilizing the library’s resources, I look for graphic novel adaptations of the story that my son can read before we step into the play. It’s more interesting in “comic-book” format, especially with the colored cartoons and minimized text. The version I found that seemed to be best for Macbeth is Classics Illustrated:William Shakespeare Macbeth & Notes, though there others available. Sometimes I have him read more than one version. It just depends on what I find and what we have time for.

4) Reading the Play

We get out the actual book, No Fear Shakespeare: Macbeth , and read the play. No, we don’t sit there and read each part in a monotonous, please-help-me-get-through-this kind of way. Before we read each section for the day, we see what characters there are for the scenes we’re reading, decide who is who, and then put vocal variety and emotion into as if we’re really in the play. It makes it a lot more fun and exciting.

As I’m reading my parts, I also encourage my son to follow along reading the Elizabethan English while I read aloud the modern English in hopes he’ll be better able to understand the original text. We also discuss anything that seems unclear or confusing as we read and come to certain parts.

5) Watching the Movie

After we’ve made it through the text, I hope to find a good movie adaptation of each of the plays we read through. What I’ve found so far has been decent for the Shakespeare we have read, and I’m know there are some decent versions of Romeo and Juliet floating around, but I’m not quite sure what I’ll find for Macbeth. The ending for this is a bit gory, so I’m hoping I’ll find something that’s not too over-the-top. I feel a movie adds to the understanding of the play as a whole.


So there you have it: Studying Shakespeare without having to cry or get frustrated (I hope.)

Do you have any tips to add?

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