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Thread: Macbeth:a "problem" play???

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    Macbeth:a "problem" play???

    I ve now taught "Romeo and Juliet" and "Twefth Night" to my final year O level students.

    This year I decided on "Macbeth" in many ways not as difficult-or so I thought.In fact its causing quite a few problems with the students understanding. Anyone got any suggestions why that should be with just Macbeth?

    Previously they have studied "Julius Caesar" in the original. And , oh, these are not English students i.e. native born English speakers.

    Next year Im thinking of trying "As You Like It". How would that go down?
    Last edited by Anthony Furze; 01-06-2007 at 12:32 AM. Reason: Misspelling

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    Registered User msdirector's Avatar
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    Just curious, Anthony... what kind of problems is it causing with your students' understanding? What are they having trouble with - the language or Macbeth's actions? And where are they from?

    I can see where the situations in R&J and Twelfth Night would make them more accessible to students. I don't find Macbeth particularly difficult to understand, but it is filled with strange predictions which may not translate well, the supernatural, and actions that may seen unmotivated to those who aren't quite understanding what is causing them.
    Arlene Schulman
    Stage Director / Dramaturg / Cockeyed Optimist
    "Lord, we know what we are, but know not what we may be."... Ophelia

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    Thanks for the reply,msdirector.

    Your words about motivation may have hit the nail on the head. I d say their responses are puzzled ones. They are from Pakistan and their grasp of English by this stage is good.

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    Registered User msdirector's Avatar
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    Are there any particular parts of the play that they seem to find the most confusing?

    I was thinking about it, and if you don't understand the predictions (and all of the witches' dialogue is deliberately very cryptic and mysterious), then Macbeth's actions are really very difficult to understand.

    Think about it...

    First he is a loyal, trustworthy soldier and cousin/subject of Duncan, and the next minute he and his wife are plotting to kill the King.

    Although he hesitates at first, with Lady Macbeth's instigation he decides to kill Duncan and, once decided, he does so without much hesitation.

    He coldly sends murderers after the apparently loyal and faithful Banquo and his son and then appears to go off the deep end at the dinner party in his honor (if you don't understand the ghost then Macbeth's behavior is incomprehensible).

    Although he seems to feel some degree of guilt about his murders, he continues to order them - even the death of Macduff's family - without much apparent remorse. In fact, in some ways he seems to feel less and less remorse throughout the play, while Lady Macbeth seems to feel more and more.

    And the whole play goes on like that, including Lady Macbeth's totally unexplained death, and those final predictions that might be totally incomprehensible to your students without a great deal of explanation.

    It never occurred to me before how much the whole plot of Macbeth relies on the actions of the witches and Banquo's ghost, and how incomprehensible Macbeth's actions might seem to those who don't understand what motivated them (including the other characters in the play with the exception of Lady Macbeth and Banquo). It's an interesting thought, not just in helping you deal with your students' confusion, but also in explaining the actions and reactions of many of the characters in the play.

    Thanks for making me think about that...
    Arlene Schulman
    Stage Director / Dramaturg / Cockeyed Optimist
    "Lord, we know what we are, but know not what we may be."... Ophelia

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    And...you ve given some good ideas for classwork!

    Their major difficulty is with the soliloquies, unravelling them. But you ve pointed me in a profitable direction.

    Thanks, msdirector!

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    Cur etiam hic es? Redzeppelin's Avatar
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    One way to handle the soliloquies is to unravel them based on their transitions. For instance, the first soliloquy in 1.7 has the following structure:

    If (conditional statement)
    If (conditional statement)
    But (contradiction)
    But (contradiction)
    First (sequence)
    Besides (in addition)

    Another way is to have students look at the sentences individually. Often times, when examining Shakespeare, students get caught up in the line breaks instead of paying attention to punctuation. Let them know that a period in Shakespeare means the same thing it does today: a complete thought. A semicolon means a related thougth, a colon means a clarification follows.

    As well, the figurative language used is often the key in understanding the main ideas in the soliloquy.

    Good luck
    "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else." - C.S. Lewis

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    Registered User Woland's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by msdirector View Post



    Although he seems to feel some degree of guilt about his murders, he continues to order them - even the death of Macduff's family - without much apparent remorse. In fact, in some ways he seems to feel less and less remorse throughout the play, while Lady Macbeth seems to feel more and more.

    And the whole play goes on like that,
    Interesting how that works in the play;
    Fair is foul and foul is fair.
    "Well, God give them wisdom that have it; and those that are fools, let them use their talents."

    - Feste, Twelfth Night


    "...till human voices wake us and we drown."

    - Eliot

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    Once he has murdered his way to power Macbeth finds his next murder easier and the next easier still. Like all despots he finds it necessary to dish out more of the same medicine to just stay where he is.

    The real Macbeth was not an especially bad man and in fact there is a English nationalist sub-text in the play. Oor Will was playing to the Royal gallery of the day.

    The play seems to have had a particular fascination for The Japanese. They seem to find the political issues and moral questions resonate with their own 'medieval' history

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