Elizabeth DeGaynor, Covenant School, Charlottesville, Virginia.
Macbeth 1.1 and 1.2.1-48
What's On for Today and Why
Students should already be familar with Macbeth before undertaking this activity.
In this lesson, students will emulate a key practice of Renaissance theater: doubling. The goal of this lesson is for students to experience—to see, hear, and feel—the differences between characters (especially supernatural versus royal) when students, as actors, have to take on more than one role. They will need to understand Shakespearean language, and will need to create distinctive personas so that the audience can differentiate between characters during presentation.
This lesson will take two 50-minute class periods (20-25 minutes for preparation and the rest of the time for presentation, questions and answers, and final discussion).
What You Need
Folger edition of Macbeth
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts
What To Do
1. Divide your class into groups of three.
2. Explain to the students that they will be presenting the first two scenes from Macbeth and that each of them will be playing two characters.
3. Ask the class to focus on distinctive physical characterizations and the differences in vocal quality (e.g., volume, tone, rate, inflection) between characters. Since the students will not have props, they must rely on unique movements or behavior for each character.
4. Give the class enough time to look over the scenes, determine meaning, and decide on casting and characterization. I would suggest giving them at least 20 minutes, more if you want characters to develop through repeated rehearsals.
5. Each group will present its scene to the rest of the class. Allow time for questions afterwards so that performers can defend the decisions that they made for each character.
6. After each group has performed, discuss the different choices as well as the similarities in each presentation. Try to determine which nuances of character are essential (if any), and which choices are left to the actor.
How Did It Go?
Assess this project by examining how fully the groups addressed the tasks set before them. Did their performances show a real distinction between characters? Were their choices informed by the text? Additionally, I would suggest a short response paper from each student which details the differences between the characters that he or she had to portray, along with an explanation of how those differences might affect the play as a whole. If the class has not yet read further in the play, you could also ask your students to predict the behavior of these characters throughout the rest of the play.
If you used this lesson, we would like to hear how it went and about any adaptations you made to suit the needs of YOUR students.