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The 32-second Macbeth

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Raphael Holinshed. Chronicles of England, Scotlande, and Irelande. London, 1577 (Detail).

December 2001
Janet Field-Pickering, Folger Shakespeare Library, Head of Education 1996-2000.

Plays/Scenes Covered
What's On for Today and Why
The length of Shakespeare's plays is enough to strike terror into the hearts of most students, especially ones who expect "the two-hours' traffic of our stage" promised by the Prologue in Romeo and Juliet. Taking inspiration from The Reduced Shakespeare Company's hilarious and brief The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) and Cam Magee, an actor and dramaturg from Washington, D.C., we present our own very concise version of Shakespeare's Macbeth.


This lesson will take one class period.

What You Need

Folger edition of Macbeth
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts

Not necessary, but fun:
Borgeson, Jess, et al. The Reduced Shakespeare Company's
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare
(Abridged). New York: Applause Books, 1999.

The 32 Second Macbeth
What To Do

1. Make nine photocopies of the handout—one each for Macbeth and the eight other actors.


2. Have nine volunteers take their places at the front of the room. Assign roles and let the actors read through the script once, for rehearsal. Then get out your stopwatch and see if your students can make or break the 32-second record. When the script indicates that a character dies, the actor must hit the floor.


3. Then select nine more volunteers to see if the second group can beat the first group's record. Again, give them a practice run before timing, and cheer for the winners.


4. If you wish, ask your students, in groups, to create their own 32-second versions of one act from Macbeth or another complete Shakespeare play. Along with selecting short and punchy lines to highlight the plot, they need to pick the characters that they want to include in their scripts. For example, in "The 32-second Macbeth," Actors 1–8 are, respectively, the witches, Duncan, Lady Macbeth, Banquo, Macduff's son, and Macduff.  

How Did It Go?
Did your students have fun? If you asked them to write their own 32-second versions, were they able to identify and incorporate key lines and characters into effective scripts?

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.

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  Common Core State Standards

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