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"What are these...?"

Teachers' Rating:
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Raphael Holinshed. Chronicles of England, Scotlande, and Irelande. London, 1577 (Detail).

November 2007
Susan Gibson teaches English at Cumberland Valley High School in Mechanisburg, Pennsylvania.

Plays/Scenes Covered
Macbeth 1.3
What's On for Today and Why

Shakespeare's witches, or, more accurately, Shakespeare's weird sisters are the source of much speculation and dramatic spectacle. Yet, for all the attention they get, there is still room for debate over exactly what they are and what type and range of power they have over Macbeth. In this lesson, students will get to join the debate by looking at one source for Macbeth, Holinshed's The Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland. This lesson will ask students to examine their own perceptions of the weird sisters and to revise those perceptions after researching various labels (other then witches) applied to them in Shakespeare's source.


This lesson should take one class period.

What You Need

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

Holinshed's woodcut
Holinshed excerpt 1
Holinshed excerpt 2
Holinshed excerpt 3
What To Do

1. After reading Macbeth 1.3, show students the woodcut of the conference among Macbeth, Banquo, and the weird sisters. Ask students what they notice about the picture.


2. Hand out copies of Holinshed's version of this moment in the play.


3. Have students read through Holinshed's account, circling any terms used to describe the three women.


4. List the terms students have discovered on the board and discuss how the use of each of these terms has changed their perceptions of the three women. If Shakespeare had used any one of these terms, what would we expect the woodcut to look like?


5. Have students trace the histories of the other descriptive terms in the Oxford English Dictionary and share their findings with the rest of the class.


6. Have students select the term they think best fits the weird sisters and then create a new image that reflects the term they chose. Students should keep their OED findings in mind and be prepared to justify their artisitic choices.


How Did It Go?
Did students respond-either positively or negatively-to the Holinshed image? Were students able to identify the different terms the Holinshed account applies to the weird sisters? Did students associate different descriptive terms for the weird sisters with different appearances and different degrees of power? Were students engaged in developing and defending their images of the weird sisters?

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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