Macbeth Multiple Ways

In a stack of papers called Instruction.

  • Mar
  • 16
  • 2007

Get yourself copies of three different film versions of Macbeth. Cue each tape/disc/media file up to act III, scene iv. Give your class a handout for notes and very few verbal directions. “Pay attention to how these different directors treat this scene. Focus on your assigned questions and write things down.”

Play each version, pausing after each one to let the class write down their ideas. You can discuss each version if you want, but I recommend doing that only if you have the entire period to devote to this task. I had the final 25 minutes of class for this, so we didn’t talk much today and we still only got through two films. We’ll watch the third version on Monday as a refresher. After we finish watching that third version, that’s when we’ll talk about the whole thing.


The scene in the play we focused on today is where Macbeth holds his feast and the ghost of Banquo arrives to disturb him in the midst of it all. Trouble is, among other things, that Macbeth is the only one who sees the ghost. The lords and ladies, along with Lady Macbeth, only see Macbeth freak out and react to a patch of empty space. When this is added on top of his numerous previous hallucinations, Macbeth clearly isn’t handling his stress very well.


My friend brought Akira Kurosawa’s classic Throne of Blood for me today. The English department has a VHS copy of the Polanski version. unitedstreaming has Channel 4’s production (directed by Michael Bogdanov) available, so I downloaded act III, scene iv. Scotland, Pa is a fast-food version well worth considering for this kind of activity. The Orson Welles version and Trevor Nunn’s treatment are also ones to keep in mind.


Of the two we watched, Kurosawa and Polanski, one period enjoyed Kurosawa’s much more than Polanski’s. They actually clamored for more. That same period also reacted very verbally to Polanski’s bloodied Banquo that follows Macbeth around the room (“Eeeewww!” though I’m sure many of them will go watch Dead Silence this weekend). They also laughed at Toshiro Mifune’s facial expressions and wild antics, swinging his sword at a nonexistent Miki (Banquo). The other period had no physical reaction at all. They didn’t laugh; they weren’t appalled. They did, however, stick around after the bell to finish watching the scene without me even asking. What a difference an hour makes at the end of the day at the end of the week.


Since all of these versions are so different, I’m sure our conversation on Monday is going to be interesting. I have high hopes that this is going to start pushing some of them to consider these things in their own Shakespeare productions they’ll work on soon. During acts four and five, students will be in groups and film their own versions of the play. We’ve worked on justifying the cutting of lines from the play previously. We began with a discussion of emphasis, inflection, and connotation/denotation. Now’s the time for them to put everything together.


Before I forget, buy Shakespeare Set Free. That’s just about the only book I refer to every year and the only book from which I follow lesson plans anywhere near religiously. This idea comes from page 244 of that book. Much thanks.

Maybe I Can Get Rid Of My TV

It was a technology victory this afternoon. I had a VHS tape, DVD, and unitedstreaming video to show. I don’t have a DVD player, not a problem since my iBook plays DVDs. But the unitedstreaming content plays much smoother on a PC than my Mac (has anyone looked into this? seriously, compare the way their Macbeth segments play on a 1GHz G4 iBook and on a 400MHz PIII; it’s ridiculous how crappy it looks on the Mac and how smooth it is even on an older PC with Win 2000). And, of course, neither computer plays VHS tapes.

I took my overhead projector off the cart, put the LCD projector in its place, plugged the VCR into one channel, the iBook into another, and the PC into a third. My one set of desktop speakers were plenty loud, I just needed to plug them into the three different devices. The push of a button switched between videos. Some butcher paper stapled to the center of the wall created a viewing screen and the image displayed much larger than my TV. A little keystone adjustment and I was in business.

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