During the Ides of March, A Rendition of Macbeth
This March, Link was on the move! With an arts weekend in Denver, a climbing and canyoneering trip in Moab, and Spring break, the month went by in the blur. Despite all our travel, however, we were able to fit in an English class essential: an abridged performance of Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Macbeth!
Few English-speaking writers have had as much impact on literature and language as Shakespeare. From the storylines that permute through form and time to the sayings like “wild-goose chase” and “break the ice” that speckle our conversations, Shakespeare’s influences are woven into the fabric of our communication.
I love teaching his work for multiple reasons:
Shakespeare shows us the boundlessness of language. One of the most important pivots in a writer’s life is moving from “I am the first person to ever have felt this!” to “I am engaging in a centuries-long conversation about humanity’s shared experience of this.” This pivot shifts writing from unimaginative work (I feel this and therefore it is important.) to insight and creativity (Why do we feel this? How can I represent this in a new way? Is this feeling essential to being human?). Shakespeare is a fabulous impetus for this transition; his representations of love, of grief, of jealousy are not only relatable to a modern audience, but also intensely creative and compelling. If 400 years ago, Shakespeare could write, “Love is a familiar; Love is a devil: there is no evil angel but Love,” and “Love is a spirit all compact of fire, / Not gross to sink, but light, and will aspire,” then we can’t settle for “I love you with my heart.”
Shakespeare’s work is wonderfully ambiguous. In a world where answers are only a few swipes away, ambiguity is uncomfortable for many young people. Even popular poets of today–Rupi Kaur, the formidable Amanda Gorman–offer clarity in lieu of obscurity. This can be comforting and powerful, but equally essential is the question: What if there is no clear answer? After watching the Oscar-nominated rendition of The Tragedy of Macbeth, students were split in our discussion: Whose fault was it? Did Macbeth have control over his choices? Did Lady Macbeth force Macbeth to act? Were the witches good or evil? Shakespeare does not give us answers; he gives us questions through which to explore our own concepts of morality. For every answer we reach, there is a complicating factor that pushes us deeper. Grappling with hard, unanswerable questions is essential in the adult world, and Shakespeare offers a perfect playground for that skill-building.
Through performance, imagination blossoms. When the students were assigned to their roles in Macbeth, they had two assignments: to highlight their “can’t-miss” lines and to explore the intentions of their characters. Through this lens, students pulled their characters out of the storyline to ask: Where are they coming from? Where are they going to? What is the ideal outcome for this character? When they approach the text with these genuine questions, the language opens up for them, offering new interpretations and perspectives. I loved watching the students empathize with and embody their characters more and more as they familiarized themselves with their lines.
I’m glad to report that the students did a fabulous job with the content. With only five (!) total days in the unit, students were able to understand the plot of Macbeth, study their lines, block their scenes, select costumes, create a set, write transition scripts, rehearse, and put on a quirky and passionate performance for an enthusiastic staff audience. I’m so grateful for this opportunity for the students to interact with Shakespeare, and for this demonstration of just how much the students can do in a short amount of time.
-Robiny Jamerson, English Teacher