Shakespeare's Macbeth in the 6th form

How could the tragedy be dealt with in an English course?

Hausarbeit (Hauptseminar), 2011

24 Seiten, Note: 1,7

Charlotte Bauer (Autor)


Table of contents


A. General Part: Historical Context of the Shakespeare reception
1. Diachronic view on the Shakespeare implementation in the sixth form
2. Synchronic view on the Shakespeare implementation in the sixth form

B. Reading Macbeth: close reading
3. Why is Macbeth suitable for implementing it in an English course?
4. Introduction to Macbeth / synopsis
5. Dramatis personae: characterization of the main protagonists
5.1 Characterization of Macbeth
5.2 Characterization of Lady Macbeth
5.3 Characterization of the antagonists
6. Motifs and Themes: fate, witchcraft and supernatural phenomena
7. Practical part
9. List of references



The tragedy Macbeth by William Shakespeare is one of the most frequently read plays in English courses in the sixth form; one could say that the implementation of that play has become routine for many English teachers. But every time when something is frequently read, treated or done with routine, one has to bear in mind the danger of not scrutinizing things any more, the danger of taking given interpretations for granted. In order to take these thoughts into consideration, it is necessary to tackle the historical background, the development of the Shakespearean implementation in English courses so that mistakes from the past at dealing with the Bard of Avon are not repeated. Therefore, the first part of this term paper deals with a synchronic and a diachronic view on the Shakespeare implementation in the sixth form.

Afterwards, in the second part, it is worked on the title question “Shakespeare's Macbeth in the sixth form- how could the tragedy be dealt with in an English course?”. Additionally, it will be asked why this play is suitable for implementing it in a sixth form English course. The reply of the question is based on the investigative status of the first part. However, new methods and approaches are important to have a progress in the didactics of literature but neglecting the syllabus (Shakespearean language, dramatis personae, historical background, the Elizabethan world view, themes and motifs) which has to be conveyed to the pupils would be a fatal mistake. Therefore, in the second part of this term paper it comes to the close reading of Macbeth: a synopsis of the play is given as well as the characterization of the dramatis personae and motifs and themes.

Additionally, in the penultimate chapter, it is shown how a teacher could work on Macbeth with an English course in the sixth form, taking into account the new approaches, namely the activity- and production-oriented approach where pupils have to be creative and become active in order to consider themselves as a part in the dialogue with the history.

A. General Part: Historical Context of the Shakespeare reception

1. Diachronic view on the Shakespeare implementation in the sixth form

Before the paradigm shift in the Shakespearean reception in the 1980s had taken place, people held William Shakespeare, the bard, for sacrosanct: he was considered to be the author who has always presented us with the all-time valid, 'old' truth about human characteristics (Antor 1997:4) which, consequently, resulted in a rather static image of the playwright. His texts were assumed to bear only one truth in them which had to be found with one-sided, analytical methods. Thus, pupils were kept tied to one's apron strings- namely, the apron strings of the solely (!) right interpretation (Antor 1997:4).

One attached the utmost significance to the meaning of the Elizabethan world view with its accentuation of order and degree (Antor 1997: 6). As a consequence of this, Shakespeare was regarded as a vicarious agent of the most powerful people of his time (Antor 1997: 6). This way of interpreting Shakespeare was strongly influenced by the Old Historicism, which can be seen as an analysis of history without taking into account the own history at a specific time.

In conclusion, one could say that this way of implementing Shakespeare from a rather one-sided point of view in English courses in the sixth form entailed that pupils were demotivated and discouraged because they were under great pressure to find the interpretation. The criticism of this way of dealing with Shakespeare resulted in new approaches which will be presented in the following chapter.

2. Synchronic view on the Shakespeare implementation in the sixth form

The above mentioned paradigm shift in the 1980s can be regarded as an answer to the changing requirements at that time: from now on the prime objectives in English courses were the practical development of foreign-language skills and, under the influence of the aesthetics of reception, the rejection of the one-sided usage of analytical methods. From that time onward, different exegeses of texts were allowed. This new approach to the Shakespearean implementation in English courses took place within the framework of the so-called activity- and production-oriented aesthetics of reception (handlungs- und produktionsorientierte Rezeptionsästhetik). This concept stands for a changed literature teaching methodology which is influenced by different approaches like New Historicism, Feminism and Psychoanalysis. In this respect, the approach enhances the chance to show the complexity of Shakespeare's plays (Blell and Friedrich 2008:453).

In contrast to former times, the teacher now fades into the background for the benefit of independent pupil's work: the pupil gather information and exploit them. Furthermore, there is not an exclusively right interpretation of a Shakespearean play; it is rather important how the recipients react cognitive and emotionally to a text- Petersohn and Volkmann (2006:9) describe this as “Dialogizität zwischen Text und Lernenden”. From this point of view, supporters of the New Historicism argue, too: the own present history should always leave its mark on the examination of the Shakespearean history. The consequence of this is that former ancient interpretations are rejected which enables the pupils to work on texts in a rather creative and pluralistic way.

The question arises as to why this new approach is more activating and motivating for the pupils. In contrast to former approaches, the pupils now understand that they are a part of the dialogue in the process of receiving Shakespeare. Moreover, the pupils give a personal interpretation of a Shakespearean play out of their own comprehension instead of approaching to the only true interpretation by means of the right analytical method. Accordingly, each pupil learns how to discuss his or her interpretation with other classmates, to defend his or her point of view or to reconsider it which Greenblatt describes as “negotiation of meaning” (Greenblatt 1988 in Antor 1997: 6).

In conclusion, in this theory part, we have seen how the Shakespearean reception has changed over the last decades: in former times, people stood in awe of the unimpeachable Shakespeare and hesitated to question text analytical methods. Nowadays, instead of talking about history, pupils enter into a dialogue with it and try to find interpretations of the plays by themselves with different methods. Let us now have a look how the theory can be put into practice. First of all, in the following chapter, it will be shown why Macbeth is suitable for that.

B. Reading Macbeth: close reading

3. Why is Macbeth suitable for implementing it in an English course?

Nowadays, The Tragedy of Macbeth is one of the most frequently read plays from Shakespeare in school. But why? Why is Macbeth suitable for implementing it in an English course? First of all, the play is relatively short in comparison with other Shakespeare plays and it has no subplots which makes it easier for pupils to follow the main story line (cf. Vanderbeke 2006:37). Furthermore, the text touches upon topics which are nowadays still current (which will be discussed in this term paper later on). On the other hand, it shows the time of origin and the specific historical and intertextual references (cf. ibd.). On account of the current topics, the pupils realize that the play bears a relation to the world in which they live. Thus, it is highly motivating for the pupils. But, as we have seen in chapter 2, for the preoccupation with history it is of importance that pupils, metaphorically speaking, enter into a dialogue with the past and factor into it their own present.

What also might attract pupils is the fact that the world in which Macbeth takes place is on the one hand mysterious and strange but on the other hand, it is familiar, too:

Das Wirken des Übernatürlichen, das in den Auftritten der Hexen oder auch in den Himmelsphänomenen nach dem Mord von Duncan zum Ausdruck kommt, aber auch die kosmische Bedeutung weltlicher Ordnung sind mit der Alltagswirklichkeit der Schüler zunächst nur schlecht zu vereinen. Andererseits sind die menschlichen Motive, die dem Handeln zugrunde liegen, durchaus nicht rein historisch anzusiedeln, und die Häufigkeit, mit der der Begriff des Königsmords, […], in der neuesten Politik […] auftaucht, legt nahe, dass […] Ehrgeiz und Machtstreben sehr aktuelle Themen sind. (cf. ibd.)

The pupils' constant oscillating between the state of being attracted by the familiar aspects of the play and being disgusted by the strange and supernatural elements, can keep them reading; in a sense like the paradox “foul is fair and fair is foul”, uttered by the witches at the beginning of Act I. Moreover, another positive facet of the play is that pupils do not necessarily need a broad foreknowledge to be able to participate in the lessons because they can discuss in class thematically and character-oriented (Ungerer 1982 in Vanderbeke 2006: 38).


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Shakespeare's Macbeth in the 6th form
How could the tragedy be dealt with in an English course?
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
528 KB
Literaturdidaktik, Englisch, Shakespeare, Macbeth, Literaturwissenschaft
Arbeit zitieren
Charlotte Bauer (Autor), 2011, Shakespeare's Macbeth in the 6th form, München, GRIN Verlag,


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