Archive for the ‘Macbeth’ Category


“Double, double, toil and trouble / Fire burn and cauldron bubble.”: The Weird Sisters (Andrew Zox, Cleo House, Jr., and Eric Hissom) in Macbeth at Folger Theatre (2008). Folger Shakespeare Library.

By Chris Lavold

If you are a fan of Folger Education, you are well aware of the focus on performance-based teaching and how getting kids up on their feet is an effective way to understand and appreciate Shakespeare’s plays.

I have found that an excellent complement to this is to view film clips of performances to generate intelligent class discussions. Some of the most interesting and insightful days of my ninth grade Macbeth unit were the days we watched multiple interpretations of the same scene. This also fits the Common Core Standard RL.7  perfectly:

Analyze multiple interpretations of a story, drama, or poem (e.g., recorded or live production…), evaluating how each version interprets the source text.

The clips I mostly use are from the Folger 2008 production and the Polanski 1971 film. For certain scenes I might use the 2006 Australian version, the 2010 BBC version starring Patrick Stewart, or the 1948 Orson Welles film.

On  video analysis days, my class uses Michael LoMonico’s video expert sheet. I break the students up into four or five groups. Each group has five individual jobs, and each student in the group will do their task while watching the film clips.

  • The screenwriters follow the text and write notes about which lines were omitted or rearranged.
  • The cinematographers watch the camera angles and lighting. They ask questions such as  “Is the lighting trying to portray a theme?  Does a low camera angle tell the viewer someone is in an authoritative position?”
  • The sound editors are not allowed to watch the clip. They must have their backs to the screen and write down sounds they hear. Examples would be natural background sounds like a dog barking or the wind blowing. They also observe what the music tells us about what may be taking place on the screen.
  • The set and costume designers pay attention to the location, costumes, and props. This is always fun to talk about during the opening witch scene in Macbeth or the banquet scene where Banquo’s ghost appears.
  • The last group are the actors who concentrate on an actor’s performance paying close attention to accents, tone, subtext, and emphasis on certain words or lines.


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Performance helps bring Shakespeare alive, and listening to his words being spoken brings them off the page and into a new relevance for students.

With the Folger Shakespeare Library launching a new series of Shakespeare audio editions, teachers now have access to unabridged texts from the gold standard Folger Editions performed by a full cast of Shakespearean actors and expertly produced by Folger Theatre.

“We know that Shakespeare’s plays were written with the human voice – an actor’s voice – in mind, which is why it is so important to encounter the Folger Editions with one’s ears as well as eyes,” says Michael Witmore, Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library. “These recordings offer ‘another way in’ to Shakespeare’s plays by offering powerful audio performances.”

The series has launched with five of Shakespeare’s most popular plays: Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth, Othello, and Romeo and Juliet.

These audio editions, available from Simon & Schuster Audio on CD or for download, can be used together with Folger Digital Texts, an online searchable resource that provides the Folger Editions text of 38 Shakespeare plays.

Check out the Folger Shakespeare Library website to learn more and to listen to excerpts.

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Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet

Drawing by John Austen for an edition of Hamlet (ART Box A933 no.2), 1890 painting by Ludovic Marchetti of Romeo and Juliet (ART Vol. f220). Folger Shakespeare Library.

Last week, we took a reader poll to ask which Shakespeare plays were being taught this semester. Top of the list (as of this writing): Romeo and Juliet, with more than 25 percent of the vote.

Macbeth took second place with 22 percent, and Hamlet third with 10 percent. Our write-in option was also quite popular, with Taming of the Shrew and Much Ado About Nothing making multiple appearances.

Good news! We have a wealth of resources for teaching each of these plays. Here are a few highlights:

  • Romeo and Juliet – In December, Folger Education recorded an hour-long master class for teaching Romeo and Juliet. You can watch the archived version online, broken down into video segments on scholarship, performance, and the classroom.
  • Macbeth – Folger educators talk about surefire ways for successfully introducing students to the Scottish play in this podcast, Macbeth: The Teacher’s Edition.
  • Hamlet – Watch the Insider’s Guide to Hamlet. These videos highlight the play’s themes, characters, and plot—perfect for students encountering Hamlet for the first time.

Find more resources by downloading a curriculum guide for each of these popular plays. The guides include a brief synopsis, two lesson plans, famous quotes from the play, prompts for teachers, links to podcasts and videos, and a list of suggested additional resources.

Want even more? Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and Hamlet are all included in our Shakespeare Set Free books, a series written by Folger Education’s Teaching Shakespeare Institute faculty and participants. (Today’s your last chance to apply for this year’s TSI, by the way!) Each book is packed with practical, specific ideas to use in the classroom.

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Guest post by Jessica Lander

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, after the murder of Duncan. R. T. Bone. Courtesy of Folger Shakespeare Library.

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, after the murder of Duncan. R. T. Bone. Courtesy of Folger Shakespeare Library.

The large dented cauldrons of spicy green curry, red curry and duck soup were cloaked in hovering fog and steamy air of the monsoon season.  It was evening at the Gate Market in the heart of the old city of Chiang Mai, in Northern Thailand. As I slurped a bowl of noodles so spicy it induced tears, all I could think about was Macbeth.

Three days fresh from college graduation, I had boarded a plane bound for a one-year teaching fellowship at the prestigious Chiang Mai University.  Growing up, my favorite musical was Rodger’s and Hammerstein’s The King and I, the story of Anna, hired by the King of Thailand to tutor the royal children. I was forever singing the lyrics to Getting to Know You, beginning with Anna’s declaration that “When you become a teacher, by your students you’ll be taught.” Now, heading to classes as a young teacher, I could not help but think of Anna.

By day I guided a hundred and fifty university students in my elementary-level English classes through the intricacies of usage between “say” and “tell”.  But, I wanted something more: I wanted to teach theater.  So, I approached my colleagues in the English Department with an ambitious plan. The students in the university’s English Club staged an annual play in English – Cinderella last year.  Hesitantly, I proposed to direct Macbeth – my favorite Shakespeare ever since I played the First Witch and Macduff’s doomed son in a 7th grade production.  The department was dubious – the language would be too difficult.  I persisted.  Auditions were set.

But our real challenge was not the play’s language, but its content. In one of the last countries with a revered king, I was preparing to stage a regicide. (more…)

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Hello once again from your friend Louis Butelli, most recently Feste in Folger Theatre’s Twelfth Night. We closed our show on June 9 after a great run: thanks to everybody who came out to see us.

I’m back at the Folger to participate in an exciting new project – immersive audio recordings of the full Folger Editions of Shakespeare’s plays.

Published by Simon & Schuster, and edited by Barbara Mowat and Paul Werstine, the Folger Editions of Shakespeare are widely considered to be among the very best anywhere. In working as an actor on Shakespeare plays all over the country, I’ve found that one can always rely on there being a Folger edition in the rehearsal room. Featuring excellent notes, essays, and illustrations, they are an invaluable resource for anyone working with Shakespeare, professionals and students alike.

Now, we’re going to go to work on creating dynamic, exciting audio recordings of the full, unabridged text of the Folger Editions of selected plays. Directed by Robert Richmond, some of Folger’s favorite actors will come together to rehearse and record: Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, and Macbeth. Once the actors’ voices have been recorded, Robert and the Folger team will edit for flow, add sound effects and music, and deliver a bold, sweeping version that brings the text to vibrant life.

FSL Editions 7.9.13

We’re also thrilled to announce that a smartphone app, with access to the recordings themselves and some other cool bells and whistles, will be launching very soon. It’s an exciting way to interact with Shakespeare’s plays in a variety of new ways, right on your phone, and will be a great new resource for actors, directors, teachers, and students alike. Check back here and in your e-Newsletter for updates on our progress.

We’ve actually completed work on Othello, and the full recording is already available for purchase by clicking here. Back in November of 2011, the cast of Folger Theatre’s stage production of Othello went to Airshow Mastering to record the play. Click here to read my post about that experience.

Louis Butelli with one of Charlie Pilzer's Grammy Awards

Louis Butelli with one of Charlie Pilzer’s Grammy Awards

Meanwhile, those who have read my posts in the past know that, when it comes to Shakespeare, I have a kind of soft spot for the clowns and fools. One of the roles I’ll be recording is Peter in Romeo & Juliet. I’ll close out this first entry about the recordings with some thoughts on him.

Appearing in only three scenes, in one of which he doesn’t speak, Peter is a personal servant to the Nurse, and is frequently cut from stage productions. Indeed, given the fact that he doesn’t have impact upon the plot, and given how little Shakespeare gives him to say in his script, one understands why Peter often faces the chopping block. However….

Peter is known to have been played originally by an actor named Will Kemp. The house clown for The Lord Chamberlain’s Men (Shakespeare’s production company), and most likely the original Dogberry, Falstaff, and others, Kemp was a popular comedian in his own right, and was probably an audience draw. Moreover, he was also known to have performed his famous “jigs” (highly improvisational song and dance routines) in the middle of Shakespeare’s plays as comic interlude during breaks in the action. For reasons unknown, Kemp left the company in 1599.

What I find fascinating about Kemp is the way he influenced Shakespeare’s text – not only with his presence, in terms of Romeo & Juliet, but with his absence, Henry V and Hamlet, for instance.

To explain: Shakespeare writes an odd stage direction in the 1599 Quarto version of Romeo & Juliet towards the end of Act IV, scene 5. This is a fairly climactic moment, following the Capulets’ discovery of their seemingly dead daughter Juliet on the morning of her wedding. The Nurse, Friar Lawrence, and County Paris, Juliet’s betrothed, are all in attendance. The scene is a huge lamentation, with the whole family shrieking and wailing, and off they go, with Lord Capulet giving an order to change the wedding celebration into a funeral.

Right on the heels of this, Shakespeare writes, “Enter Will Kemp.” While later editions correct the stage direction to “Enter Peter,” it is telling that in this very early edition, at this very moment, the author brings on his great clown – by name. What survives in the text is a fairly amusing scene between Peter and a group of musicians. By precedent, one might guess that, in performance, Kemp went off script and presented one of his “jigs,” as a “palate cleanser” before the rollercoaster ride of Act 5 began.

By 1600, Kemp had left the company. In Henry V, the much beloved character Falstaff never appears on stage and, in fact, Mistress Quickly has a touching speech reporting Falstaff’s death just offstage. In Hamlet, one might consider Hamlet’s speech offering “advice to the players:”

And let those that play your clowns speak no more than is set down for them, for there be of them that will themselves laugh, to set on some quantity of barren spectators to laugh too, though in the mean time some necessary question of the play be then to be considered. That’s villainous and shows a most pitiful ambition in the fool that uses it.

One spies a little ghost of Will Kemp in this “advice,” and one wonders if there isn’t a little clue as to why Kemp ultimately left the company.

In any event, for our recordings, I promise to stick directly to the script. I hope that you’ll follow along with our journey here in this space, that you’ll pick up a copy of our Othello, and that you’ll enjoy our new recordings as they become available.

OK. Thanks for reading! Until next time!

Catch up with Louis on the Folger Theatre blog!

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~by Jessica Lander
(re-printed with permission)
Where better to teach Macbeth than in a monsoon?
When shall we three meet again?  In thunder, lightening, or in rain?
That’s exactly what we did one muggy July afternoon when the ominous skies finally split, releasing a torrential downpour.
For an hour already we had been rehearsing indoors with the three teenagers cast as the prophetic witches of Macbeth. But, the result still wasn’t right. Despite their hard work, the students’ cackling voices were stilted, their gestures artificial.
But with the rains stabbing the windows I had the harebrained idea of taking our rehearsal outdoors.  Luckily, my students were just as excited and we all thundered down the stairs and out the front door – raising more than a few eyebrows from the other young thespians practicing in the halls.
The weird sisters hand in hand, posters of the sea and land!  
The three girls danced in the storm.  They yelled their lines to the waterlogged clouds.  They spun in circles, throwing their linked arms out, embracing the heavens.
As the sky cleared we traipsed, dripping, back inside.  Back upstairs, back to rehearsal.
But something had clicked: they no longer acted out the witches, they embodied them.
For the last two years I’ve taught at the bookends of teenagedom – college students in Chiang Mai last year and middle-schoolers in Charlestown this year.  But this summer I had an opportunity to see what happens in between the two.
Throughout the school year I had interned with the locally-based Actors’ Shakespeare Project, which, besides producing a great season of Shakespeare, sustains a vibrant education arm – teaching the Bard in schools, in after-schools and in lock-up facilities.
When my school year ended, I joined their amazing teaching team, under director and professional actor, Jason Bowen.
When most teens might prefer to be sunbathing on the beach or cooling off at a neighborhood pool, nineteen students – ages 13 through 19 – chose to spend three weeks of their vacation studying Shakespeare.
Our ensemble came from all across the Boston area.  They came from the suburbs and they came from the heart of the city.  They came from public schools and exams schools and private schools.  Some had previously come from youth detention centers or were once in city gangs.  They came with years of acting camps and school plays and they came with no formal theatrical training.  And every morning they converged on the small converted fire-station that became our joint home for a large part of July.
Very quickly I realized I was not in middle school any more.
Within two short days, our collection of strangers had transformed into a supportive and engaged ensemble.  In contrast to my sixth-graders, with whom I had to devote large portions of time to juggling behaviors and attitudes, here in the stage-lit black box, everyone came ready to learn and more importantly, to experiment.
We took the group outside and had them yell Shakespearean insults at each other with so much force that dog walkers and passing cars slowed down and stared.
We worked one on one with students: Lady Macbeth rolled and screamed as she explored the sleep walking scene; Ross ran up and down stairs, up and down, up and down before delivering, out of breath, the victorious news to King Duncan; the Porter walked around with a balloon under his shirt attempting to mimic a drunken stagger.
And students worked on their own – in corners of the upstairs rooms, on the stairs, in the front hall.  They scribbled notes in the margins of their scripts, they checked and rechecked different translations, and they repeated their lines under their breath – over and over and over.
Differences in age and experience and background dropped away.
Two girls playing Lady Macbeth got genuinely excited to look up etymologies in the two-volume Shakespeare lexicon.   The boys playing Macbeth took their work home and stayed up several nights past midnight (once til 2 am) studying their lines.
Friendships were formed over blockings of stage fights, experimentation with silly accents, and concocting of fake blood (equal parts chocolate and strawberry sauce).  It was a space where being a Shakespeare scholar was “Cool”.
At the end of three weeks we swept the stage, rechecked the light cues and opened the doors of our theater to admit our audience.
If only all classrooms were black-box theaters: there is no better place to learn.   No desks, no pencil shavings, no wall clocks.
Paradoxically, acting allows students the freedom to act like themselves.
In school, students are consumed with adopting personas that establish them within the hierarchy of their peers.
But, in the black box, demure students learn to scream and cocky ones to cry.  Everyone gets to yell Shakespearean insults at each other and then, ten minutes later, to clasp hands.
By lunchtime each day, our ensemble would have attempted so many characters that slouching back into school personas seemed silly.
And that’s when the real learning took place.
Our black box Shakespeare theater granted our students the permission and the freedom to yell and laugh and dance and sing in the rain.
Jessica Lander has taught  English to Thai university students, art to Burmese refugee children and Shakespeare to inner-city Boston middle-schoolers. In her blog, Chalk Dust,  she chronicles her experiences as an educator in excellent prose. We look forward to collaborating with Jessica for future blog posts!

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Illustration by James Steinberg for Boston Globe Magazine.

The situation may seem familiar: A sixth grade classroom, the text of Macbeth, and 30 blank slates ready to be writ upon. Jessica Lander used a free six-week life-applications session to teach students Shakespeare. The students had to have picked her class in order to take part, and while the class was required, they wouldn’t have a grade to show for just this unit. So at the end of six weeks when her students came out quoting Shakespeare, getting high fives from other kids, and referencing Macbeth in other classes, Jessica had a full-blown success story on her hands.

So how did she do it?

Jessica was in DC this week for other business, so I took the opportunity to chat with her in person about this success in the classroom, and her experiences elsewhere. Having also taught Macbeth in a Thai university, and having a great time with Actors Shakespeare Project in Boston, Jessica has seen first-hand that students get Shakespeare, and they will continue to surprise her with their understanding.

In her piece published in Boston Globe Magazine on August 26, Jessica outlined what approaches her class took. Edited for length, the article wasn’t able to include two of her very successful activities to introduce her students to the play and the language. Beginning with individual words from the play repeated in a fast-paced game, the students pieced together what Macbeth was about; and to combat the idea that Shakespeare wrote in “Old English,” she provided her class with text from the original Beowulf  poem and The Canterbury Tales. Once they saw the difference, Shakespeare looked easy!

Shakespeare resonates emotionally with students – you ask a student playing Macbeth to look at the ghost of his best friend whom he had killed, and ask them how they’re feeling – it hits them. These are people speaking beautiful words about very human situations and experiences, and it’s open to every student.

More of Jessica’s experiences can be found on her blog: Chalk Dust, and we’re looking forward to connecting with her more in the future as new students from all over the world learn Shakespeare from her!

Do you have a success-story from your own classroom of students connecting to Shakespeare? Tell us in the comments!

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