Spurred by ambition and spiritual prophecy, Macbeth, and his wife Lady Macbeth, come up with a scheme to murder King Duncan and take his throne. Their actions force them to commit more murders and eventually leads to their downfall.
Below are some reading passages that we have hand picked to supplement this book. Be sure to read the passage summaries and our suggestions for instructional use.
Niccoló Machiavelli (1469-1527) was an Italian Renaissance historian, politician, and writer based in Florence. His masterpiece, The Prince, published in 1532, advises new princes on how to get and retain power by any means necessary.
Introduce students to this text before they begin reading the play, in order to generate a discussion on leadership. Ask students to consider Machiavelli’s advice and beliefs. What are the characteristics of a strong leader? Is it better to be a leader who is loved or feared? As students read, have them consider Macbeth’s leadership characteristics in relation to ideas presented in “The Prince”.
Born and raised in Iraq, Dunya Mikhail (1965—) has written much about the wars she lived through in her home country, until she was forced to flee the country in 1996 after threats and harrassment from the government. This satirical poem praises the diligence of war and its effects, from "provid[ing] food for flies" to "invigorat[ing] the coffin makers."
Have students read this poem after Act I, in order to generate a discussion on the satirical commentary in Macbeth. Both texts make satirical comments on war, policy, and leaders. Ask students to analyze the truths underlying the satirical tone of each text. What comments are being made about society? How does Shakespeare use the spirits to comment on Macbeth?
“The Yellow Wallpaper” is a groundbreaking short story from 1892 told through journal entries that chronicles a woman’s struggle in dealing with male physicians who will not take her illness seriously.
Have students read this text after Act II scene ii, in order to generate a discussion on the difference between the portrayal of men and women in the play. Lady Macbeth contemplates whether she could have done a better job of killing Duncan. Macbeth has been careless and uncalculated in his actions. Have students analyze how gender roles are being portrayed. What similarities does Lady Macbeth share with the narrator in Perkins Gilman’s text?
In Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Masque of the Red Death,” Prince Prospero throws a party for his esteemed friends within the safety of his home, while the rest of the country is ravaged by disease.
Have students read this text after Act III Scene iv, when Banquo’s ghost appears. Both texts address the consequences of ignoring problems and trying to sweep them under the rug. Both Prince Prospero and Macbeth attempt to avoid the poor and suffering with their wealth and power. Ask students to consider how “The Masque of the Red Death” parallels Macbeth so far. How do the characters of Macbeth and Prince Prospero compare? How are the themes and messages in both stories similar? What do both texts foreshadow?
In the informational text “The Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan Scandal,” Jessica McBirney discusses the incident between the two figure skaters that captured the nation.
Have students read this text after Act IV Scene ii, to provide readers with a contemporary connection to the themes of betrayal and arch rivalry contained in the play. Lady Macduff feels betrayed by her husband, who is being pursued by murderers sent by Macbeth. Her son feels she has betrayed him when she tells him his father has died. Ross acts as a messenger between the Macduffs. Have students compare the perspectives of both texts. How does each perspective add to the narrative? How does the media portrayal of Tonya Harding help influence public perception? How might there be a difference between facts and truth in a vengeful story?
In this excerpt from Twilight of the Idols by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), the author seeks to challenge, unravel, and completely do away with the moral notions of his day.
Introduce students to this text after finishing the play. Nietzsche claims that people should act on human instinct, that their passions should guide them more so than the church or morality. He states that war is a healthy dose of hostility and resistance. He also states that morality only serves to condemn. Have students consider how morality relates to war and human desire. What message does Shakespeare send about morality in Macbeth? How might Macbeth serve as a warning against Nietzsche’s ideas?