“Speak, I Charge You”: Macbeth On Your Feet, Not In Your Seat ~ Lesson Plan

Lesson Overview

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LESSON TITLE: “Speak, I Charge You”: Macbeth On Your Feet, Not In Your Seat

GRADE LEVEL: Grades 9 12

TIME ALLOTMENT: Two 45 50-minute class periods


This lesson explores the validity of a statement Ethan Hawke makes in the Macbeth episode of the PBS series Shakespeare Uncovered: “There’s always a certain magic that happens when you start to say the lines [from a Shakespeare play] out loud that you can’t anticipate. It feels like a spell.” This leads us to an essential question: is there a difference between reading Shakespeare silently versus speaking his works aloud? Very often, students believe they will not enjoy Shakespeare’s plays because they won’t understand the language. This lesson will help students overcome this fear by having them engage with the language of Macbeth through performance and not by merely reading the play at their desks. By moving from their seats to their feet, students will understand that Shakespeare wrote plays to be performed.

In the Introductory Activity, students will experiment actively with lines from Macbeth in order to experience Shakespeare as language to be spoken and played. Students will then move on to the Learning Activities where they will explore video segments from Shakespeare Uncovered and will then stage scenes or parts of scenes from Macbeth. During this portion of the lesson, they will make all the decisions about staging, using only Shakespeare’s script and the handout “How to Stage a Scene” from the Folger Shakespeare Library. During the Culminating Activity, students will discuss Ethan Hawke’s “There’s always a certain magic…” statement and also reflect on their experiences during the performance of their scenes. Two Optional Activities provide students with opportunities to write and discuss the scenes they acted out during the lesson.

This lesson is designed to be used as part of a unit on Macbeth. The Introductory Activity could be used as a pre-reading exercise to introduce performance at the beginning of the unit.

English/Language Arts


After completing this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Read complex texts carefully and closely since all of their staging decisions must emerge from what the text suggests;
  • Understand characters’ emotional and psychological states based not only on what they say, but on how they speak;
  • Discover the differences between Shakespeare on the page and Shakespeare performed;
  • Write about Shakespeare’s play in specific and textually supported ways.


NCTE/IRA Standards for the English Language Arts

  • Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and non-print texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.
  • Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts, Grades 6 12

Reading: Literature

  • Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
  • Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
  • Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.
  • Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
  • Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.
  • Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts, College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing

  • Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
  • Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
  • Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
  • Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.
  • Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.



Shakespeare Uncovered: Ethan Hawke on Macbeth, selected segments.

Access the video segments for this lesson at the Video Segments Page.

Segment 1: “Exploring the Dagger Scene”
In this segment, Ethan Hawke seeks help from a fellow actor to gain a deep understanding of the “Dagger” speech in Act II, Scene i and models for the viewer an actor’s approach to understanding the text.

Segment 2: “The Language of Trauma”
In this segment, a forensic psychiatrist explains how the manner and style of one’s speech reflects extreme or traumatic experiences, a useful framework to discuss the form of characters’ speech and of how this might affect performance.

Segment 3: “Who is Your Lady Macbeth?” (Optional)
This segment focuses on the different ways Lady Macbeth can be and has been played, a notion of how Shakespeare’s plays offer interpretative choices for actors.


The website of the Folger Shakespeare Library, the world’s richest archive of manuscripts and Early Modern items, provides a variety of resources for students and teachers. The following documents from the site are used in this lesson:

“Objectives and Tactics”

“How to Stage a Scene”

This website, which is a companion to the book Shakespeare’s Words, provides a comprehensive Shakespeare glossary, synopses of all the plays, and links to the Penguin Complete Works.


For each student:

This handout includes suggested lines from Macbeth for students to use in the Introductory Activity in this lesson.

This handout provides definitions for “objectives” and “tactics,” two terms fundamental to an actor’s approach to a play.

This handout provides six broad guidelines that help teachers and students with little or no experience put any scene in a play on its feet. This handout is used during Learning Activity 2 in this lesson.

For the class:

  • Computer, projection screen, and speakers (for class viewing of online video segments).


To prepare for this lesson, view the Macbeth episode of Shakespeare Uncovered at www.pbs.org/shakespeare-uncovered. If you do not have time to screen the entire episode, please review the segments featured on the Video Segments Page as you prepare this lesson.

Download and print the “Line Festival” Handout for the Introductory Activity, and make enough copies for each student in your class.

Choose the scenes that you will have your students perform during Learning Activity 2 of this lesson. Six scenes are recommended below, but you may choose any scenes from the play to suit your students. To save time, consider casting them in the scenes you choose ahead of time. Feel free to stage only part of a scene, if you wish; the main focus of this lesson is what students do with the scene. (Recommended scenes follow below with links to the free Folger e-text of the play, which may be downloaded and printed). Print out copies of the scenes that will be performed by students if they do not have their own text of the play so that they may annotate their scripts with stage movement, notes, etc. Prepare copies of “Objectives and Tactics” and “How to Stage a Scene” Handouts for each student ahead of time.

Scenes for Learning Activity (linked to the Folger Digital Text Versions)

Act I, Scene ii, “The Bloody Captain” (five speaking roles)

Act II, Scene iii, “Macduff Discovers Duncan Murdered” (eight speaking roles)

Act III, Scene iii, “The Murder of Banquo” (four speaking roles; Fleance has no lines)

Act III, Scene iv, “Banquo’s Ghost at the Banquet” (six to eight speaking roles)

Act IV, Scene i, “Macbeth Visits the Weird Sisters Once More” (eight speaking roles)

Act IV, Scene ii, “The Murder of Lady Macduff” (six speaking roles)

Proceed to Lesson Activities.