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"Macbeth seeing the ghost of Banquo" by Théodore Chassériau

Extension activities

These activities are designed to extend your understanding of the text. To make the most of them, you need to know the material covered elsewhere in this resource.

The parallel curriculum

In order to extend our understanding of a text, it is sometimes necessary to look beyond it. Looking at factors such as the society within which a play was written, or the career of the author at the time of writing might help you to understand the play itself. The parallel curriculum is useful in this because it helps you to look beyond the 'core curriculum' (which is what you will spend most of your time on in class) to the curriculums of connections, practice and identity.

The Core Curriculum The Curriculum of Connections The Curriculum of Practice The Curriculum of Identity
Knowledge and understanding.

Knowing the work. (This is the content you will most likely cover in class).

Character development

  • Relationships
  • Themes:
  • Language: imagery patterns- battles and war, superstition, animals, poison, angels and devil etc.
All knowledge is interconnected. How does the core curriculum offer insights into the world in which Shakespeare lived? Explore the play in its context:
  • The ‘golden age’ of English drama. Competition enormous between playwrights; golden age for art and discovery, yet actors and playwrights were viewed with contempt by the wider society.
The work of the author: what is the motive of the writer? What is the writer's background? What influences impacted on the author growing up or later in life? How did commercial factors compromise/shape the work? What societal and cultural influences show through in the author’s work?
  • The conventions of the Elizabethan stage (no women, no mention of God)
  • The conventions of the stage tragedy
  • The taste’s of Shakespeare’s patrons (the Lords Chamberlain, James I)
  • The language of the theatre is primarily and oral language, designed to be heard, not necessarily studied.
How does this work affect your mood/thought/attitude?

Can you see any link/applications used today? Have these issues got better? Worse? Not relevant? Are the examples the same nowadays?

  • Personal challenges the play throws up:


  • This section requires you to demonstrate your understanding of the text as a whole by pulling together ideas across the whole text.
  • eg: "How is blood used to develop character across the play?", or
  • "What are the main symbols in the play and what does Shakespeare achieve through them?"
The three witches by Johann Heinrich Füssli

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Harold Bloom in his book 'The invention of the Human', makes the following observations:
  • [Macbeth is ] “endowed by Shakespeare with something less than ordinary intelligence, but with a power of fantasy so enormous that pragmatically it seems to be Shakespeare’s own.”
  • “…witchcraft in Macbeth, though pervasive, cannot alter material events but hallucination can and does.”
  • “Macbeth suffers intensely from knowing that he does evil, and that he must go on doing ever worse.”
  • "Macbeth speaks a third of the play’s lines."
  • Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are the most happily married couple in all of Shakespeare’s work. And they are anything but two fiends, despite their dreadful crimes and deserved catastrophes. So rapid and foreshortened is their play (about half the length of Hamlet) that we are given no leisure to confront their descent into hell.
  • Blood is the prime constituent of Macbeth’s imagination. He sees what opposes him is blood in one aspect- call it nature in the sense that he opposes nature- and that this opposing force thrusts him into shedding more blood.

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