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AQA A2 - Macbeth (gothic)

Discussion in 'English' started by figgins, Jan 5, 2011.

  1. I'm guessing a lot of people do this text. It's my first time teaching it at A level rather than GCSE and I would be really interested to hear what your general approach to the text is. Many thanks for any responses, F.
  2. I'm guessing a lot of people do this text. It's my first time teaching it at A level rather than GCSE and I would be really interested to hear what your general approach to the text is. Many thanks for any responses, F.
  3. sleepyhead

    sleepyhead New commenter

    Don't do it.... there's so much on the spec that's new and interesting and then we make them do something that most of them have done before :-(
  4. gruoch

    gruoch Occasional commenter

    I mark this paper and think 'Macbeth' is a good choice.
    You need to explore the extent to which it conforms to the genre and the extent to which it does not - bearing in mind that the concept of Gothic is a couple of centureies post Shakespeare.
  5. RaymondSoltysek

    RaymondSoltysek New commenter

    I agree that we should do new material as often as possible. However, Macbeth was a play I always found time for, because (a) it's Shakespeare and (b) the pupils love it.
    Coming from Scotland, I hope the advice I'm going to give you suits an English context. Focus your take on it. You can't hope to do everything, so it's better to cover one or two themes as closely as possible: make then experts in two or so particular fields of the play rather than hope to make them generalists.
    And although Macbeth isn't new, try to adopt an unusual line with it that examiners may not have come across before. For example, I always concentrated on the "fair is foul and foul is fair" theme which allowed me to look very closely at the characters of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. I believe the text clearly indicates that Mady Macbeth is fair while seeming foul, while Macbeth is foul while seeming fair - even before the play begins. In other words, it's not her fault at all and he is totally to blame.
    Building up that case allowed for fantastic debate in the class - often, pupils would accuse me of talking rubbish and tracking the evidence for Lady Macbeth indeed being the harridan she's often supposed to be. What I ended up with was a classful of committed students with a clear personal opinions on the main characters which they could link to the text and to the theme.
    Of course, you should pick your own aspect of the play to study, something about it you are committed to. As you can tell, I have some pretty weird notions about the play!
  6. Gothic novels were for people who didn't believe in ghosts and witches. However in Shakespeare's day belief in witchcraft was very real. Science was just beginning to separate itself from magic.
    So if you want to emphasise the supernatural elements, and I think that's a good approach, you should arm your pupils with Religion and the Decline of Magic by Keith Thomas. Obviously introduce it after the main text has been read.
    You might also want this resource
    However don't make the mistake of teaching a general witchcraft course. It must be related to the play. A lot of people think that the cauldron scene, which most children regard as the highlight of the entire play, wasn't written by Shakeseare at all, That's probably a good A-level debate.

  7. RaymondSoltysek

    RaymondSoltysek New commenter

    Good point. However, it's debatable whether or not Shakespeare believed in witchcraft, given that many of the witches' ingredients are in-jokes on herbal remedies of the time.
    Of course, the witches may be seen as manifestations of Macbeth's black heart - which in itself is a great Gothic theme. Think of the "ghosts" in "The Turn of the Screw", for instance, or Dracula, as the manifestations of inner sexuality in a repressed age. All good stuff!
  8. That ties in nicely with the debate over whether Shakespeare was a Catholic. Though both Catholics and Protestants believed in witches, Catholics tended not to believe than any particular person was a witch. Witch hunts in Spain were taken over by the Inquisition and stopped.
    Ok, so we've got three pieces of work
    "Did Shakespeare write the cauldon scene?"
    "Did Shakespeare himself believe in witches?"
    "Does 'fair is foul and foul is fair' relate to Macbeth and Lady Macbeth".
    That seems a pretty good start for the OP.

  9. gruoch

    gruoch Occasional commenter

    I know of no evidence to suggest that Shakespeare didn't write IV.i
    However I know or irrefutable evidence that he didn't write Hecate and 'the other 3 witches'(as well as several other sections of the play, which should more accurately be credited in its present form to Shakespeare and Middleton).
    Since context is all, 'Daemonologie' is probably more relevant than 'Malleus', which I think had not been translated from the German in 1606. The first reference to an English translation I can find is Montague Summers' in 1928.
    A Scottish king who wrote a book on witchcraft, took part in witch trials in Scotland, had recently been almost assassinated in The Gunpowder Plot (to which there are many explicit refrences in the play) and who was allegedly descended from the wholly fictitious Banquo has far more relevance than discussions on Shakespeare's belief or not in witchcraft - as does the fact that it seems highly probable that the play was first performed at Court in 1606 for James in order to entertain, I think, the King of Norway - but I'd need to trawl through my reference books to check if it was him or another dignitary.
  10. RaymondSoltysek

    RaymondSoltysek New commenter

    Perhaps not if you're concentrating on gothic aspects of the text, as the OP wanted, gruoch.
  11. gruoch

    gruoch Occasional commenter

    I refer my hon friend to #3
  12. RaymondSoltysek

    RaymondSoltysek New commenter

    I stand corrected! [​IMG]
  13. Thank you very much for the responses. It's not my choice whether or not to teach the text, but I do know it well (doesn't every English teacher?) so that makes it a little easier for me to tackle. I had my first lesson with the group today and they are mostly very high achievers, some real intellects, but very quiet. Are people inclined to do a basic read-through and then return to these issues, or to pick them up as you go along. With GCSE I've always done the latter, but i wonder if a grasp of the whole play helps before discussing the specifics?
    Gruoch, I'd be really interested to hear your take on what marks out the best papers you have seen...I have several in my class who should be at the highest level.
    Thanks again, F.
  14. gruoch

    gruoch Occasional commenter

    It rather depends on which question - the text specific or the generic.
    However, it is worth remembering that ll the AOs are equally weighted at A2, though divided up in Part A.
    A*/A should have the following characteristics:
    a detailed and in depth understanding of the text(s)
    excellent choice of supporting textual evidence, embedded within the argument
    evaluation of the strentgths and weaknesses of different interpretations of the text(s)
    excellent interpretation/appreciation of context - and this does not simply mean historical context e.g. in the June paper the Q on 'Macbeth' required a discussion of Macbeth as a 'butcher', which would involve analysis of hostorical, moral and political context as well as literary context re: Gothic/tragedy
    discussion of language and its presumed effect
    understanding of the play in performance, as well as a literary text
    well structured arguement using correct literary criticism and the language associated therewith

  15. gruoch

    gruoch Occasional commenter

    Sorry for typos.
    I spill better than I tip :)
  16. I tried to introduce them to Stanley Fish's version of reader response theory the other day and they were a bit nonplussed. I think they prefer a more liberal humanist approach -universal rights and wrongs across the ages and all that - a bit of an issue for those going on to study English as undergrads.
  17. gruoch

    gruoch Occasional commenter

    Have you tried 'Taming of the Shrew'?

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