Macbeth Unit Plan

Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Grade: 9 | Level: Pre-AP English I | Blocks: 17 | Time: 85-95 min. Blocks


William Shakespeare’s Macbeth reflects the cultural values of Shakespeare’s contemporaries while presenting a timeless drama that explores the dark side of the human story. Students will grapple with broad philosophical concepts such as fate vs. free-will, moral ambiguity, and inner conflict, along with themes of betrayal, deception, and ambition. The play exemplifies the classical literary form of tragic drama, allowing students to deepen reading comprehension through decoding the complex Shakespearean language. They will enter the world of drama by studying the strategies stage actors might employ in live theater performance, especially historical performance, and how plays could be translated and adapted for film. In addition, students will continue to practice analytical writing through studying the play’s themes and writing strategies, and by constructing their own literary analysis.

Unit Plan PDF

Read the Unit Plan, including Assessments, Daily Plans, and Materials.

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Macbeth Literary Analysis Essay Student Samples

Student A

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Student B

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Student C

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Student D

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Themes & Strategy


Year-Long: Reflections of Culture & Human Nature in Literature.

Semester: Into the Dark Side


The Promise of Power

  • Tragic Hero Archetype
  • Moral Ambiguity
  • Inner Conflict
  • Ambition/Desire for Power
  • Betrayal and Deception
  • Madness/Causes of Irrational Behavior

Analysis of Drama:

  • Dramatic Conventions, 5-Act Structure.
  • Prologue/Monologue/Soliloquy.
  • Dramatic Irony/Paradox
  • Figurative Language, Allusion, Imagery
  • Stage Directions. Aside.
  • Decoding Shakespearean Language.
  • Characterization.
  • Outdoor Theater/Theatrical Performance.
  • Writing a thesis statement.
  • Outlining and drafting an analytical essay.
  • MLA citation, quotation, evidence.
  • Revision and polishing in nonfiction.

Film & Visual Analysis:

  • Elements of Mise en Scené.
  • Screenplay Writing / Storyboarding.
  • Visual Communication of Theme.
  • Composition / Color / Symbolism.
  • Editing, Pacing, Music, Sound
  • Teamwork & Collaboration

Enduring Understandings & Essential Questions

Fate Vs. Free-Will

The concept of fate as a guiding force in one’s destiny conflicts with free-will because, while it may seem that are made based on individual desires cause autonomous decisions, fate may in fact control desire.

  1. What evidence can be found to support fate directing the actions of Lord and Lady Macbeth? What evidence supports free-will?
  2. How might the concept of fate and free-will be present in today’s society?
  3. Do Lord and Lady Macbeth force the prophecy to be fulfilled through their own ambition, or does prophecy guide their actions?
  4. How much agency do we have in our lives? Do we control our destiny, or does fate/chance decide?

Moral Ambiguity, Inner Conflict, & Ambition

Ambition and passion for power, money, love, or status may fulfill the desires of an individual, but if left unchecked, it will defy the norms set by society, family, duty, or faith, and create internal conflict.

  1. What moral values guide society in Macbeth’s time? How do his internal desires defy external societal values?
  2. In what ways do the main characters of Macbeth defy the “good” and “bad” character archetypes found in fairy tales?
  3. What desires are considered “bad” or “good” in our society? Based on what values are these judgements made?
  4. How does Lord and Lady Macbeth’s ambition create inner conflict and moral ambiguity?
  5. How does moral ambiguity and internal conflict contribute to a more dynamic and interesting character and plot?
  6. How much ambition is necessary for progress? At what point does it become dangerous?
  7. What should our moral compass and guiding properties be ruled by–family, faith, duty, society? Should we be guided by reason or passion?

Deception & Betrayal

Cognitive dissonance can cause the subconscious to betray truth and manifest itself in physical and psychological defenses because the conscience and the conscious often intertwine, making self-deception impossible.

Though authentic relationships rely on a foundation of honesty, often individuals engage in public dishonesty or false representation for self-protection, reputation, or maintaining power, creating layers of “masks” that appear throughout society.

  1. What kinds of motifs and symbols portray deception and betrayal in Macbeth?
  2. In what ways do the characters of Macbeth wear literal and figurative masks? Are they successful in hiding the truth?
  3. How can dishonesty and deception affect relationships? Why is it problematic to always be wearing a mask?
  4. What does self-deception do to the human psyche? Can we lie to ourselves?
  5. Is truth absolute or relative? Does that ever change based on different circumstances?
  6. Is it better to betray our internal desires and passions for the sake of others, or to betray the external values of those around us for the sake of fulfilling our own ambition?
  7. Is it ever necessary to cover the truth with false representation instead of being honest? Is it possible to be completely honest with everyone all the time?

Analysis of Drama

Analyzing a piece of literature means to examine or evaluate the piece, which means to explore the various aspects of the piece, then to decide on it’s value or meaning, based on a set of values and evidence, then to fully explain your evaluation in a well-structured essay that interests the reader, maintains strong organization and cohesiveness, utilizes appropriate voice and language, and leaves the reader with deeper ideas about the piece.

  1. What is literary analysis?
  2. What elements present in the text pertain could to the overarching themes (as defined by the essay prompts)?
  3. How is understanding of the play increased through “play-acting” instead of simply reading?
  4. What elements does a good thesis statement for a literary analysis essay contain? Why are these elements important?
  5. Why is appropriate language, logical organization, and cohesiveness important to consider when writing an analysis essay?

Film & Analysis of Visual Communication

Society uses various formats of coded language to communicate ideas and emotions, including text, music, visuals, and numerous other elements, all of which rely on an audience that can decode the information based on mutually understood cultural ideas.

  1. What are the various types of multimedia communication we are surrounded with everyday? What are the elements of mise-en-scene in film?
  2. Why is multimedia literacy important in today’s world? How is growth of social technology related to the increased demand for graphic and film literacy in the general public?
  3. How do directorial decisions about the elements of mise-en-scene in film affect “coding” and “decoding” of information for the audience?
  4. How is the analysis of film and graphics related to the analysis of literature or drama? What strategies are transferable?
  5. Is the sender responsible for communicating a message fully and accurately, or it the responsibility of the recipient to correctly interpret the cues and understand the message?