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Macbeth Act 2 Scene 2 – movement and contemplation

Don’t know whether this worked.

In an earlier post, I wrote about ventrals and dorsals – the combination of the dynamics of movement and contemplation of the image (Dorsals and ventrals: neuroscience, film and literature). I’m not going to go into too much detail here (you can read the earlier blog) but it’s come from my PhD research on Deleuze and the movement/time image. For Deleuze, there are moments in film which are ‘instances of pure contemplation’. Think of those moments in films where the camera lingers on empty spaces or draws our attention to the minutiae of an image – what Paul Schrader calls ‘cases of stasis’. Regular readers know all about my Hitchcock obsession and I love the scene in Vertigo when Scottie follows Madeleine to Fort Point beneath San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge which reveals just how beautifully uncanny such a moment can be in a film.


Mark Cousins calls them ventral and dorsals, with ventrals being the emphasis on isolated moments, those Wordsworthian ‘spots of time’ whilst dorsals represent the dynamics of camera and action. Deleuze writes that ” work of art entails the creation of new spaces and times” and it is this balance between image and time that creates certain works of art. So I wanted to get my students to think about this in act 2 scene 2.


The first thing we did was identify moments of thinking and contemplation in the scene. We covered the desk in post-its and I asked them to write key quotes on different coloured sheets. Some were easy – Macbeth’s obsession with sleep and blood. But what about “I have done the deed?” Is this movement or contemplation? We argued that it was contemplation as it’s a past tense action, whereas we agreed that ‘GO get the dagger’ implies movement.

Anyway, once they did this, I got them to plot the post-its on a chart.


I suppose I wanted them to see how the rhythms of the scene worked and how the language of the scene facilitated this. Here are some examples:


As you can see, there were some differences in how the students interpreted the different examples but the general feeling was that the combination of movement and image revealed fluctuations in the scene’s structure and thus enhanced the dramatic tensions. At this point, I had much discussion with my group about the activity’s impact on learning. Some said that it helped them visualise ‘that thing about structure that you’re always going on about’ whilst others said ‘you could have told me this in 5 minutes and I’d have got it’! Some people, some of the time…

The next thing we did was think about this slide:


This helped them make some sense of what we were doing – the linking of dorsals and ventrals to character. Again, could they have done this after the post-it notes exercise? Possibly. But seeing the different coloured post-its, connecting these to character and the rhythms of the scene I thought was quite interesting. The following slide was created during the lesson: I decided the group wanted to go with structure so I posed the question: ‘How does the structure of the scene create dramatic tension/impact?’. The bullet points below summarises what the group came up with.


Of course, they wanted to write something down. Here’s a screen shot of a pupil’s book.


Overall, I quite liked what we did. It’s a long way from #cutthegimmicks (see Pyramid of Understanding) and I suppose I could have communicated this to the class with a few minutes of teacher talk. However, we talk a lot about learning by doing and to this end, the lesson worked.


A colleague suggested that this would work even better with a lower ability group who might not immediately see for themselves the dynamic between movement and image in the scene. I’ll let you make up your own mind about this.

I’m going to take this further when students do their creative writing – get them to plan moments of dynamism and contemplation to ensure their writing has a balance. Watch this space.

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