AQA · Shakespeare · structure · Teaching Ideas

Y11 Macbeth – structure and masculinity in 4.3

It’s time we talked about structure again. This week, after we have watched a chunk of the play, we will be looking at act 4 scene 3. Not only does this get us away from the claustrophobic atmosphere of Macbeth’s castle (notice how much of the action is staged here) but it also gives us a chance to look at other characters, in this case Malcolm and Macduff.

This scene occurs after the slaughter of Macduff’s wife and children and offers us an opportunity to talk about masculinity again. It is also a chance for Shakespeare to reveal Malcolm’s leadership qualities – his powers of persuasion, his use of rhetoric, his use of pathos to channel Macduff’s grief into vengeance etc.



We will begin by looking at Freytag’s and Todorov’s examples of narrative structure. Freytag updates the classical model of PROTASIS, EPITASIS, CATASTASIS and CATASTROPHE in to a five part model (you might recall we looked at this in An Inspector Calls)screen-shot-2016-10-08-at-15-18-59


Notice that we are now reaching the climactic moments of the play. Macbeth, having reached the point of no return has committed the atrocity (war crime) of slaughtering Macduff’s family in order to eliminate as many barriers to the security of his monarchy. Notice how his men carry out these orders – how often throughout history have soldiers performed such monstrous crimes ‘under orders’? Does this make them any less guilty? Shakespeare refers to them in the play as ‘murderers’ rather than soldiers of Macbeth (as Polanski does). This scene marks the beginning of the end; in Todorov’s terms it is the ‘attempt to repair the damage’. Earlier in the scene (not shown in full in the film), Malcolm tests Macduff’s loyalty and tells Macduff that he, Malcolm, suspects Macduff of being as treacherous as Macbeth – Macduff was after all Macbeth’s friend. He also criticises Macduff for leaving his family behind in his haste to get to England. This of course underscores the theme of treachery and deception that runs throughout the play. Also in this long scene, Malcolm plays bluff with Macduff, telling him that he, Malcolm, will make a terrible king because he is morally weak. He does this to see what Macduff’s reaction will be.  Malcolm’s testing of Macduff (and Macduff’s response) ultimately reassures him that Macduff is loyal. Only one more thing then: to give Macduff a real, personal reason to kill Macbeth: Shakespeare thus uses the death of Macduff’s family not only as a way to emphasise Macbeth’s monstrosity but it also makes Macduff more resolved to kill Macbeth.



We will look at the play from Freytag’s perspective and then from Todorov’s. The comments box will be for students to think about this part of the play and its effectiveness. Todorov is purely about stories and thus, although the story is from Macbeth’s perspective, from a wider perspective this is a story of how Scotland’s king is killed and the search for justice. Therefore, using Todorov, the narrative equilibrium is disturbed perhaps not when Macbeth meets the witches but when Duncan dies. After this, the recognition (Malcolm and Macduff etc realise Duncan is dead, they see Macbeth’s tyranny); the attempt to repair the damage (mustering an army) and a new equilibrium (Malcolm is crowned King).

However, what if we drill down to character? If we look at it from Macbeth’s point of view, the equilibrium is disturbed very quickly: he doesn’t take much convincing to turn to the dark side: what does this tell us about him? Also, once Macbeth’s equilibrium is disturbed, what does he do to restore it? It depends on what exactly his equilibrium is. If he wants to repair the damage done to his reputation then he’s going about it the wrong way. More realistically, it is clear that Macbeth has no intention of going back to the way things once were: he embraces his fate, his evil and so Todorov helps us to see the nature of Macbeth’s character development. However, if we look at the narrative from Malcolm’s point of view then Todorov’s model works perfectly.


After this, we will look at the structure of a scene. We’ve already looked at DYNAMICS and REFLECTION here (Macbeth Act 2 Scene 2 – movement and contemplation). Here are some of the questions we will be addressing:


Finally, we will look at the structure of the sequence we will choose to explore (lines 206 to the end):


Here are some of the points I would expect students to write about (notice the inclusion of ‘Shakespeare’ to emphasise the text as construct):



The full PPTs are here:

After this, we will look at how this scene continues the theme of masculinity:


I’m trying to get students to be more independent: they’re filling in blanks of this grid in class (but here’s one to help in case). Obviously there is much more to get from this scene but they only have 45 mins!!)





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