Cover image for Understanding Macbeth : a student casebook to issues, sources, and historical documents
Understanding Macbeth : a student casebook to issues, sources, and historical documents
Nostbakken, Faith, 1964-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, 1997.
Physical Description:
xviii, 235 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm.
Reading Level:
1410 Lexile.
Geographic Term:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PR2823 .N63 1997 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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This rich interdisciplinary collection of primary materials and commentary about Shakespeare's Macbeth will help student and teacher explore historical, literary, theatrical, social, and political issues related to the play. Bringing together past and present in its approach to Macbeth , the guide explores topics ranging from Shakespeare's stage to modern political events--from historical focus on the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 and its influence on the play, to theatrical interest in the stage and performance, to thematic connections between Macbeth and modern events such as Watergate and the Oklahoma City bombing. Excerpted documents range from royal proclamations to court confessions, from an actor's journal to dramatic criticism, from a short story to movie reviews. Ideas for classroom discussion, student assignments, paper topics, and bibliographies provide additional sources for examining the play in context.

This guide encourages readers to see connections between the play and related events and ideas. Dramatic Context considers subjects such as the nature of tragedy, the historical source of the play (with timeline of Scottish history), and the language and thematic patterns within it. Historical Context includes a wide variety of seventeenth-century primary documents that bring the turbulent political context to life. Macbeth's journey to the present reveals how changing attitudes and expectations about acting styles, political viewpoints, and social values have influenced the play's performance and interpretation over the centuries. Contemporary Applications provides materials on political parallels such as Duvalier's Haiti, as well as the social and psychological impact of contemporary events on which the play casts a shadow. This resource book is an ideal companion for teacher use and student research. It will encourage a broad spectrum of approaches to the play and help the student discover and appreciate a wide variety of conflicting ideas and interpretations that can inform and enrich the student's experience of the play.

Author Notes

William Shakespeare, 1564 - 1616 Although there are many myths and mysteries surrounding William Shakespeare, a great deal is actually known about his life. He was born in Stratford-Upon-Avon, son of John Shakespeare, a prosperous merchant and local politician and Mary Arden, who had the wealth to send their oldest son to Stratford Grammar School.

At 18, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, the 27-year-old daughter of a local farmer, and they had their first daughter six months later. He probably developed an interest in theatre by watching plays performed by traveling players in Stratford while still in his youth. Some time before 1592, he left his family to take up residence in London, where he began acting and writing plays and poetry.

By 1594 Shakespeare had become a member and part owner of an acting company called The Lord Chamberlain's Men, where he soon became the company's principal playwright. His plays enjoyed great popularity and high critical acclaim in the newly built Globe Theatre. It was through his popularity that the troupe gained the attention of the new king, James I, who appointed them the King's Players in 1603. Before retiring to Stratford in 1613, after the Globe burned down, he wrote more than three dozen plays (that we are sure of) and more than 150 sonnets. He was celebrated by Ben Jonson, one of the leading playwrights of the day, as a writer who would be "not for an age, but for all time," a prediction that has proved to be true.

Today, Shakespeare towers over all other English writers and has few rivals in any language. His genius and creativity continue to astound scholars, and his plays continue to delight audiences. Many have served as the basis for operas, ballets, musical compositions, and films. While Jonson and other writers labored over their plays, Shakespeare seems to have had the ability to turn out work of exceptionally high caliber at an amazing speed. At the height of his career, he wrote an average of two plays a year as well as dozens of poems, songs, and possibly even verses for tombstones and heraldic shields, all while he continued to act in the plays performed by the Lord Chamberlain's Men. This staggering output is even more impressive when one considers its variety. Except for the English history plays, he never wrote the same kind of play twice. He seems to have had a good deal of fun in trying his hand at every kind of play.

Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets, all published on 1609, most of which were dedicated to his patron Henry Wriothsley, The Earl of Southhampton. He also wrote 13 comedies, 13 histories, 6 tragedies, and 4 tragecomedies. He died at Stratford-upon-Avon April 23, 1616, and was buried two days later on the grounds of Holy Trinity Church in Stratford. His cause of death was unknown, but it is surmised that he knew he was dying.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

New entries in two valuable literary studies series--Literature in Context, intended for use with secondary students, and Critical Companions to Popular Contemporary Writers, appealing to popular-fiction readers in and out of school--typify their series' approaches. Johnson's and Nostbakken's books both open with analytic chapters on the themes and literary procedures (e.g., imagic patterns) of the works they consider. Subsequent sections of both discuss those works' historical and social contexts, and Nostbakken's book concludes with a set of "Contemporary Applications" of the concerns of Macbeth (to modern events such as Watergate and the Oklahoma City bombing) that should help students cope with "contemporized" theatrical productions of the play. Throughout both, excerpts from other writings fill in the historic factual contexts of the works discussed, and each chapter concludes with discussion questions and a short list of collateral reading. Less tied to the classroom, Pelzer's and Reid's author studies give best-seller writers the kind of treatment such institutions as the many Twayne critical series have long accorded classic, historic, and critically esteemed contemporary writers. The subjects in Greenwood's series are chosen by a panel of high-school teachers and librarians and public librarians. Each study begins with a chapter of biography and another that relates its subject's work to the genres or types of fiction that author typically writes (e.g., the second chapter of Reid's book is "Science Fiction and Arthur C. Clarke"). The rest of the chapters analyze specific books, but not necessarily all of the books the author has written. Previous series subjects include V. C. Andrews, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Anne McCaffrey, James Clavell, John Jakes, Anne Rice, Colleen McCullough, Mary Higgins Clark, Tom Clancy, and 10 others. --Ray Olson

School Library Journal Review

Gr 10 Up‘This earnest volume reads like a graduate thesis. There is knowledge here. And information. And obvious enthusiasm for the subject. But the scope of the author's ambition far outstrips her ability to communicate it in the modest size of the book, and the pedantic nature of the writing subdues the inherently exciting material. Nostbakken never clearly decides whether this is a casebook for students or a planning text for teachers, but often seems to address herself only to teachers. The volume is divided into four chapters: "Dramatic Analysis," "Historical Context," "Performance and Interpretation," and "Contemporary Applications." Each contains modernized original documents (e.g., Aristotle, Holinshed), the author's synopses and thoughts on them and their connection to Macbeth, a short bibliography, and a question section chock-full of dauntingly ambitious projects. The text provides interesting views and support documents on several possible topics: the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, a section on contemporary attitudes toward witches at the time of King James, and some intriguing discussions of specific productions of the play. There is a detailed table of contents and a workable index, but the book needs a good glossary. The "Contemporary Applications" chapter may overdo it in the argument for relevancy. Certain analogies can be drawn to Watergate, and the mood of the U.S. after the Oklahoma City bombing might compare with that of London after the exposure of the Gunpowder Plot. But paralleling Macbeth's vaulting ambition with Tonya Harding's is a stretch.‘Sally Margolis, formerly at Deerfield Public Library, IL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Dramatic Analysis
Tragedy History Rewritten
The Text Poetic and Dramatic Patterns
Historical Context Monarchy and Tyranny
The Boundaries of Kingship Treason and Equivocation
The Gunpowder Plot Toil and Trouble
Witchcraft in England and Scotland
Performance and Interpretation
The Jacobean Stage From the Restoration to the Nineteenth Century
The Twentieth Century Currents of Criticism
Contemporary Applications Crime and Punishment
A Quest for Power Beyond the Courtroom
The Social and Psychological Impact