This section explains how I introduce and model Macbeth and Tess of the D'Urbervilles to my students. The expository section is based on specific passages I analyze and close-read. In particular, I show my students how the authors convey the hidden thoughts and feelings of the character through structure, setting, imagery and symbols. My assertions are supported by scholarly sources to teach them how to include other critics' statements within their written work.
The first question that arises with this Shakespeare's play is to understand what tragedy means and also what its substance is in order to read Macbeth's state of mind. The frame or structure imposed by this genre affects and contributes to the characterization because the author uses it to convey some of the character's traits. My students need to learn what the nature of a tragic aspect of life is and how Shakespeare represents it. Since I do not mention the theories of drama, I focus on some outside details my students can easily understand like the fact that a "tragedy brings before us a considerable number of persons" while it is essentially the story of one person, the hero."
The hero in a Shakespearean tragedy is always a person of high degree, a king, prince, leader of a state, or member(s) of great houses. The same hero is conscious of his own position throughout the entire play, and toward the end when he is determined to live no longer, he shows anxiety. In the case of Macbeth, minutes before dying he wants to stress his military courage and manliness to the point that he prefers death to "try the last" and oppose a "being [Macduff] of no woman born" instead of kissing "the ground before young Malcom."
At the same time, this preface allows me to introduce the relevance of the structure in a work of literature, or genre required structure, because it affects the character's thoughts and future decisions.
The structure, an essential literary device also known as form, consists of various parts that are important contributors to the characterization. The first of these parts sets forth the situation out of which the conflict arises and is usually called exposition. The second part deals with the growth of the conflict and has to form the bulk of the play through the first, second and third acts, and a part of the fifth. The final section shows how the conflict resolves in a catastrophe. Even if it is difficult to draw a line between one part and the other, I want my students to identify these divisions while trying to understand how they bring forward specific aspects of the character. For instance, the objective of the Exposition is to see the character into a little world of people where each contributes with an insight about the character while showing these people's positions in life, their relations to one another. One of the functions of the exposition is "to make people talk about the hero" who is generally not present to create curiosity.
When the hero enters the scene, he takes some kind of action. At the same time, the opening scene begins to anticipate some of the main character traits.
In Macbeth, the opening scene presents the witches immediately followed by the one where Duncan learns about the betrayal of one of his men, and of the successful battle of Macbeth. However, the witches appear again, and introduce Macbeth with their prophecy. The fact he is not in the group of people who surrounds Duncan, and the fact the witches precede and follow this scene begin to anticipate who Macbeth is. He is certainly one of Duncan's Thanes, but he is not aware of the Thane of Cawdor's plot against Duncan. In spite of that, Macbeth is the one who fights to save the country. This fact points out his inferior position at court, and it seems logical to expect some kind of reactions or resentment. After all, Macbeth risks his life for the country and no one tells him the truth. Of course, he believes in the prophecy because he has no other tangible element explaining him why he is appointed Thane of Cawdor. He even says, "The Thane of Cawdor lives. Why do you dress me in borrowed robes?"
To make things worse, the witches and their supernatural knowledge begin to suggest that Macbeth wants to revenge his honor, but they also suggest Macbeth's calamitous fate. Similarly, I want my students to determine and analyze the form of the initial conflict, its rise and development, the crisis, the decline, and the catastrophe in order to see how the construction of these specific moments in the play contributes to the characterization. Of course, after I model the form in the three scenes of act one, I expect my students to follow it throughout the play.
Beside understanding the conventions of the genre, my students need to take into consideration another characteristic of the Shakespearean tragedy: the presence of a numbers of people/characters that are placed in specific circumstances. This is important because from their cooperation in these circumstances certain actions arise. "These actions beget others, and these others beget others again, until this series of inter-connected deeds leads by an apparently inevitable consequence to a catastrophe."
In Macbeth, these actions like the letter Macbeth writes to his wife leads Lady Macbeth to express her truthful desire to achieve what the Witches have prophesized while still having doubts about her husband's real courage to do what is necessary. At the same time, the fact Macbeth writes about the prophecy confirms that he believes and wants to be king. At this point, my students will have to determine whether Macbeth"s action leads to his wife's desire for power and to her active involvement in planning the murder of Duncan. After I model how to interpret the presence of other characters and the connected actions as structural device in a tragedy to really get into the mind of Macbeth, and understand his thoughts and/or feelings, my students have to determine the other actions that occur in the course of the play, and analyze them in order to interpret and evaluate Macbeth's mind.
To further deepen my students' understanding of the actions they encounter in the text, I explain how the Witches reflect the personification of supernatural knowledge. I also emphasize that this is another important tragic element. Shakespeare uses the Witches to explain the illusion in the mind of Macbeth. Moreover, the supernatural knowledge contributes to the action and also becomes an indispensable element Shakespeare uses to convey the description of the character. I want my students to understand how an illusion of supernatural knowledge leads Macbeth to the fatal error, together with his vulnerability and low self-esteem. I expect my students to analyze the second encounter with the Witches and determine whether the supernatural element affects Macbeth's capacity or responsibility. Another element Shakespeare uses in his tragedy is to allow "chance or accidents" to convey something about the character. Therefore, I expect my students to determine whether the first encounter with the Witches may be interpreted as an accident that is unexpected, and whether the consequences of this event reveal the treasonous ambition that is hidden in Macbeth's mind.
The next literary devices I want my students to focus on as important means to read the character are setting and imagery. Of course, setting does not appear in the form of a rich description of the place and time due to the fact Macbeth is a tragedy. It is, however, briefly mentioned by the characters and offers a valuable insight of the hero. For instance, in the opening scene the first Witch begins by saying, "When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lighting or rain?" The third adds, "That will be ere the set of sun."
Thunder, lighting and sun set, and the atmosphere they create, contribute to the characterization of Macbeth because they clearly allude to a person whose intentions are destructive for those who surround him as well as for himself. The Witches dance in the thick air of a storm to foreshadow the darkness of Macbeth's soul. It is again dark and the western skies glimmer just before Banquo is killed as described by the same murderers. This image of the blackness of the night recurs throughout the entire play to emphasize the hero's fear, horror, and sense of failure. At this point, I want my students to analyze what Banquo says in the same scene. They have to discuss the image of being "the borrower of the night" and focus on the connotation of "borrower" in order to understand Banquo's intentions. At the same time, I expect them to consider the image of the night reflecting his fear of the unknown. The next element my students have to consider is the brief description of the setting, "the West yet glimmers with some streaks of the day."
The faint glimmerings of the western sky at twilight are menacing.
It is the hour when Banquo is trying to go home and reach safety without success. The next step is for my students to identify other brief descriptions of setting and imagery in the other acts and analyze them as a precious tool Shakespeare offers the audience to see in the character's mind.
The symbols, too, offer another tool to disclose the character's inner thoughts and beliefs. Even a real person -- I remind my students -- tends to express specific principles, ideologies, or even hopes through objects and/or another persona that acquire a deeper meaning. In Macbeth, the first of these symbols I am going to discuss and analyze with my students is represented by the witches who embody mystery, evilness, and ominous fate. Another important fact is also represented by the magical significance of the number three "we three … and thrice again."
The atmosphere they depict "in thunder, lightning, or in rain," "when the battle's lost and won." and "the set of sun" anticipate the somber feelings in Macbeth's mind. It is also interesting to notice the final line of the first scene in which they say, "Fair is foul, and fouls is fair," meaning that what is fine or beautiful is to the witches or evil spirits ugly, disgusting, and dirty, and what is ugly or disgusting to them is fine. The connotation of these words seems to make the audience aware of the viciousness of Macbeth's soul. It also suggests that what he says is indeed the opposite of what he thinks. In this view, the surprised attitude he shows when he is appointed Thane of Cawdor is not truthful. In fact, Macbeth thinks, "the greatest is behind," confirming that he expects much more, and also points out his hidden thoughts to fight for a much higher status in the kingdom. Again, when Macbeth appears on the stage for the first time, and says to Banquo, " So foul and fair a day I have not seen,"
he uses the same words, foul and fair, identifying himself with the witches. Shakespeare uses the witches to disclose Macbeth's most hidden thoughts of which he might not even be aware.
Another detail, I am going to point out is the reaction both Macbeth and Banquo have when they first see the three witches. Banquo reacts by pointing out how "withered and so wild" they look. "Banquo's response to the very sight of witches surely comes very close to what the audience would expect" emphasizing how he "dwells in the seventeenth century world of normal realities."
The witches do not answer to Banquo. Macbeth is their only focus as an external symbol of his conscience. As for the previous literary devices I have modeled, my students have to determine, analyze, and discuss the dagger and the ghost.
As a result of this modeling section in relation to structure, setting, imagery and symbols in Macbeth, I expect my students to select three excerpts containing these literary conventions, except the AP class who has to analyze the entire tragedy, according to the steps I have specified in the Lesson Plan section.
Tess of the D'Urbervilles
Before reading this novel, my students need some background information about the author, Thomas Hardy, and the time period; otherwise, they cannot fully understand and appreciate this extraordinary work. Specifically, they need to know Thomas Hardy was born in England in 1840. His native village is in the rural county of Dorset in the English West Country, from which he writes most of his descriptions in the novel. Other important factors that have a direct influence on the main character, Tess, are his humble origin and his experiences of the rural and urban poverty. As a consequence, he "uses the lower-class observer as a device for noting the defects of persons of superior social station."
The characters of his novel examine the condition of men and women with the aim to improve their conditions. Hardy's art attempts to display beauty in what others just see as ordinariness or even ugliness. His heroine, Tess, is a very beautiful, intelligent, and energetic woman, who experiences the complete submission of Victorian women, but she is also shame-filled, mute, and doomed. As a kind of commodity, she is totally powerless. She cannot protect her sexuality and she cannot save her family from poverty, ignorance, and rural displacement connected to the industrial progress of those years. Tess lives in complete misery but Hardy colors it with beauty because she is not a simple victim, or even a passive one. "She is willing to oppose and attach her male oppressors and to assume male roles"
while she is also capable of self-torture. Tess is raped by Alec and violated by Angel and these events lead her to respond with violence and ultimately to kill Alec, the man who robbed her innocence and all her hopes. This young, beautiful woman is crushed by poverty, by her father's drunken folly, by another man's lust, and a rigid idealism, as well as by her own murderous passion. Her life reaches tragic proportions while she fights against suffering and oppression. After this brief introduction about the author and the social background of the nineteenth century in England, I expect my students to read the novel as homework, while in class I model how to interpret and analyze setting, symbolism, and imagery for the understanding of this Victorian woman.
My students and I begin our literary analysis with setting because it is a relevant element Thomas Hardy uses to convey the characterization of Tess and other secondary characters like Alec and Angel. Differently from Lisa Zunshine's argument, who states that the descriptions of nature are quite scarce in a work of fiction and disruptive for the reader, the long and detailed descriptions of Dorsetshire landscape take up many paragraphs in each chapter and provide an interesting context mirroring Tess's feelings and thoughts. Through the beauty of the uncontaminated landscape that is about to be brutally destroyed by industrialization, Hardy conveys Tess's long suffering, shame, and injustices.
The first of these interesting images occurs at the very beginning of the novel immediately before the reader encounters Tess. Specifically, I read the description of the village of Marlott located between the northeastern "undulations of the beautiful Vale of Blakemore or Blackmoor, … an engirdled and secluded region" that is unknown to the "tourist or landscape-painter" though quite close to London.
I tell my students to notice that the narrator immediately points out the beauty and the seclusion of the valley. The valley is also "engirdled" and "untrodden" and to help them understand the connotative meaning, I use the Oxford dictionary and determine the denotations of both words. "Engirdled" clearly refers to an area that is kept separated or encircled by a girdle. The girdle is a feminine garment that is close-fitting and often boned to shape the woman's waist. "Untrodden" is interesting too because it certainly refers to the fact no stranger has ever walked in this beautiful valley, but a closer analysis of its denotation points out that it also refers to copulation in the case of male birds. The valley itself has a clear feminine connotation with an unmistakable reference to Tess and what she thinks or believes. She knows herself to be beautiful and she is enchanted and scared at the same time by the thought of her first encounter. She feels the constraints of her social status and gender, and the fact she can realize this lack of freedom and self-assertion, foreshadows her future as a woman who silently fights the patriarchal restrictions while maintaining her purity. The same paragraph begins to anticipate her long suffering journey Tess seems to expect in the years ahead.
Another passage focusing on setting I want my students to analyze in class before working independently is in chapter five. It says, " the vale of Blackmoor was to her the world … she had looked down its length in the wondering days of infancy, and what had been a mystery to her … much less she had been far outside the valley. Every contour of the surrounding hills was … personal."
I expect my students to see Tess's inability to understand her world, which appears to her as an unsolvable mystery. I ask them to analyze how Tess looks at the vale and the surrounding hills to understand that Tess's mind is still simple, clean, and innocent. She cannot see the negative connotations the hills surrounding this enchanted valley seem to convey. She fits in with the environment and is unprepared for the events that seem to lurk outside this enchanted little world. They also have to analyze what the narrator anticipates about Tess, her external beauty, her innocence, and her femininity. After I model the analysis of these two passages, I expect my students to identify the most important setting descriptions the narrator uses to convey Tess's state of mind along her journey. Along with Tess, the students have to determine and analyze the setting descriptions that refer to Alec and Angel.
Symbolism offers other important insights about Tess as well. The first and the most interesting symbols I want to model for my students is represented by Prince, the family horse. Through his violent and bloody death Thomas Hardy conveys Tess's disgrace and demise. "Not only does this critical event set in motion the events that lead directly to Tess's death, … it also creates the visual and thematic currents that run through the rest of the novel."
First of all, I underline the choice of the horse's name. It is certainly a very ambitious name, Prince, with a connotation that emphasizes the fact he is different. Prince stands out for something that is an exterior quality: his name. Tess stands out for a similar exterior quality: her beauty. A name is, too, an exterior quality and may not refer to the state of mind. It is, however, written in capital letters to symbolize the relevance it has in the story. Another important consideration is that Prince "required but slight attention" with a clear connection to what Tess expects.
She does not believe anyone can really look at her and see something beyond her physical beauty. Her mind seems to be trapped in a beautiful body like this horse is trapped in a name signifying a much higher status. Prince lacks "energy for superfluous movements of any sort" in anticipation of Tess's inability to react both to Alec and to Angel.
She believes her condition -- being a woman and being the daughter of a peasant does not allow her to react until the very end, when the burden is so unbearable that she kills Alec to return immediately after into the same submissive role she displays throughout the novel. I point out that Tess reveals a simple and, at the same time, quite complex personality: she is "the young woman wearing the white dress of innocence at the village festival … and now with shocking abruptness and vividness, baptized in blood, exposing her helplessness … and inability to undo her role."
The students, after this modeling, have to analyze the entire scene of Prince's death to determine Tess's state of mind in the course of her journey.
Imagery, the other literary technique Hardy uses in his novel, conveys Tess's state of mind. Immediately from the first scenes when the narrator is still describing Blackmoor Valley, he focuses on color and light. Of course, Tess's gown at the May Day festival is white, and if it does not display anything exceptional other than her innocent and candid feeling towards life, she shares this color with all the other girls of the village, immediately emphasizing the contrast between what it ideally represents and the "reduced emotions" that turn the entire scene to "a monotonous average."
At that party, Tess dreams and hopes like all the other young adolescents, but she also breaks the monotony and stands out: she wears a red ribbon no one else has. The ideal -- the white color as her innocent expectations and beliefs -- and real -- the red ribbon anyone can notice --clash "as the sun lit up their figures against the green hedges and the creeper-laced house-fronts."
The same light seems to suggest Tess and all the other girls are "creatures of the sun, warmed and nourished by the source of all heat and life."
Tess is sun-blessed; she feels young, full of life, and desirous to discover what life is going to reserve her.
According to this model, my students have to analyze the image of the sun as it is described at the dairy farm where "its rays drew forth the buds and stretch them into stalks lifted up in noiseless streams, opened petals, and sucked out scents in invisible jests and breathings."
Through a close reading of this quotation, I expect my students to understand that Tess, now, feels ready to love a man. At this point, I want my students to select all the passages describing the image of the light because its changes mirror Tess's desires. At the same time, my students have to decode other images which focus on color like her red ribbon, the red of Prince's blood splattered all over Tess in juxtaposition to other scenes where the predominant color is white. The subtle gradations of color and of light are an essential component my students can use to read Tess's mind along her journey.
Following my modeling of setting, symbolism, and imagery for the understanding of a character, I expect my students to select three or more specific passages for each literary technique, except the AP class who analyzes the entire novel. All the strategies or differentiated methodologies I use in order to accommodate the distinct learning needs of my students are presented in the Lesson Plans section.