The tragedy of
tells the story of an honorable soldier who turns into a brutal assassin of Duncan, his king, Banquo, his friend, and Macduff’s wife and children. His murderous acts seem to be instigated first by his encounters with the Weird Sisters, three women with masculine beards, and his wife, Lady Macbeth. Shakespeare presents a man who is torn by fear, greed, the desire to be king – and by the power of women that is evoked by the feminine presences. The differences between man and woman loom throughout the text. Gender differences cross the boundaries and prove ambiguous. The unit will analyze and discuss the gender identity of those influencing Macbeth and the authority of gender on Macbeth’s ethics.
In this unit, the students read the tragedy
by William Shakespeare, excerpts from “The History of Sexuality” by Michele Foucault, excerpts from “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution” by Judith Butler, excerpts from “Sexual Transformation” by Gayle Rubin, and excerpts from “Female Masculinity” by Judith Halberstam. Students analyze the theories on gender and possible visions of masculinity and femininity in the excerpts above mentioned without excluding the students’ personal knowledge they can build through research of more contemporary texts like lyrics, newspapers articles, movies/performances, or visual texts. They also learn how to close-read shorter passages focusing on how the literary devices used by the author characterize or convey meaning. Every lesson plan includes in-class discussions and written reflections. The goals are to make students understand, reflect about, and discuss how Shakespeare sees gender, its influence on decision-making, and the reactions it might provoke, and to help students frame their independent visions of gender and gender authority through a variety of texts.
Students have the opportunity to study the characters of the witches, Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, Macduff, and Malcolm in specific scenes and learn various visions of what masculinity and femininity mean. They learn to distinguish gender as societal construct from sex as biological given and to be sensitive to the consequences; they reflect on what authority gender really has. This unit teaches students to appreciate and understand a canonical text, and to use the text as a source of knowledge to argue about their own vision of gender.
The unit starts with the following essential questions: “What are the social constructions of gender? What are the conventions that people associate with being male or female? What do people expect to see as manly or feminine? Can gender identity affect how a person makes moral choices? Does gender identity have the authority to override personality?” It can be taught in grade ten and eleven classes, and in the AP English Literature class.