Deryk McAlpin

Macbeth Mini-Lessons

For many students, the MTC production of Macbeth may be their first live Shakespeare production. This production promises to be visually and emotionally exciting for school students. Director Simon Phillips says one of his ‘abiding rules’ when approaching Shakespeare is ‘to think of young people going into it; of it being an experience for them … The more obvious thrills lie in the play’s military sequences, its incidents of violence, and of course the witches’. To assist teachers in preparing their students to have the best possible experience at the theatre, MTC Education has prepared the following mini-lessons based on three themes in Macbeth.


Macbeth: I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself and falls on th’ other.
(Act 1, Scene 7)

In this line, Macbeth is describing his lack of motivation, and the fact that the only thing driving him at present is ambition. He recognises at this point in the play that ambition can make people rush and make mistakes, so he is almost pre-empting the disasters to come. A little-known psychiatrist, Elvin Semrad, once said: ‘You can achieve whatever you want, as long as you are willing to pay the price.’

Discuss: What does Macbeth want, and what is the cost of his ambition? Read the play and track the number of deaths that occur. How might these deaths be presented on stage? If there are realistic fight sequences, what kind of preparation might the actors have had to undertake?


Macbeth: Better be with the dead, whom we, to gain our peace, have sent to peace, than on the torture of the mind to lie in restless ecstasy. (Act 3, Scene 2)

For a play bookended by battles and with an omnipresent climate of war, it is to be expected that such conflict will wear down some of the characters in this play. Investigate PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), a form of anxiety disorder that is often exhibited in soldiers returning from war.

Discuss: Which characters in Macbeth might be suffering from PTSD, and how might this be demonstrated?


Macbeth: From this moment the very firstlings of my heart shall be the firstlings of my hand. And even now, to crown my thoughts with acts, be it thought and done: the castle of Macduff I will surprise, seize upon Fife, give to th’ edge o’ th’ sword his wife, his babes, and all unfortunate souls that trace him in his line.
(Act 4, Scene 2)

Macbeth commits some unspeakable acts in the play, including the murder of Duncan, and condemning Lady Macduff and her children to death. Simon Phillips (Director) believes that ‘the play is predicated on an acceptance that people are violent.’

‘Violence doesn’t make them good or bad per se. In fact, one could argue that what makes the play a tragedy is that it’s about a great soldier, who makes a terrible leader. I think what the play examines is what makes people commit a crime against humanity and the ramifications of that crime.’ – Simon Phillips

Sadly, there are many real-world examples of leaders committing atrocities on their own people. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been denounced for the chemical bombing on his own people that killed dozens, including children.

Discuss: How might the violent events in the script be presented on stage? Make predictions about what will happen in the MTC production. As the play is set in 2017, what kind of weapons might be seen on stage?

More Information

Macbeth plays at Southbank Theatre from 5 June. Learn more about school bookings here.

Once Macbeth opens, a detailed Education Pack will be available to download here.

If you have questions about bringing students to Macbeth, please contact MTC Education at education@mtc.com.au.

Published on 26 May 2017