Macbeth – Planning Overview

Written by Dan

Last updated

Planning is critical if you’re looking to delve into William Shakespeare’s Macbeth with your students. Crafting the ideal learning experience for your class can be overwhelming- but it doesn’t have to be! This blog post will provide an overview of all the steps necessary for teaching a successful unit on Macbeth in your classroom.

With our guidance and resources, you’ll be able to build a productive room where students feel safe taking risks while they explore new ideas and learn vital skills such as critical thinking and close reading. So get ready- buckle up, sharpen those pencils, and let’s dive in!

A Breakdown Of The Story In Macbeth By Act

Act 1:

  • The play begins with three witches meeting in a stormy heath and discussing their plans to meet with Macbeth.
  • We are then introduced to Macbeth and his friend Banquo as they return from battle.
  • The witches prophesy that Macbeth will become king, which sparks his ambition.
  • Lady Macbeth is introduced as she learns about the prophecy and encourages her husband to murder King Duncan so that he can take the throne.

Act 2:

  • Macbeth murders King Duncan in his sleep with the help of Lady Macbeth.
  • He becomes wracked with guilt and paranoia after committing the murder.

Act 3:

  • Macbeth has Banquo murdered because he fears that Banquo’s descendants will take the throne.
  • At a banquet, Macbeth sees Banquo’s ghost and becomes increasingly unstable.

Act 4:

  • The witches show Macbeth a series of apparitions that tell him he cannot be defeated until Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane Castle.
  • He orders the murder of Macduff’s family after hearing that he has fled to England.

Act 5:

  • Lady Macbeth sleepwalks and reveals her guilt over Duncan’s murder before dying offstage.
  • Malcolm leads an army against Macbeth, who is now isolated and paranoid.
  • In the final battle, Birnam Wood is revealed to have been used as camouflage by Malcolm’s army, fulfilling one of the witch’s prophecies.
  • Macduff kills Macbeth in combat, ending his reign of terror.

Key Themes And Characters In Macbeth


  1. Ambition: Macbeth’s ambition to become king leads him to commit murder and ultimately causes his downfall.
  2. Guilt: Both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are consumed by guilt after committing murder, leading to their eventual unravelling.
  3. Betrayal: Characters betray each other throughout the play, including Macbeth’s betrayal of Duncan and Banquo and Lady Macbeth’s betrayal of her morality.
  4. Appearance vs Reality: Characters often present themselves as one thing while hiding their true intentions or feelings.


  1. Macbeth: The play’s protagonist is consumed by his ambition for power, leading him to commit murder and ultimately causing his downfall.
  2. Lady Macbeth: The wife of Macbeth who encourages him to pursue his ambitions but becomes wracked with guilt over their actions.
  3. Banquo: A friend of Macbeth who is murdered because he threatens Macbeth’s reign.
  4. Duncan: The King of Scotland who Macbeth murders for him to take the throne.
  5. The Witches: Supernatural beings who prophesy events that set the play’s events in motion.

Examples Of Betrayal In Macbeth

  1. Macbeth’s betrayal of King Duncan: Macbeth is initially loyal to King Duncan and fights valiantly for him. However, his ambition ultimately leads him to betray the king by murdering him in his sleep.
  2. Lady Macbeth’s betrayal of her morality: While Lady Macbeth initially encourages her husband to pursue his ambitions, she becomes wracked with guilt over their actions and ultimately takes her own life.
  3. Macbeth’s betrayal of Banquo: After becoming king, Macbeth fears Banquo’s descendants will take the throne, so he orders Banquo’s murder.
  4. The Thane of Cawdor’s betrayal of Scotland: The Thane of Cawdor betrays Scotland by joining forces with the Norwegian army against King Duncan.
  5. Malcolm and Donalbain’s betrayal of their father: After their father is murdered, Malcolm and Donalbain flee Scotland, leaving it vulnerable to attack.


The theme of guilt is a crucial aspect of character development in Macbeth. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are consumed by guilt after committing murder, leading to their eventual unravelling.

At the beginning of the play, Macbeth is portrayed as an honourable and valiant warrior loyal to his king. However, his ambition ultimately leads him to betray King Duncan by murdering him in his sleep. After the murder, Macbeth becomes consumed by guilt and paranoia. He sees visions of Banquo’s ghost and becomes increasingly reckless in his actions, leading to his eventual downfall.

Similarly, Lady Macbeth encourages her husband to pursue his ambitions but becomes wracked with guilt over their actions. She cannot wash away the metaphorical bloodstains from her hands and eventually descends into madness.

The theme of guilt also plays a role in the development of other characters. For example, Macduff experiences survivor’s guilt after his family is murdered on orders from Macbeth. This motivates him to seek revenge against Macbeth and restore order to Scotland.

The theme of guilt is crucial to character development in Macbeth because it shows how characters’ actions have consequences they cannot escape from. It reveals the complex nature of human morality and how even those who commit heinous acts can still feel remorse for their actions.

Symbols In Macbeth

  1. Blood – Blood is a recurring symbol throughout the play and represents guilt, violence, and death. It appears after each murder and haunts both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.
  2. The dagger that Macbeth sees before he murders King Duncan symbolises his ambition and guilt. It represents his desire for power and the violence he must commit to achieving it.
  3. Crown – The crown represents power, authority, and kingship. It is what motivates Macbeth to murder to become king.
  4. Weather – The weather serves as a symbol of the chaos unleashed by Macbeth’s actions. Thunderstorms and other natural phenomena occur throughout the play, disrupting the natural order.
  5. Sleep – Sleep symbolises innocence and peace, contrasting with the violence and guilt pervading the play. Both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth struggle with sleeplessness due to their crimes.
  6. Clothing – Clothing is used as a symbol throughout the play to represent different characters’ identities or moral states. For example, when Lady Macbeth tells her husband to “look like the innocent flower but be the serpent under it,” she urges him to use clothing as a disguise.
  7. Witches – The witches are symbolic figures in the play, representing darkness, chaos, and evil forces beyond human control.

Teaching Opportunities and Ideas

  1. Foreshadowing: Macbeth is full of foreshadowing, from the witches’ prophecies to the recurring images of blood and darkness. For a lesson on foreshadowing, students could identify examples of foreshadowing in the play and discuss how they contribute to the overall mood and themes. For lower-ability learners, provide a list of models to choose from and guide them through analysing each. For greater-depth learners, challenge them to find more subtle or complex examples of foreshadowing.
  2. Imagery: Shakespeare uses vivid imagery throughout Macbeth to create a sense of atmosphere and convey more profound meanings. Students could analyse specific images used in the play (such as blood or clothing) and discuss their symbolic significance. For lower-ability learners, you could provide guided questions to help them understand the meaning behind each image. For greater-depth learners, you could challenge them to explore how different characters use imagery uniquely.
  3. Irony: There are several instances of irony in Macbeth, such as when Lady Macbeth tells her husband to “look like the innocent flower but be the serpent under it.” A lesson on irony could involve identifying different types of irony (verbal or situational) and finding examples in the play. For lower-ability learners, provide clear definitions and examples of each kind of irony. For greater-depth learners, you could have them create examples of satire based on what they’ve learned.
  4. Symbolism: Macbeth is rich with symbolism, from the witches’ cauldron to Lady Macbeth’s “damned spot” on her hand. A lesson on symbolism would involve identifying different symbols used in the play and discussing their meanings. For lower-ability learners, you could provide visual aids or simplified explanations for each symbol. For greater-depth learners, you could have them explore how symbols change over time or across cultures.
  5. Soliloquy: Several characters in Macbeth deliver soliloquies – speeches given by a character alone onstage – that reveal their inner thoughts and motivations. A soliloquy lesson would involve analysing these speeches for tone, theme, and characterisation. For lower-ability learners, you could provide scaffolded questions that guide them through understanding each speech’s purpose and meaning. For greater-depth learners, you could challenge them to compare different characters’ soliloquies or write them from another character’s perspective.

Lesson Plan Based On Macbeth

Lesson Title: Exploring Symbols in Macbeth


Students will be able to identify and analyse symbols used in Macbeth and understand their significance to the play’s themes and characters.


  • Copies of Macbeth (or access to an online version)
  • Whiteboard or chart paper
  • Markers
  • Handout with symbol definitions and examples


Introduction (10 minutes):

Begin by asking students if they have ever encountered symbols in literature. Discuss signs they may know, such as the American flag or a heart representing love. Explain that today, you will explore some symbols in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

Symbol Discussion (20 minutes):

Provide each student with a handout listing different symbols used throughout the play with their definitions and examples from the text. Go through each symbol individually, discussing its meaning, how it is used throughout the play, and what it represents. As you discuss each symbol, write down key points on a whiteboard or chart paper for students to refer to.

Small Group Analysis (25 minutes):

Divide students into small groups of 3-4 people and assign them a specific symbol from the play. Have them work together to analyse how this particular symbol contributes to the play’s overall meaning and themes. They should consider questions such as:

  • What does this symbol represent?
  • How is it used throughout the text?
  • How does it contribute to our understanding of character motivations or themes?

Group Presentations (15 minutes):

Have each group present their analysis of their assigned symbol to the class. Encourage other students to ask questions or add additional insights.

Conclusion (10 minutes):

Summarise what was discussed during class about symbolism in Macbeth, emphasising how these symbols contribute to our understanding of character motivations, themes, and deeper meanings within the text.


For lower-ability learners, provide additional support by giving detailed definitions for each symbol or guiding them through analysis questions step-by-step. For higher-ability learners, challenge them by assigning more complex symbols or asking them to connect different symbols within the text.

Provide opportunities for creative expression, such as drawing illustrations depicting specific scenes where a particular symbol appears or writing short stories using one or more of these literary devices.

Other Popular Shakespeare Plays

  1. Romeo and Juliet
  2. Hamlet
  3. Macbeth
  4. A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  5. The Taming of the Shrew
  6. Othello
  7. King Lear
  8. Twelfth Night, or What You Will
  9. The Merchant of Venice
  10. Much Ado About Nothing*

Website Resources – “5 Ways to Teach Macbeth Better” This article provides five tips for teaching Macbeth more effectively, including using images and videos to engage students, focusing on key themes such as ambition and guilt, and exploring the historical context of the play. The article also suggests incorporating drama activities and creative writing assignments into the lesson plan.


Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) – “Macbeth Education Resources” The RSC offers a variety of educational resources for teaching Macbeth, including lesson plans, activity ideas, and video clips from RSC productions. These resources are designed for different age levels and can be used in classroom settings or for independent study.


Mindroar Teaching Resources – “Teaching Resources for Macbeth” This website offers various teaching resources for Macbeth, including PowerPoint presentations, worksheets, quizzes, and essay prompts. The resources cover multiple aspects of the play, such as character analysis, themes, motifs and symbols.


About The Author

I'm Dan Higgins, one of the faces behind The Teaching Couple. With 15 years in the education sector and a decade as a teacher, I've witnessed the highs and lows of school life. Over the years, my passion for supporting fellow teachers and making school more bearable has grown. The Teaching Couple is my platform to share strategies, tips, and insights from my journey. Together, we can shape a better school experience for all.






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