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A Lesson Plan Teaching Symbolism in Shakespeare's Macbeth

Updated on August 11, 2012
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare is, of course, renowned for his sophisticated use of symbolism. His tragedy Macbeth is one of many examples illustrating the depth of his symbolism, and as readers of Shakespeare it’s imperative to understand his symbolic structure as it allows us a greater understanding of theme.

The following lesson plan is used to teach symbolism in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. It’s a difficult lesson and is, thus, appropriate for high school juniors or seniors who have practice analyzing texts.

This lesson plan requires students to create a graphic organizer, in this case a bubble map, in order to aid their understanding of Shakespeare’s use of symbolism. They will then closely examine the text of Macbeth in order to understand how a specific symbol functions in the greater context of the tragedy.

Lesson Plan


Listed below are some of the most frequently occurring words in the text of Macbeth. This is no accident: these words are symbols, all of which contribute to the theme of the drama. Remember that a symbol is something that stands for something else.

Word # of occurrences

Hand(s) 33

Sleep 26

Blood 23

Night 22

Chose two of the above words/symbols. With a partner complete the following steps:

  1. Create a bubble map for each of the symbols you’ve selected. Write your symbol in the middle of the map. (For example: “Sleep”)
  2. Stemming from this center bubble, you’ll fill your map with at least five quotes (properly cited) from the text. These quotes must contain your symbol. For example: Lady Macbeth says, “The sleeping and the dead are but as pictures” (330).
  3. Stemming from each of these quote bubbles, you and your partner should attempt to attach some sort of MEANING to the use of your symbol. That is: if a symbol is something that stands for something else, what is the “something else” in this quote? What does your symbol really represent here?
  4. Lastly, at the bottom of each map, write a sentence in which you summarize how your symbol operates in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. For example, “Based on the quotes we analyzed, _____________(your symbol) seems to be associated with__________________.”


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    • sriparna profile image

      Sriparna 4 years ago from New Delhi

      Thanks for the idea, how to teach symbolism in Shakespeare's Macbeth. I somehow feel if you add some more examples, that is some answers of what the symbols of sleep will be, it would be a great help for students and teachers. In India students learn Shakespeare's Macbeth in high school, they analyze and interpret in various ways, so a little more details on symbolism will be really useful. I am a science educator but would recommend your hub to my colleagues who teach English Literature.

    • profile image

      gekeye 4 years ago

      Again, very good ideas and lessons. Other symbols worthy of exploration might be daggers, including the the phantom dagger, ghost of Banquo, and--my favorite Macbeth's head on a stick at play's end!

    • iheartkafka profile image
      Author

      iheartkafka 4 years ago

      Great suggestions, gekeye! I agree...daggers are prominent throughout. Thanks for the thought.

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