Macbeth and the Great Chain – task planning

As I consider my eventual IGCSE coursework essay for Year 10 this year, I am working through ideas for myself. Here I am looking at the material I will want students to explore to enable them to access an essay on the effect of breaking the Great Chain…

Introduction: Students will need to show briefly how the Great Chain works and the degree of belief in 16/17C. This should be linked to 1606 context AO4 is examined in the Heritage essay…) by means of mention of Guy Fawkes and the palpable sense of breaking of the Great Chain which would have pervaded in England at the time. Context cannot be bolted on and all comment must be relevant.

After this, students can show evidence of change having taken place around the time of and following the murder of Duncan.
They have around 1500 words for the task and will need to remain clearly focused…
My specific areas would be:


Much can be made of the desire of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth to operate at night. Thus adjectives such as “dark” and “black” carry symbolic power – night as a time of evil. Students can look for evidence of darkness being chosen over daylight to illustrate this – 1.7″stars hide your fires./Let not light see my black and deep desires” would be a good start. Evidence can be drawn from both M and LM as well as from 3.1 & 3.4 when Banquo is killed and Macbeth seems to have shortened the day.

Macbeth, subdivided into Gender and The Devil

Macbeth Gender breaks down again:

Comparison tables can be drawn up to consider Macbeth in 1.2 and 1.4 being seen as a Good MAN before he loses his nerve and being seen as a weakling by Lady Macbeth. I would want to see evidence from 1.7,2.2 and act 3 to support the idea that his actions have caused him to lose his manhood. Evidence from Malcolm/Macduff in 4.3 can be used to reinforce what masculine virtue should look like… contextual comment can be used to link into a discussion of LM losing her femininity and taking male attributes. Thus one can show an inversion of the natural order of all beings is established in the first half of the play.

Macbeth Devil can be developed from LM’s “be the serpent under it” quotation in Act 1 in order to establish a Macbeth/satan link reinforced by Macduff’s ‘Hell-hound” in Act 5. I would want students ot use the Porter in 2.3 to briefly establish both the metaphor of the castle as Hell and by extension Macbeth as the Devil ruling Hell and showing context in the discussion of events of 1606 and the trial of equivocators like farmer Garnet. Equivocation is the action of the blaspheming – this play is full of it, form the witches, through all Macbeth’s actions in Acts 2 and 3 and even in Malcolm in 4.3.

I will he drawing up a short booklet to help students gather information and to assist with the early preparation of this task and will publish it here in another post.