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Shakespeare plays can be a challenge to teach, but they also give teachers the opportunity to teach a range of skills and concepts. The variety in technique, language, characters, allusions etc. within the plays provides a myriad of teaching approaches. Every year I teach my senior English classes the tragedy Macbeth. At the end of the unit I feel as if my students enjoyed the play, and yet I feel that their learning lacks a certain depth of knowledge. My yearly dissatisfaction led to the birth of this unit. It centers on two plays by William Shakespeare, first the tragedy, Macbeth, and then a comedy, The Taming of the Shrew. The addition of the comedy is meant to add the depth of learning which I crave for my students. This will allow us to study the conventions of two Shakespearean genres, and examine the effect of those conventions on the characters. Specifically we will look at how the genre influences the gender roles in the play. Finally, I designed this unit so that a teacher can use the information here to guide his/her work with any Shakespeare comedy or tragedy.
Genre is an interesting concept to examine with any text. Many students have been trained by teachers to identify a variety of genres, but few students seem to think about how the conventions of a particular genre function. Take for example the "bad guy" of the mystery novel. It is understood by the writer and the reader that this character will be introduced early in the novel. This way the reader is given a chance to consider if he/she is the criminal. Any mystery writer who breaks convention and does not introduce the character within at least the first half of the book is cursed by the reader as a cheat. While we all know about this convention of the mystery genre, few of us consider what this convention forces within the text. What kind of character must it be? What kind of relationship will that character have with the protagonist? How long has the protagonist known this person? These problems and many others must be solved in a specific way to meet the needs of the genre. The reader wants to try to guess who the bad guy really is, but it must be a believable answer and not too easy to figure out. The conventions of the genre force the writer to create a certain kind of character who then must play a certain role. This is how genre works. It is a title for a series of conventions and the reader, or in the case of a Shakespeare play the audience, expects those conventions to be adhered to. This concept forms the basis of this unit. While learning the conventions of Shakespearean tragedy and comedy, the students will examine how those conventions force characters of a specific gender to behave in certain ways. It is my belief that in most cases the way men and women think and behave in Shakespearean comedy and tragedy is decided by the conventions of the genre.
Interestingly enough, the two plays I have chosen to teach seem to flout the conventions of genre. It is true that Shakespeare's plays overall break convention, yet even Shakespeare adhered to the basics of the genres of comedy and tragedy. While little is known about his life or education, his plays seem to indicate that he at least had indirect knowledge of Aristole's The Poetics and Greek and Roman theatre. Even with his knowledge about the traditions of certain genres, it also seems clear that he tried to reinvent the genres to a certain extent. The Taming of the Shrew and Macbeth are plays where, when considering gender, many believe the characters break out of the constraints of genre. This problem is actually one of the reasons I wanted to work with these plays in my classroom. I want my students to recognize the obvious problems Lady Macbeth, Macbeth, Kate, and Petruchio pose when considering the influence of genre on gender roles. Close examination of these characters will force a close examination of the function of genre. Other plays follow along rather easily with the conventions of genre and may not create the opportunity for deep analysis and questioning that Macbeth and Taming do (Romeo and Juliet being the one exception to this rule.). Deep analysis, questioning, and depth of knowledge are the motivations behind this unit, so that is why these plays, which seem to work against my theory, have been chosen as the focus. It is also important to note that while I as the classroom teacher firmly believe my theory is correct and works when applied to these plays, I would welcome a student who firmly believed the opposite and could support his or her opinion. When I began theorizing about this unit I began with the thought of sending my students on a quest to see if there was an answer to my question of "Does genre influence gender roles?" but after my research I have come to firmly believe that this is not really a question any longer. It seems clear to me that gender roles are defined by the conventions of genre. During classroom instruction I will still pose the question as the overarching focus of the unit. However, it is my hope that our discussion and work with the plays will lead to a realization that genre does in fact influence the behavior and thoughts of the male and female characters in the play. For the culminating project for this unit, I will ask the students to write an essay examining how one of the characters in either play is defined by the genre, but I am open to students making the opposite case. This unit is really about getting the students to think about genre and the function of certain conventions, as well as to consider how gender functions within a play. Either stance the students take will have them carefully examining both of these ideas, and as a teacher I want to remain flexible and encourage creative thinking in my classroom.
Shakespearean Tragedy and Comedy
Before beginning to look at Macbeth and The Taming of the Shrew it is important to develop a sense of each genre. While I work through the conventions of the genre, I shall here reference various plays within the genre to demonstrate how the conventions influence gender roles across Shakespeare's plays. This is important for several reasons. First, when teaching this concept to students it will be helpful to illustrate points by making references to other works they may be familiar with, but which can help the argument along even if they are not. Secondly, this exercise demonstrates the validity of the unit concept while at the same time reviewing the all—important elements of each genre. Finally, I want to make this unit accessible to as many teachers as possible, so this section will illustrate how this unit can be adapted to other plays that one might teach instead of Macbeth and The Taming of the Shrew.
When teaching genre one must classify the time period to ensure that the proper rules apply. Genre conventions evolve over time. So when I speak of comedy or tragedy in this unit it refers precisely to Shakespearean comedy and tragedy. Working with these two opposing genres will accentuate how the constraints of genre force characters to behave in certain ways. Even when a woman—Lady Macbeth, for example—seems to push against those constraints, the genre does eventually put her back in line, so to speak. Helping students understand that comedy and tragedy work as opposites is a good way to begin discussing the genres. Susan Snyder believes that "Comedy and tragedy, being opposed ways of apprehending the real world, project their own opposing worlds. The tragic world is governed by inevitability, and its highest value is personal integrity. In the comic world 'evitablity' is assumed; instead of heroic or obstinate adherence to a single course, comedy endorses opportunistic shifts and realistic accommodations as means to an end of new social health."1 Therefore in tragedy certain actions lead to their inevitable conclusion. There is no opportunity for the rules of behavior and natural human flexibility, together with arbitrary intervention, to bring about a change that helps save the characters. The flexibility of one genre and rigid structure of the other certainly affect how the characters act and think. Snyder's thoughts on tragedy and comedy do indicate that character is influenced by genre, and upon closer examination it will become clearer that the behavior of men and women in each genre differs greatly owing to the conventions of the genre, however. In order to demonstrate this, the elements of each genre must be identified, and then the relationship between these elements and gender roles be examined.
Shakespearean Comedy and Gender
Initially it is not clear how much of a role the genre of comedy plays in how male and female characters behave and think. When asked to explain what happens in a Shakespearean comedy most people will say disorder, reconciliation, and marriage. These three elements are easy to recognize within Shakespeare's various comedies. All of these plays begin by showing us a scene of disorder that just seems to accelerate as the play continues. Girls are running around dressed like men, potions end up going to the wrong person, and families are at odds with each other. By the end of the play somehow this disorder works itself out, reconciliations occur, and that all—important series of marriages happens. As You Like It begins with Oliver trying to hurt or even kill his brother Orlando and ends with the brothers being friends and marrying two cousins. In addition to Orlando's marriage to Rosalind and Oliver's marriage to Celia, Shakespeare throws in the marriage of a shepherdess, Phebe, to a shepherd. A Midsummer Night's Dream's feud between fairy king and queen Oberon and Titania wreaks havoc on the relationships between a group of men and women in the forest. By the end all of the mayhem dissolves, Demetrius is in love with Helena and Lysander with Hermia, and the couples head off to get married. The Merchant of Venice has much disruption over an elopement and a debt which is not repaid, but once one character narrowly escapes death it ends with the consummation of the marriages of Portia and Bassianio and Nerissa and Gratiano. Lawrence Danson, a very helpful source for defining the basics of Shakespearean genres, states that "for Shakespeare, it seems, a comedy is a play whose plot aims to achieve marriage and social harmony."2 This is the general concept upon which all of the other more specific conventions of the comedy are built. Since marriage and coupling are at the center of comedy, it makes sense to assume that gender roles will be affected by the conventions of the genre. In order to make it to the marriages and restore harmony and order to society, however, there must be some disorder. "In comedy the beginning is stormy, the end calm."3 As You Like It begins by presenting a situation of total disorder. Duke Senior has been banished to the forest of Arden by his brother Duke Frederick and Orlando is suffering under the poor treatment of his older brother Oliver. Despite all of this strife, the play ends with harmony between the pairs of brothers in addition to the three marriages.
It is how Shakespeare's characters get from point A to point B, and the rules that apply, which make for an interesting examination of gender. In my classroom I teach the basic concept of stormy to calm first, and then look at the more specific conventions of comedy. The first element of comedy I would like to discuss is also one which I feel is the most important. Comedy is filled with mistaken identity and it is this question of identity which is an important convention of the genre. "The identity that is discovered in the unfolded plot . . . is an identity that exists by virtue of relationships with other characters whose identities are also grounded in the relationship"4 So in order to create harmony at the end of the play the characters must find their other half, and this of course generally results in a series of marriages. In Two Gentlemen of Verona, Proteus begins the play swearing his love to Julia, yet when he is sent to Milan he quickly forgets about Julia when he meets Silvia and begins behaving in a rather horrendous manner. Proteus betrays his friend Valentine, gives away a ring given to him by Julia, and even attempts to rape Silvia. This behavior begins when he is parted from Julia. His relationship with her grounds him and makes him a good man, but when they are separated his behavior changes dramatically. While he is in Milan Julia comes to find him, but she is disguised as a page named Sebastian. She is appalled at his behavior, and does not know what to think. While Julia remains in disguise, hiding her true self, Proteus's behavior continues to worsen[,] leading to the attempted rape. When Julia finally reveals herself to him, he regains himself and rediscovers his love for her. Despite his betrayal Julia and Proteus end the play together. While Julia's forgiveness may shock students, it is required by the conventions of the genre. The pair must be reunited in order to regain their true identities and to restore harmony. Julia is a character who must be forgiving and kind. While we might want her to verbally abuse Proteus and leave him in the forest by himself, she can not become that kind of woman. She must remain loyal to the love she felt at the beginning of the play. Proteus also must stop behaving in such a disgusting manner. Even though Proteus may have achieved some power or discovered he was rather good at being bad, Shakespeare could not let the character continue in that fashion. Proteus had to reform and reform quickly in order to fulfill the needs of the genre.
Obviously because of all of this disorder and conflict in a comedy sometimes characters are in danger of suffering severe physical harm, but the conventions of comedy rescue them. Characters in comedy can be hit and hit again without suffering irreparable harm because the genre gives the character immunity from harm.5 This is clear in As You Like It when both Oliver and Orlando survive an attack by a lion and in The Comedy of Errors when poor Dromio suffers a series of beatings. The immunity granted to characters in a comedy allows the characters behave in outrageous ways but still remain safe. In fact, "Comedy is dedicated to the avoidance of death."6 So even when it seems as if the audience is about to see the last of a character, that character must be saved. Death would not lead to social harmony, hence the characters cannot be killed. Orlando sees that his brother is going to be attacked by a lion: "Twice he did turn his back and purposed so; / But kindness, nobler ever than revenge, and nature, stronger than his just occasion, / Made him give battle to the lioness."7 Orlando has suffered his brother's mistreatment, but the conventions of the genre require him to save Oliver. Even though he turns away twice he must come back and save his brother in order to begin to turn the story toward its harmonious end. In a tragedy a male character in Orlando's position would have allowed the death to occur. Additionally, the idea of women misbehaving and making their husband a cuckold is little more than a joke easily dismissed in comedy. "We are titillated with reminders that women might be unfaithful; the cuckoldry jokes of Much Ado About Nothing and Portia's ring trick in The Merchant of Venice remind us of what could happen. But it never does. The women are as transparently faithful as the plot is transparently comic."8 This is clearly not the case in tragedy: Desdemona in Othello is as faithful as any comic heroine but the possibility that she could be otherwise leads to her murder. So what might be a dangerous situation for a woman in tragedy is just good fun in comedy. This is demonstrated when Portia shows her husband the ring he gave away to a "man" and proclaims "I had it of him. Pardon me, Bassanio, For by this ring the doctor lay with me."9 She pretends to be confessing adultery to her husband, but she does not fear any reprisal because comedy ensures her safety. If Desdemona had pretended to admit to adultery, even though she too was innocent, her death would have come yet more swiftly. So while Portia may be bold and powerful in her comedy, Desdemona must be a fearful victim in her tragedy.
This leads to a specific convention of the comedy genre relating to the characterization of women. The women in comedy behave in ways traditionally associated with male roles in the play. Aside from simply dressing like men, they also are given a strong voice within the play. "Female characters themselves exercise what, under other conditions, would appear as conventionally masculine authority…In each case, the comic heroine, whether literally disguised as a man or not, acts on her own behalf but also as the agent of authority which was frequently, in a world outside of comedy, gendered as masculine."10 This interesting element of comedy makes the female characters often more interesting or fuller than the male characters. Portia in The Merchant of Venice comes in and saves Antonio from death, an action her new husband Bassanio is incapable of performing himself. When Bassanio leaves Portia in Belmont to go save his friend, she does not seem to think he is capable of the rescue. Portia and her waiting woman Nerissa quickly set their own plan in motion themselves. Portia's speech to Shylock about the limitations on his pound of flesh works where the men have failed. "Take then thy bond, take thou pound of flesh; / But in the cutting it, if thou dost shed / One drop of Christian blood, they lands and goods / Are by the laws of Venice confiscated / Unto the state of Venice."11 This short speech reveals Portia's cleverness and knowledge of the law, qualities traditionally given to men. Yet since this is a comedy Portia is the one with the intelligence and power and the men bumble around and create the problems. Her husband Bassiano's attempts to rescue his friend Antonio at his most convincing are "For thy three thousand ducats here is six,"12 a simple bribe of additional money. Even that idea was not his own. Portia told him to do that before he left her in Belmont. This convention of comedy demonstrates the effect the conventions of the genre have on the gender roles. Unfortunately the result is many witty and interesting women marrying rather boring or otherwise unworthy men.
Tragedy and Gender Roles
As Snyder pointed out, tragedy and comedy are opposing ways of examining the world. Northrop Frye takes it a step further and says that "tragedy is really implication or uncompleted comedy, [and] comedy contains a potential for tragedy within itself."13 This is clear from the dangerous situations characters face within comedy; however, as I pointed out, the genre of comedy saves these characters from a tragic end. The genre of tragedy does not save its characters; it follows them down the path to their inevitable destruction.
Tragedy has even stronger effects on gender roles than comedy. Several of the basic conventions of the genre pertain specifically to one type of gender. This makes it easy to present the genre to an English class and ask the students to examine how the gender roles are affected by the scope of the genre. One of the first things an audience can note about a Shakespearean tragedy is the title, which is generally a man's name. "There are few if any tragic heroines. Women suffer in tragedies, but the very titles, which are men's names, tell us that tragedy, in comparison to comedy, is a man's world."14 This is made obvious by Hamlet and King Lear. While both Hamlet and King Lear have very interesting female characters, those characters are not at the center of the tragedy. Hamlet is an example of one of the "distinct, irreplaceable individuals at the centers of their tragedies."15 Hamlet is the driving force within the play. The ghost of the king has come to see Hamlet, and it is Hamlet who is tasked with avenging his father's death. Hamlet is the center of the action, and the other characters react to those actions.
Other characters beyond the tragic hero can contribute to the action of the story (Iago in Othello for example) and have a strong voice in the story. The exception to this rule is the female characters. Women are generally silenced in a tragedy.16 A female character is not given the voice she has in comedy, and this severely limits the character's behaviors and thoughts. Desdemona is clearly not guilty of adultery, yet when Othello accuses her she is given very little chance to defend herself. Othello is allowed to rail at her, strike her in public, and say things like "I cry you mercy then. / I took you for that cunning whore of Venice / That married with Othello."17 Othello ignores her and never allows her to say much in her own defense. His comments and behavior silence her, and when he smothers her at the end he literally does silence her. When he tells her he plans to kill her she pleads, "But while I say one prayer."18 He refuses her request to speak and smothers her. It seems as if Desdemona will have a chance at a having a voice when she surprises him by reviving suddenly with Emilia in the room. Desdemona's final words in response to Emilia's request for the murderer's name are, bewilderingly, "Nobody—I myself. Farewell. Commend me to my kind lord. O, farewell."19 Othello's suppression of Desdemona's thoughts and voice while she was alive seems to follow her into death. She is silent about her husband's violence because she is a faithful wife to the end and an innocent, but also because tragedy does not allow her to have much of a voice. This concept is also made abundantly clear in Hamlet through Ophelia and Gertrude. Ophelia is only given a voice when she goes insane, and Gertrude is not even allowed to say the name of her first husband's murderer even though she probably figured out it was Claudius. Laertes is the one who is allowed to explain the plot against Hamlet. Before his death he is given the voice that Gertrude and Ophelia are denied because of the conventions of the genre.
An additional element of the tragic genre is the tragic character's capacity for self examination. Danson believes that "Shakespeare's tragic characters exhibit a degree of self-awareness beyond anything his immediate antecedents in the genre could prepare us for; and we'll notice the development of a language to express, or create, that psychological awareness."20 The tragic hero generally goes through a deep examination of who they are and the decisions they make. Feminist critic Linda Bamber agrees with Danson's thoughts. She states, "The tragic hero explains and justifies himself, he finds fault with himself, he insists on himself, he struggles to be true to himself. The most obvious example is Hamlet, but all the heroes have moments of dissatisfied self scrutiny."21 Lear does this several times in the play. He is continually searching for his identity. "Does anyone here know me? …Who is it that can tell me who I am?"22 Lear is constantly questioning his identity in the play, but this question never arises for the women in the play. "Certainly none of the women in the tragedies—Cordelia, Desdemona, Lady Macbeth, Ophelia—worries or changes her mind about who she is. One of these women, Cleopatra, seems protean; but it is not she who worries about her changes—it is Antony, and us."23 This is further evidence that the tragedy genre is a male dominated genre and influences the behaviors and thoughts of the characters based on gender. The women of the tragedies do not demonstrate the deep psychological awareness of the men, nor does the genre allow them to do so. Danson notes that a tragic hero "can search within himself creating an illusion of psychic depth, of psychological distinctiveness which is simultaneously his privilege and frailty."24 I think it goes beyond illusion, especially when considering Hamlet. His depth of thought and feeling dominate the tragedy and almost overtake it. At the end it is clear that this characteristic is, as Danson says, Hamlet's frailty.
A final quality of tragedy that is connected to gender is the complexity of the characters. Many of the tragic heroes are not pure heroes, yet they are the center of the tragedy nonetheless. This relates back to the often misinterpreted concept of hamartia. The hamartia is "the error, frailty, mistaken judgment, or misstep through which the fortunes of the hero of a tragedy are reversed."25 This is what causes the downfall of the character, but it is important to note that this is often misinterpreted as a "tragic flaw" within the character. Hamartia is not simply a tragic flaw. "Harmartia can be an unwitting, even necessary, misstep in doing rather than an error in character. Hamartia may be the result of bad judgment, bad character, ignorance, inherited weakness, accident, or any of many other possible causes. It must, however, express itself through a definite action or failure to act."26 The hamartia of tragedy allows for a complexity of character not really seen in comedy. Furthermore it must be noted that the hamartia applies only to the tragic hero, therefore it is only the men that have this complexity. Tragic heroes are not simply good or bad, they are human and make errors in judgment which shape who they are and how they arrive at their end. Even when Lear's actions have resulted in his being stranded outside in a storm he rails "I am a man / more sinned against than sinning."27 This reveals that he still persists in not acknowledging his own problems; however, by the end of the play it is clear he is aware of what he has done to himself and Cordelia. His final words as he looks at Cordelia's body are "Do you see this? Look on her! Look her lips, / Look there, look there—"28 and then he dies. At the moment of death he calls attention to her mouth because he knew she spoke the truth and he was the one who silenced her. Despite what Lear does to himself and Cordelia, he is not simply defined by the things that, as Danson says, undermine his character. It is his combination of goodness and weakness that make him tragic and a hero. As in comedy when the women are given a bit more spunk and individuality, the men of tragedy are given the chance to be multifaceted and compelling.
This examination of comedy and tragedy demonstrates how the concept of my unit can be used with a variety of Shakespeare texts. Within my classroom I will use Macbeth and The Taming of the Shrew. Before moving into a detailed examination of how the genre influences the gender roles in those plays I think it is important to discuss how I will translate the complexity of the genre discussion above into an easily digestible format for the classroom. The students I work with are seniors who have had exposure to Shakespeare and they have all passed state standardized exams in reading and writing. However, they are still high school students with a certain set of skills. To help my students grasp these concepts I will give them a handout that lists all of the elements of each genre. Then another handout will have each element listed in chart form. While reading, the students can fill in details from the play that meet each element of the genre. These handouts will allow the students to review the conventions of the genre quickly as well as record moments or characters who demonstrate the conventions in action.
Gender in Macbeth
Macbeth is the tragedy assigned by my curriculum. The dynamic between Lady Macbeth and Macbeth is fascinating, and my students are captivated by the storyline. It is one of the shortest tragedies, and in my experience one of the easiest to teach. Also, when it comes to a focus on gender there is no better play to examine. The play itself seems to pose the question, "What is a man?" Additionally, Lady Macbeth's behavior pushes against the conventions of the genre. However, careful examination shows that this play works within the conventions of the tragic genre to create an incredibly interesting examination of men and women. Finally, the students in my senior classes generally comprehend the basic plot of the play rather quickly, which makes it easy to move directly into analysis. My unit will start with our analysis of this play and then move into our work with comedy.
This unit will have the students doing three basic activities while reading this play. First, while reading the play at home to prepare for class discussion they will keep a double entry journal. This journal will be used every day in class to drive instruction and discussion. Second, all of the students will be expected to participate in discussion and focus that discussion on genre and gender. Finally, groups of students will be assigned scenes to perform in front of the class. These scenes will be chosen based on how they raise issues about gender and genre, and the goal is to use performance to hopefully answer some of these questions. We will work on these activities every day in class in order to teach the students these strategies and reinforce the focus of the unit.
After learning the basic conventions of the genre, we will begin reading the tragedy. One of the first places we will go is the first two scenes of the play. While reading we will look at how the conventions of the genre are put to work in the play. One of the first conventions at work is the demonstration of psychic depth in the character of Macbeth. Immediately upon hearing that he has been named Thane of Cawdor and one of the prophecies has come true he begins musing to himself,
- This supernatural soliciting
- Cannot be ill, cannot be good. If ill,
- Why hath it given me earnest of success,
- Commencing in a truth? I am Thane of Cawdor:
- If good, why do I yield to that suggestion
- Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair
- And make my seated heart knock at my ribs,
- Against the use of nature? Present fears
- Are less than horrible imaginings.
- My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,
- Shakes so my single state of man that function
- Is smothered in surmise, and nothing is
- But what it is not.29
Before moving onto a speech by Lady Macbeth I think it important to first discuss what makes Lady Macbeth unique in tragedy. First I would like to discuss with the students the importance of her name, or lack of name. Lady Macbeth is an exception within the tragedies in that she is the only female character who is not known by her own name. There are Gertrude, Ophelia, Desdemona, Emilia, Cordelia, Regan etc. Shakespeare moves away from this tradition in Macbeth by not giving us the name of the one main female character. In fact, none of the women in this play have names. Other women are the witches, Lady Macduff, and the gentlewoman who attends Lady Macbeth. Where are their names? Their lack of names signals that this play really is about men and defining men. Lady Macbeth with her powerful speeches almost steals the show at the beginning of the play, but she is quickly put back in her place as a tragic woman. Additionally, tragedies are named after the tragic hero, but by giving her the name of her husband Shakespeare is also signaling that she may have a central role in the play. This would seem to break the conventions of genre, and perhaps Shakespeare was trying to do just that. However, I do not think that is the case. In fact I think he designed Lady Macbeth out of necessity. Her actions at the beginning of the play were in response to the character he created in Macbeth. Macbeth is the man who is the tragic hero of the play, yet he is lacking certain characteristics that will enable him to fulfill those obligations. Shakespeare had to create Lady Macbeth in order to ensure Macbeth's plausibility as a tragic hero.
After raising this issue in class it would be time to move to Lady Macbeth's first set of speeches. Her famous "unsex me now" speech in Act I, scene iv shows how she is there to help Macbeth achieve his status as a tragic hero. Many would believe that this speech points out the flaw in my theory about gender and genre; however, I believe it signals a point at which the conventions of the genre are working to correct a mistake in the tragedy. Just before this speech Lady Macbeth is lamenting her husband's lack of wherewithal to support his sense of ambition. "Thou wouldst be great, / Art not without ambition, but without / The illness should attend it."30 These lines demonstrate an awareness of her husband's character that would prevent him from fulfilling not only his ambition, but the conventions of tragedy as well. His speech above demonstrated this fact to the audience already. If he is incapable of the action required of him, then either this will not be a tragedy (or much of a play for that matter), or someone else must act for him or spur him to action. Lady Macbeth, having the same name as her husband, is being given permission in the tragedy to act for him. Her "unsex me now" speech shows her character getting ready to take on Macbeth's role as a tragic hero. It shows her awareness of  her true character, and her awareness that she needs to find a way to be something she is not. "Come , you spirits / That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, / And fill me, from the crown to the toe, top-full / Of direst cruelty! Make thick my blood"31 In this speech she is asking to have her feminine characteristics removed from her. Shakespeare even uses the stresses in the lines to demonstrate that she needs to be something she is not, at least temporarily. The accent on "Make" in the line "Make thick my blood" highlights this need to be changed. It shows a startling awareness of self, a characteristic which is key characteristic for women in tragedy. So this speech is a perfect way to begin the complex discussion about how Lady Macbeth fits into the tragic genre.
After I have read the speech above with students, they may become confused as to how she is fitting in the conventions. Sure, it demonstrates her awareness of self, but it also has her acting more like a tragic hero than a silent woman. This is why the discussion about her name is important for the classroom. It is a way to begin to consider why she is given so much free rein and power at the beginning of the play. As the students read further and see her push Macbeth into the murder they may be confused even further, but once the murder occurs it becomes clear that Lady Macbeth can go no further in this tragedy. She immediately begins to show the effects of character limits in a genre that was stretched to its limit. She almost immediately begins to deflate and lose her voice. She has effectively done her job; she has made the tragic hero take action and begin to control the story.
This change in Macbeth's character begins once the murder of Duncan is discovered. After a night of whining about the murder he quickly changes his tune and controls the situation. He murders the servants and Lady Macbeth faints. This is a wonderful scene to examine with students, and is one that I would like them to perform in front of the class to help visualize the events on stage. Macbeth has just announced that he has killed Duncan's servants, the purported murderers, in a fantastic speech.
- Who can be wise, amazed, temp'rate and furious,
- Loyal and neutral, in a moment? No man.
- The expedition of my violent love
- Outrun the pauser, reason. Here lay Duncan,
- His silver skin laced with his golden blood,
- And his gashed stabs looked like a breach in nature
- For ruin's wasteful entrance: there, the murderers,
- Steeped in the colors of their trade, their daggers
- Unmannerly breeched with gore. Who could refrain,
- That had a heart to love, and in the heart
- Courage to make's love known?32
After the murder of Duncan it is clear that Macbeth no longer needs Lady Macbeth to push him through the tragedy. He takes command of the play and starts to silence her. This is evident in his plan for Banquo's murder. "Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck / Till thou applaud the deed."35 Here he is initiating the action of the play, he is telling her what to do, and he is the one in charge. Earlier in the scene Lady Macbeth implores him not to go after Banquo and Fleance, but he ignores her. This signals the reversal of the characters. Lady Macbeth can begin to function as the traditional female tragic character now that Macbeth has fully accepted the role of the tragic hero. Her faint is incredibly feminine and highlights that despite her speeches to the contrary, she is a woman playing a traditional female role. She has never changed her identity, rather she only became more aware of who she truly is. The fact that she has to take part in the murder of Duncan and put the blood on the servants is something her character cannot get past. Her descent into madness is a reaffirmation that this is a female character with full awareness of herself and her deeds. It is this awareness of what she has done that leads to her insanity. As a character within a tragedy she was temporarily required to stretch the conventions of the genre, and the rest of the things that happen to her within the play are a reflection of this. Additionally, throughout the rest of the play it becomes clear that it is really about Macbeth's greatnesses and weaknesses, his self scrutiny, and his change in character. By the end of the play it is clear that he is aware of how he changed and what he has done to himself when he says to Macduff, "Of all men else I have avoided thee. / But get thee back! My soul is too much charged / With blood of thine already."36
After the murder of Duncan I think most of the discussion in class will focus on Macbeth and how this man works within the tragedy. It will be helpful to keep considering the question posed by the play, "What is a man?" when examining other speeches and scenes with Macbeth. In my classroom the discussions at the beginning of the play will be organized by me and will follow a certain direction, but as the play progresses I expect the students to take the lead about where they want to go with our discussion of genre and gender. Since the students will be creating a double entry journal while reading, I expect the journals to drive our daily discussions.
Gender in The Taming of the Shrew
The Taming of the Shrew is an equally fascinating play to examine from the standpoint of genre and gender. Many people have rather passionate reactions to this play, and I am hoping that my students will have an equally strong response. This play will be taught after Macbeth, but it will not be taught in exactly the same manner. While I will begin by teaching the elements of comedy before the students begin reading, this play will be read independently without as much discussion. Students will continue to keep a double entry journal, but we will not make this play a daily focus in the classroom. It is my goal to start another unit while the students read and work on this play at home. We will spend two consecutive days a week on this book in class; one of those days will be dedicated to discussion and the other to acting out scenes from the play and discussing those scenes at length. The rationale behind this is to have the students take the skills they learned in the first part of the unit and apply them to their reading of Taming. While they read and work on their double entry journal I will collect the journals periodically to read and provide feedback. This will enable me to discover who might be having problems while also making sure the students are doing their homework. The discussions once a week will help provide an opportunity to add depth to their analysis and bounce ideas off of each other, and the scenes will give us the chance to put our ideas into action. The performances may answer some questions or they may raise additional questions. Either way, these activities will promote questioning, analysis, and interpretation.
Taming of the Shrew begins in a state of disharmony. Kate, the older sister, is supposed impossible to marry off, which means that her younger sister cannot marry. Kate has a reputation as a "irksome, brawling scold"37 while Bianca is known as a "the jewel of my life"38 with a slew of suitors. Suitors immediately begin lining up in the first act to try to win Bianca's hand in marriage. Lucentio, Gremio, and Hortensio are suitors to Bianca, all very strange suitors with little real appeal. Equally puzzling is the exact appeal of Bianca. She is quiet and beautiful, and Kate is noted as being equally beautiful but decidedly not quiet. Despite Bianca's strange appeal to men at large, it is clear from the start that it is Kate's play to direct when she says, "I pray you, sir, is it your will / To make a stale of me amongst these mates?"39 These lines, while highlighting that men are making fun of her, also demonstrate that she is not about to sit quietly by and take it. She immediately takes control of her situation stating, "I' faith, sir, you never need to fear: / Iwis it is not halfway to her heart."40 Kate knows that her father will not allow Bianca to marry before her, but here she is essentially saying that she is not looking for marriage. This limits what her sister is able to do, and forces Bianca's suitors to find alternative means to win her love. The first few scenes of Act I offer a good way to discuss the element of disorder in the play, the variety of character types in the play, and the position of Kate as the agent of change.
When Petruchio arrives in Act I, it seems as if he is fitting naturally into the rather superficial role that men often play in comedy. He is a man looking for a wife, and as long as she has money he does not care about anything else. It is in his first meeting with Kate that the audience begins to see that Petruchio is a male character who may work a little against the conventions of the genre. However, it is clear through the give and take of the dialogue and the allowances Kate makes to Petruchio that she is in agreement with his proposal of marriage. Kate and Petruchio's banter in Act II, scene i of the play provide a clear look into the pairing created in comedy. In Act I she is clearly not meant for any of the weak men vying for her sister's hand in marriage. Despite her father's wish for Kate to marry he still tells Petruchio that he will agree to Kate's marriage, "when the special thing is well obtained, / That is, her love, for that is all in all."41 Baptista lets it be known that Kate controls the situation, and when she falls in love he will approve of the marriage. The back and forth between Kate and Petruchio which follows shows that he is a perfect complement to her character. This would be a perfect scene to act out in front of the class, for the passion that comes out of the lines would be much clearer to students when they see it performed. This could help clear up any confusion if students are reading this scene as Petruchio controlling Kate. In fact, her silence at the end of the scene when Petruchio says that she has agreed to marry him demonstrates to the audience that, yes indeed, she has agreed to marry him. For where else in the play has she remained silent when someone was abusing her? Her protest of, "I'll see thee hanged on Sunday first"42 is the only thing she says for the rest of the scene. Her silence clearly signals her agreement, and allows Petruchio to feel that he is the one controlling the scene. While many may read this scene differently, when looking at it through the conventions of genre it becomes clear that the male and female roles of comedy are being followed. Kate has found her match, not in the sense of being controlled, but in the sense that Petruchio is good enough for her. Therefore, realizing that a man needs to feel that he is in control of the situation, she allows him to believe that he is the one who forced the marriage. Examination of earlier scenes with Kate and other characters in the play shows that she is not afraid to voice her opinion and her thoughts, so when she is silent we must believe that she is not unhappy with what is being said.
The discussion of Act II, scene i may be applied to many other scenes in the play as well. The same rules apply throughout. The one scene I do want to discuss with more depth is the famous speech by Kate at the end of the play in Act V, scene ii. This speech is widely debated by Shakespeare scholars and audience members alike; however, I find it not surprising for Kate or the genre of comedy. When Kate says,
- Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
- Thy head, thy sovereign—one that cares for thee,
- And for thy maintenance commits his body
- To painful labor both by sea and land,
- To watch the night in storms, the day in cold
- Whilst thou li'st warm at home, secure and safe;
- And craves no other tribute at thy hands
- But love, fair looks, and true obedience:
- Too little payment for so great a debt.43
I have loosely referred to my objectives for this unit above, but I think it is important to make the goals of this unit as clear as possible. My main goal is to enable my students to analyze writing independently and to raise questions about the function of significant features in literature. This unit is designed for seniors, and for some of them this may be the last English class they ever take. Therefore it is important that they have the ability to analyze things on their own. Whether it is an article in a newspaper or a contract for work, I want them to be able to question, consider, and comprehend that piece of writing. Shakespeare's writing invites intense analysis, so it is a good practice ground for them. I also want students to think about the function of devices within a story. Few students think deeply about literary terms like metaphor, simile, and genre. This unit asks them to think about one of those things, genre, intensely. When they begin to consider how the rules of genre force the writer to do certain things then they hopefully will begin to consider all writing has rules. They may begin to think about how they work with conventions when writing an essay, and how they can push against those conventions. It may also give them an appreciation of great writing, and the ability to tell the difference between good writing and great writing.
My additional objectives are to get students to be able to cite specific examples from a text to support their opinions and then explain their ideas. This aim will be realized through the double entry journal and the essay at the end of the unit. Throughout their reading the students will be asked to pull specific lines from the text and explain what those lines are doing or showing. Then within their essay they will have to find many examples within the text that support their thesis. The ability to cite specific examples to support their ideas is a skill that is useful in many areas of their life, whether they go on to study English or not.
Finally, my other objectives are all grounded in my state standards. The standards being met by this unit can be found in the appendix. They focus on reading and writing skills.
The activities set up throughout this unit require students to be familiar with a discussion model and small group work. My classroom is set up so that the desks sit in a U shaped formation. This provides the students with a clear view of each other and encourages discussion among students rather than discussion between a student and the teacher. Often on discussion days I will pull the chairs into a large circle to encourage more exchanges between the students. In classes with reluctant participants I have developed a class participation chart. This can be created with a simple class list. Every time a student speaks I put a mark next to their name on the chart. Before beginning discussion I explain to the class how many times each student is expected to participate. This number changes depending on the class size. This is an effective and simple technique, but it does create expectations for points every time we run a class discussion. I only use this strategy as a last resort. In addition to the large group discussion the students should be prepared to do small group work. I always organize the groups myself within the first month of school. The goal of each group is to mix all ability and participation levels within one group. Also, since students work in the same group all year, even the shy students become more comfortable and increase their participation.
This unit also requires students to perform scenes in front of the class. The groups set up for the small group work are also used in this activity because the group has already developed a bond and have become comfortable working with each other. Whenever students perform or speak in front of the class I ensure that the class is attentive by making each student responsible for an evaluation of the speech or performance. This evaluation is then used to calculate a percentage of the speaker or performer's grade. This encourages students to take the process seriously and not cause distractions during the speech or performance.
The double entry journal is another technique used in this unit, and I believe many English teachers use this technique in their classrooms. I have encountered this type of note taking and reflecting in many different forms and under many different names, but I find it easiest to call it a double entry journal because it has two types of entries. It is rather simple to create. Students simply take their notebook and draw a line down the middle of the page. On the left side of the page they record quotations from the text and on the right they analyze or interpret the quotation. In my school district students are asked to pull quotations that reveal significant moments in the text from grade six on through high school, so this journal moves a step beyond that exercise. The analysis on the right hand side of the journal requires that the students think carefully about the text and encourages a close reading. I also have one simple rule when it comes to the right side of the journal. The analysis must be as long as or longer than the quotation under discussion. Students are expected to bring their journal to class everyday. When there is a specific reading assignment due I ask the students to open their journals to the last page and I walk around the room and use a stamper to mark the end of their notes in their notebook. At the end of the first part of the unit I will collect the notebooks and assess the quality of analysis. I use the stamps to check to see who was doing their homework consistently throughout the unit. I combine these two things together to come up with their grade for the double entry journal. For the section of the unit on The Taming of the Shrew I will collect five journals each day to take home and read. Each time I read the journal I will comment on it and assess it for being up to date on the reading and for the quality of analysis.
Sample Lesson #1
This lesson takes place after reading the first two scenes of Macbeth for homework. First we will review the basic plot of the scenes. We will discuss the characters encountered and the basic elements of the plot revealed at this point. I will answer any basic comprehension questions the students have at this point.
Next we will review the elements of tragedy that we discussed and took notes on before reading the play. After reviewing these elements I will ask the students to identify any of these elements they have found at this point. I will record their observations on the board, and ask the students to give line references if they can. After running through the conventions of tragedy they have found we will determine whether any of the conventions specifically define a male or female character's role in the play. If the students do not come up with any ideas I will prompt them by asking them about the title character of the play and the person that Duncan, the soldiers, and the witches are talking about. We will use this to begin thinking about the role of the tragic hero in the play. We will also discuss what we know about the character at this point.
After recording their ideas on the board I will direct the students to fill in their conventions of tragedy chart in their notebook. They will fill in the conventions of tragedy that we have already found within the first two scenes of the play. Then I will direct them to read the rest of Act I for homework. As they read I would like them to continue to document the conventions of the genre in their journal, but I would like them to pay particular attention to male and female roles in the play.
Sample Lesson #2
This lesson focuses on the performance of one of the scenes of the play. There are certain scenes that raise the issue of gender roles in the play that I plan in advance for the students to perform, but if they identify other scenes that raise gender issues I would like to perform those scenes as well.
The scenes I plan to have performed from Macbeth are Act I, scene v (Lady Macbeth and the letter), Act I, scene vii (Macbeth tries to change his mind about the murder), Act III, scene iii (The murder is discovered, line 65 on), and Act III, scene ii (Macbeth has planned Banquo's murder). The scenes I plan to have performed from The Taming of the Shrew are Act I, scene I (Kate and Bianca are first introduced, lines 1-100), Act II, scene I (Petruchio meets Kate, lines 1-315), Act III, scene I (Bianca and Lucentio discuss his real reason for being there), Act III, scene ii (Kate's wedding), and Act V, scene ii (Kate's speech).
The group performing the scene will have one week to prepare it. This preparation will be done outside of class with the exception of one day in class to work on staging. Prior to their performance the group is responsible for handing me a typed paper that answers the following questions:
- How do the characters feel about each other? How will the actors portray this on stage?
- What does each character want from the other character? How will they get what they want?
- Who is in control in this scene? Does it change by the end of the scene?
- What does this scene reveal about gender and genre? How does the group portray this on stage?
When the group performs the audience should have their notebooks out to take notes. I would like them to write down their ideas about the male/female relationship in the scene and how the conventions of tragedy or comedy are brought out on stage. After they have viewed the scene I will give the audience five to ten minutes to flesh out their notes and write a clear statement about what they saw. These statements will drive discussion, but they will also be given to the actors so they can get some direct feedback on their performance.
Ideally each scene should be performed twice, by two different groups. This will provide more topics for discussion and demonstrate the various different ways the scene can be performed. It will also allow us to examine the gender roles in the scenes more carefully.
Sample Lesson #3
This lesson takes place at then end of the entire unit when the students are drafting their essay. The students will have written a rough draft of an essay responding to the question, " How do the conventions of genre define one of the male or female characters in either Macbeth or The Taming of the Shrew?" Students will be allowed to choose Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, Kate, or Petruchio for the basis of their essay.
Once the students have written a rough draft they bring a typed, double spaced copy to class. They will be paired with another student, and the student will peer conference each others papers. First I ask that each student read through their partner's paper once without making any corrections. On the second read the students can make corrections to spelling and grammar and ask questions in the margins. It is important that while reading through the papers the students are not discussing and asking each other questions. This helps the students become more aware of audience in their writing. After the second read the students are also required to answer the following questions on a separate sheet of paper.
- Does the writer focus on the assignment? If no, explain why the essay does not fit the topic.
- What play did the writer choose? What character did the writer choose?
- What is the thesis of the essay? What general points are made to support the thesis?
- Does the specific evidence provided support the thesis well? Are there better quotations or examples the writer could use? Explain.
- Is the writer's argument convincing? Explain why it is or is not in some detail.
- What is the best part of this essay? Why?
- Which part of this essay needs the most improvement? How can it be improved?
After answering the questions the students will return each other's papers and with the list of answers to the questions. After reviewing their peer's comments for a few minutes the students will turn and discuss the papers. This is where they can ask clarification questions, make additional comments, or ask for additional advice.
Students will then have one week to revise their drafts into the final copy. When they hand in the final copy they must attach the rough draft and the list of responses from the peer conference. I make the rough draft and peer conference worth 30% of the final paper grade. This ensures that students come to class with a draft, take the conference seriously, and that some form of writing process does occur. This procedure has cut down on the number of papers that were clearly dashed off the night before, and it ends up producing more perceptive writers.
Bamber, Linda. Comic Women, Tragic Men: A Study of Gender and Genre in
Shakespeare. Standford: Standford UP, 1982.
This was a good source for a feminist perspective on gender and genre. Bamber respects research from all schools of thought, feminist or not, and I found this book very helpful because of that.
Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. New York: Riverhead, 1998.
This book contains an essay on each of Shakespeare's plays. I found The Taming of the Shrew and the Macbeth essays helpful for thinking about the plays and the characters in new ways.
The Boydell Shakespeare Prints. New York: Benjamin Blom, 1968.
This is a great visual tool for class discussions. This is a book of Shakespeare prints is beautiful and intriguing. The 100 prints contained in the book are etchings copied form original paintings in the Boydell Shakespeare Gallery.
Corrigan, Robert W. Tragedy:Vision and Form 2nd Edition. New York: Harper & Row,
This book contains essays from a rather eclectic group of critics. There are essays on tragedy by Northrop Frye to Joyce Carol Oates. It is an informative collection, and the Frye essay was a very helpful look at tragedy.
Danson, Lawrence. Shakespeare's Dramatic Genres. New York: Oxford UP, 2000.
This is the most helpful source for information about genre and Shakespeare. Danson covers comedy, tragedy, and history in this book, and it is the only comprehensive book I could find on all of the genres. This book served as the basis for my most of my research and the theory behind this unit.
Epstein, Norrie. The Friendly Shakespeare: A Thoroughly Painless Guide to the
Best of the Bard. New York: Penguin, 1993.
This is an interesting and approachable resource for teachers of Shakespeare. It is especially helpful for first time Shakespeare teachers because it covers everything a teacher would want to know about Shakespeare in a general manner.
Frye, Northrop. A Natural Perspective: The Development of Shakespearean Comedy and
Romance. New York: Columbia UP, 1965.
This book has a really interesting overview and analysis of comedy and romance. This book worked as a starting point in my research, and I found it helpful in pointing my research in the proper direction.
Folger Shakespeare Library. 2008. Folger Shakespeare Library. www.folger.edu
This website has extensive information and is extremely helpful. It has lesson plans, links to other helpful sites, and scanned original documents covering everything from religion, manners, and the role of a wife during the Elizabethan period. Also, it has a wonderful performance model that I have used with my students when they do scenes.
Harmon, William and C. Hugh Holman. A Handbook to Literature. 7th ed. Upper
Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1996.
This is a book I consult often during my teaching. It provides lengthy definitions of literary terms. The definitions have informative literary references to further illustrate the meaning of the terms.
Snyder, Susan. Shakespeare: A Wayward Journey. Newark: U of Delaware Press, 2002.
This book is a great source for anyone teaching or studying any Shakespeare play. It contains a collection of her essays about Shakespeare, and they are not all focused on genre. I found the essay "Romeo and Juliet: Comedy into Tragedy" a very helpful source.
1. Snyder, Shakespeare: A Wayward Journey, 19
2. Dawson, Shakespeare's Dramatic Genres, 3
3. Donatus, qtd. in Dawson, Shakespeare's Dramatic Genres, 28
4. Dawson, Shakespeare's Dramatic Genres, 72
5. Dawson, Shakespeare's Dramatic Genres, 34
6. Dawson, Shakespeare's Dramatic Genres, 117
7. Shakespeare, As You Like It, IV, iii, 128-131
8. Bamber, Comic Women, Tragic Men, 21
9. Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, 258-259
10. Dawson, Shakespeare's Dramatic Genres, 65
11. Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, IV.i.304-311
12. Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, IV.i.84
13. Frye qtd. in Dawson, Shakespeare's Dramatic Genres, 117
14. Dawson, Shakespeare's Dramatic Genres, 74
15. Dawson, Shakespeare's Dramatic Genres, 29
16. Dawson, Shakespeare's Dramatic Genres, 134
17. Shakespeare, Othello, IV, ii, 87-89
18. Shakespeare, Othello, V, ii, 83
19. Shakespeare, Othello, V, ii, 123-124
20. Dawson, Shakespeare's Dramatic Genres, 117
21. Bamber, Comic Women, Tragic Men, 6
22. Shakespeare, King Lear, I, iv, 216, 220
23. Bamber, Comic Women, Tragic Men,
24. Dawson, Shakespeare's Dramatic Genres, 34
25. Harmon and Holman, A Handbook to Literature, 242
26. Harmon and Holman, A Handbook to Literature, 242
27. Shakespeare, King Lear, III, ii, 59-60
28. Shakespeare, King Lear, V, iii, 311-312
29. Shakespeare, Macbeth, I, iii, 127-142
30. Shakespeare, Macbeth, I, iv, 17-21
31. Shakespeare, Macbeth, I, v, 41-48
32. Shakespeare, Macbeth, II, iii, 99-120
33. Shakespeare, Macbeth, II, iii, 120
34. Shakespeare, Macbeth, III, ii, 72-73
35. Shakespeare, Macbeth, 45-46
36. Shakespeare, Macbeth, 4-6
37. Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew, I, ii, 187
38. Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew, I, ii, 118
39. Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew, I, i, 57-58
40. Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew, I, i, 61-62
41. Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew, II, i, 128-130
42. Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew, II, i, 292
43. Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew, V, ii, 146-154
44. Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew, V, ii, 180
Pennsylvania State Standards Met By This Unit
1.1.11.G., "Demonstrate after reading understanding and interpretation of both fiction and nonfiction text, including public documents."
1.3.11.A.,"Read and understand works of literature"
1.3.11.B., "Analyze the relationships, uses, and effectiveness of literary elements used by one or more authors in similar genres including characterization, setting, plot, theme, point of view, tone, and style"
1.3.11.C., "Analyze the effectiveness, in terms of literary quality, of the author's use of literary devices."
The final essay in this unit meets all parts of Standard 1.5., quality of writing
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