Spotted in the Dining Hall: The Second Annual Performance of Speyer's Version of Macbeth!

The motto in the Dining Hall was “Move over the dumplings and make way for Macbeth,” as it became a stage for Speyer eighth graders to presented their own unique take on the Bard's famous tragedy. The second annual performance was a direct result of their exploration of the themes in the play and their weeks-long in-depth analysis of the text.

In their presentation, they depicted a trial of Macbeth, with speeches from attorneys and excerpts of the play and the eigth graders' writing exercises — all to present various arguments to the audience, who was serving as the jury. With more explanation of the process and the extraordinary path from the first lines of text the students studied to their final bows, we have a guest View writer: eighth grade Humanities teacher and Deputy Head of School Mr. Deards!  

The eighth grade began investigating “The Scottish Play” right after Winter Break. They know better than to use the “M” work when referring to this masterpiece of Shakespearean tragedy because of the bad luck that has followed productions who were not respectful of the superstition. Indeed, there is a suspicion that someone did indeed invoke the curse, as we had unprecedented numbers of ill students during the run up to the production and even on the night of the performance! 

As Elizabethan and Jacobean audiences were largely illiterate, the students began their study of the Bard’s work by watching the play. They found this exciting, as they did not know how the plot would unfold. They then read the scenes and commented and posted questions. We moved into a performance-based unit of study, turning the classroom into a theatre, and performing scenes as we investigated meter, text and subtext, connotation and denotation, and reveled in the poetry of the language. 

Consistent with the focus on empathy, on seeing how another understands and interprets the world, the students tackled a challenging in class writing assignment: write a defense speech that will get this regicidal, murderous man acquitted. Their ideas were deep, varied, and well supported by the text. 

So rich were the ideas that we decided to tackle again the idea of putting Macbeth on trial, using the arguments for defense speeches, and showing the complexity of the character (and perhaps comprehending why we find him so compelling). But at the end, and in a reversal from previous exercises on this topic, the kids could not stomach the idea that Macbeth should be acquitted. 

So we went deeper. If Macbeth is mad (okay to say this when talking about the character, not the play), he has no agency and we have, when all is said and done, a pretty dull story. But we know that Macbeth is far from dull. We sit on our seat’s edge electrified with interest. And so they concluded thus: Macbeth has agency and he made the wrong choices. And what the play teachers us, as Speyer students, is that we too have agency. And we must be very careful to apply this agency to make informed and ethical decisions, no matter what the temptations.  

We celebrated the work with two presentations, complete with music chosen by the students, one for parents and the other for their fellow Middle School students.