So, a few weeks ago, Paul Thompson from Shmoop approached me, interested in sharing a sample of what they have to offer right here on my blog. Shmoop is a great place to begin exploring new topics and pieces of literature. Recently, fellows of the WNY Young Writers’ Studio took Shmoop to Shakespeare in Delaware Park via their iPads, where they could access summaries of each of act of the Merchant of Venice, revisit character descriptions and key quotes, and consider questions that pushed deeper analysis. This was especially helpful for those who had not read or seen the play before, and it kept even the youngest kids in our crowd connected and engaged in the story as it unfolded. My own daughter used Noterize beside Shmoop to make notes and capture her thinking that night. The sample below is taken from their collection of resources for Macbeth. Enjoy! And wander on over to their place to say hello.
Macbeth is known for being one of Shakespeare’s darkest and most supernatural plays. It opens with three old crones performing spells, and their warning that “fair is foul, and foul is fair” sets the stage for a story where the natural order no longer reigns supreme. Many of these disturbances against nature are obvious: ghosts crashing dinner parties; invisible daggers floating toward intended victims like those future blobs in Donnie Darko; women using infanticide as a motivational technique. Yes, something is definitely rotten in the state of Scotland. But since nobody comes to be known as The Bard without a little overachieving, rest assured that Shakespeare throws in some less flashy examples as well.
At a time in history when producing children (see also: big strong sons) was a top priority, the fact that Macbeth and his Lady either can’t or don’t have a brood of their own would have been considered both biologically and socially aberrant. And if the inverted gender roles and lack of offspring aren’t enough to convince you of their starting off on the wrong foot, there’s also the part where the Macbeths conspire to kill their king. True, ambition is a natural human vice, but because kings were believed to rule by divine (i.e. God-given) right, killing one would have been an affront to the very hierarchy of the universe.
Once the blood hits the fan, the Macbeths are robbed of another critical natural process: sleep. (And our Spidey senses tell us that natural processes involving the nighttime probably come with a little extra symbolism.) Nevertheless, Macbeth continues on his bloody rampage, becoming so devoid of humanity that he even murders a defenseless woman and her children. The days of blood feuds and leeches might not have had many standards, but limiting your homicidal exploits to adult males was definitely one of them.
Before long, Lady Macbeth’s sleeplessness and compulsive, metaphorical hand-washing drive her so insane that she perverts yet another natural process, death, by committing suicide. In the wake of the tragedy, Macbeth delivers the most famous of all Macbeth quotes: “[Life] is a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury / Signifying nothing.” (Or was it, “Vi beleev in nahsing, Lebowski”?) Considering that almost every aspect of his life now goes against the natural order of things, it’s easy to see how existence has lost all semblance of meaning for Macbeth.
As the three witches prophesize, Macbeth can only be defeated if the very woods of nearby Birnam march against him. (If you’re picturing Ents doing their rendition of Stomp! on Saruman and his military-industrial complex, give yourself some nerd points.) Macbeth has a good chuckle over how such a thing could never come to pass, but as he watches an army approach camouflaged with branches taken from Birnam Wood, it suddenly dawns on him that prophecies aren’t usually worded for the benefit of their recipients. If Macbeth’s greatest crime is perverting the natural order, what better way to restore it than through an attack from nature itself?
Shmoop offers hundreds of free educational guides and references. We believe that any topic, from themes in Macbeth to the Macbeth quotes, can be broken down in a way that is relatable and fun for students. . . We keep things more interesting by using television shows, video games, music, and fashion references throughout our guides. Our goal is not only to present the fundamentals, but to bring the material to life in a way that makes students ask more questions, instead of less. Check out Shmoop’s website to see how all of our free resources can make a difference in your study time.