General comments on Just Macbeth!
Just Macbeth! is an appropriation of Shakespeare’s play The Tragedy of Macbeth. The narrative begins with three immature school students who are studying Macbeth. They need to rehearse a scene from the play in order to perform it for their peers and English teacher, Ms Livingstone.
The narrative begins in prose form, told from Andy’s perspective in the first person. However, it is not long before the narrative transitions into a dramatic script and the book incorporates lines from Shakespeare’s original play into the story.
After substituting Andy’s mother’s food processor for the witches’ cauldron, the three friends, Andy, Lisa and Danny, drink their concoction. This is the inciting moment in the narrative as all three are transported into the action of Shakespeare’s play. Subsequently, Andy becomes Macbeth, Danny is Banquo and Lisa is Lady Macbeth. While the rest of Just Macbeth! largely parallels Shakespeare’s play, the resolution of the Griffiths’ story differs.
Another layer of richness resides in the illustrations of Terry Denton which occur on every page. At times, the illustrative text replaces the written. Furthermore, Denton draws on a range of text types such as the procedural text or the explanation, but always seeks to do so with a humorous twist as the illustrations interact with the written text.
Building knowledge of Shakespeare’s Macbeth
While it can be argued that students can read Griffiths’ narrative without any prior knowledge of Shakespeare’s play itself, a rich opportunity will be missed if they fail to engage with it. The Charles and Mary Lamb’s version of Macbeth in their book Tales of Shakespeare could serve as an introduction, depending on your students’ reading levels.
There are many summaries of the play that can also be used.
The form: concept mapping knowledge of the dramatic form
Concept maps are a way for the students to visually represent what they know as well as organising knowledge into relationships. A concept map sequence example:
- Begin with a focus question such as ‘What is a play script?’
- Either individually or in groups, direct students to brainstorm a list of important play script elements. They should include: stage set, characters and list of characters, stage directions, dialogue, acts and scenes and so on. Students begin to organise these elements by establishing connections to show relationships between them, including examples to clarify definitions of an element, and create some form of hierarchy within their concept map.
- As the students research and read throughout this unit, they should revisit their concept map and adjust it or add more detail as necessary.
WebQuest on Macbeth
The students begin using web-based sources to create a WebQuest on Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The WebQuest design process is a recommended model for students to research Macbeth. Some WebQuest topics could be:
- Who was Macbeth?
- When and where is the play set?
- What is a tragic play?
Expectations of Just Macbeth!
Now that students know more about Shakespeare’s play, their attention should turn towards this contemporary appropriation. After reading and viewing the front cover only, direct students to predict what will happen in the text. They should consider the following:
- the significance of the title
- the exclamation mark used in the title
- the book has two composers (an author and an illustrator)
- the colours and design used
- the textual grabs ‘Murder, Madness and Wizz Fizz!’ and ‘Double, double, toil and trouble!’
- the visual illustration of a head and sword.
Personal response on reading the text
Activities while reading the text
1. Most narratives orientate the reader by establishing core elements such as who the main characters are, where and when the narrative is set, and some introduce complications early on. What impressions do students have of the three characters: Andy, Lisa and Danny in the opening chapter? Using the table, students fill in their initial impressions of these characters at the start of Just Macbeth!
|Words to describe personality
|How do they behave?
|What do they say? Quotations
|I predict they will change by
2. Griffiths transitions from prose to a play script. This is important because not only is Griffiths using Shakespeare’s characters, plot, setting, etc. from Macbeth, but he is imitating the type of text itself. What are some of the benefits of using the play script form? Negatives?
3. Terry Denton’s illustrations connect with Griffiths’ written text. Find examples of the following types of illustrations throughout the book:
- Instructions – these illustrations tell us how to do something.
- Explanations – these illustrations explain something by providing more detail.
- Narrative sequences – these illustrations take place of the written text and tell more of the narrative.
- Jokes and visual puns – these illustrations rely heavily on humour and word play.
- Flick books – sometimes called flip books, these illustrations are an animated sequence when the pages of the book are flicked.
4. Students evaluate which character they most relate to. They can choose a major or minor character, but will need to explain the connections between the character and themselves. Direct them to compare similarities, and make connections between their own life experiences too.
5. Students should note when the voice of the narrative changes in Just Macbeth! students will need to be directed into what ‘voice’ means in literature. Changes in voice should not be confused with different characters speaking. Rather, it is evident when Griffiths is using a contemporary voice aimed at teenagers and when Shakespeare’s lines are used which was aimed at a different audience. Students should find examples of the use of: a) Shakespeare’s text b) a contemporary voice aimed at teenagers, and c) a young voice, and give two reasons for each example of how they can tell the difference.
- Why does Griffiths use Shakespeare’s text?
- What reactions does the reader have when the voice of the narrative changes?
- Are there parts of the narrative which are dominated by Shakespeare’s lines? Hypothesise why this may be the case.
- Is it ethical for Griffiths to use so many lines from Shakespeare? Argue a case for or against this statement.
6. Illustrate the plot in the form of a train station map – there are many examples on the web. In your map Scenes become the train stations, different colours represent subplots and the rise and fall of each line represents the rising and falling action. They might find the free online Beno metro map creator a useful tool.
7. Create a word collage for a prominent theme from Just Macbeth! Placing a theme such as ‘ambition’ in the middle of a page, direct the students to begin by defining ‘ambition’ in the area immediately surrounding the word. As they progressively work their way towards the edge of the page, they switch from denotations to connotations of the theme. They can include quotations from Just Macbeth! or examples too. The students present their themes and orally explain them to their peers.
(ACELA1529) (ACELA1782) (ACELT1619) (ACELT1620) (ACELT1621) (ACELT1622) (ACELY1721) (ACELY1722) (ACELY1723) (ACELY1724) (EN4-8D) (EN4-1A) (EN4-8D) (EN4-2A) (EN4-3B) (EN4-6C)
- Direct the students to keep a journal as they read Just Macbeth! They should record major elements of plot, characterisation, themes and their personal reactions to the book.
- They can complete the comparative chart (PDF, 108KB) as they read and share their observations with other students.
The writer’s craft
As Just Macbeth! largely borrows from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, using Freytag’s Pyramid is a useful way to explore the structure of a tragic play and this book. The exceptions of major plot differences in Griffiths’ text appear in the first and final chapter. These chapters are set in contemporary Australia, within the domestic confines of Andy’s house, and should be explored separately.
In order to analyse the large portion of the book, direct students to examine Freytag’s model in relation to Just Macbeth! Students should label the following components of Freytag’s model:
- Exposition – how is the scene set?
- Inciting incident – what begins the action or causes the complication?
- Rising action – how does the story build?
- Climax – what is the point of greatest tension?
- Falling action – what events occur after the climax?
- Resolution – how is the climax resolved?
- Denouement – what answers are given for the questions in the narrative?
The three core characters: Andy, Lisa and Danny, all give soliloquies in the opening chapter of Just Macbeth! A soliloquy handout from the book can be found here (PDF, 114KB). A soliloquy is similar to a monologue – it is one person speaking but not addressing any other character. The function of a soliloquy is to allow a character to share what they are thinking without the other characters knowing their thoughts. A bond is formed between the audience and character and soliloquies can create dramatic irony as the audience often knows more about what is happening on the stage than the other characters.
- What do these soliloquies reveal about the character speaking?
- What do the soliloquies reveal about the other characters?
However, as the characters are transported into the world of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, lines are blurred between their identities and their corresponding characters/roles from the play which they now adopt. An early example of this occurs in Chapter Two after Andy and Danny have spoken with the witches. Danny slips into the role of Banquo and says ‘Tis strange: oftentimes to win us to our harm, the instruments of darkness tell us truths, win us with honest trifles, to betray us in deepest consequence.’ Andy replies with a question, ‘I beg your pardon?’ to which Danny replies, ‘I have no idea what I just said.’ (p. 42) Ask students to consider the effect of this.
Students can also be introduced to the ‘real’ Macbeth soliloquies (PDF, 113KB).
The students respond to the characters by writing down their thoughts about each individual character. They should then transform each reaction into an open-ended question. For example, if a student comments on Andy by saying that he is ‘immature’, then an appropriate open-ended question could be: ‘Why is Andy immature?’
Using the students’ questions, direct a Socratic Seminar session where not only questions about characters are explored, but also ones which relate directly to student lives.
(ACELT1619) (ACELT1620) (ACELT1621) (ACELT1622) (EN4-8D) (EN4-2A) (EN4-1A)
Character Flaws (Hamartia)
Protagonists in all of Shakespeare’s tragedies contain a character flaw. Having a balance between noble and flawed attributes generates a sense of realism and believability. It also makes these characters easier to relate to. For example, Romeo and Juliet are impulsive, King Lear is overly proud and Hamlet procrastinates and over thinks things.
Macbeth’s character flaw sits within his ambition. Sometimes a character flaw is also called a hamartia. As Andy adopts Macbeth’s persona in the book, he also adopts Macbeth’s character flaws. Some sample questions for discussion:
- When is Andy/Macbeth’s ambition provoked?
- How does his ambition change his character?
- Who benefits and who loses because of Macbeth/Andy’s ambition?
- Is Andy/Macbeth’s ambition believable?
- Collect FIVE quotations from the book about ambition. What does each quotation reveal about ambition?
- How necessary are the witches in the book? Would Andy/Macbeth’s ambition exist if they did not foretell his success?
Write a paragraph beginning with the topic sentence:
The students should write TEN adjectives which represent these places. Using those adjectives, students write a short description on each place.
Examine the action which takes place in these settings. In what ways does the action suit the setting?
More specifically, the setting also occurs in enclosed spaces. For example, in Macbeth/Andy’s castle.
- Use the Think-Pair-Share strategy to individually brainstorm what types of rooms one might find in a castle. Students are paired with a peer and they share their initial brainstorm. They should negotiate and make adjustments to their original ideas.
- Why does Griffiths indicate a sense of place at the start of each chapter?
- What words or phrases indicate a contemporary, domestic Australian setting in the first and final chapters?
- Draw up a stage design for one contemporary scene and one Shakespearean scene. Consider how you are going to suggest both time frames simultaneously in the design of your sets. See Google images for a ‘Stage design template’ to get some approaches to stage layout or alternatively, look up images of the stage in Shakespeare’s Globe theatre in London.
Voice, language and style
Just Macbeth! is a book of language and stylistic contrasts.
Contemporary and Shakespearean expression
Firstly, Griffiths directly borrows lines from Shakespeare’s play. Shakespeare’s flowery or lavish language occurs in every chapter, but features highly when Andy, Lisa and Danny are transported into the play’s context. In contrast to this, Andy, Lisa and Danny’s natural voices are colloquial, immature and built on teenage stereotypes. What results are two competing and distinct modes of expression in Just Macbeth!
- Students select and re-read a chapter where both modern and Shakespearean language are used.
- Using the table, copy distinct words and phrases which are modern and Shakespearean:
|Modern English examples
|Shakespearean English examples
|An example – MacDuff the Gnome: I can’t kneel. I’m made of concrete. (p. 104 Chapter 8)
|An example – MacDuff the Gnome: Oh, gentle lady, ’tis not for you to hear what I can speak: the repetition in a woman’s ear would murder as it fell. (p. 98 Chapter 8 )
- Which phrases are preferred? Justify choices.
- Does Griffiths successfully transfer between modern and Shakespearean expression? Give several examples to support your answer.
- What words suggest that Andy, Lisa and Danny are teenagers?
- How is humour used to appeal to the target audience of the book?
- How do we know that Andy, Lisa and Danny are Australian?
Shakespeare was a master of having a character insult another in interesting ways. There are many examples of Shakespearean insults. Griffiths follows in Shakespeare’s footsteps by creating some of his own. Some examples:
- FIRST WARRIOR: “Take that, thou bawdy full-gorged bladder!” (p. 28)
- See Chapter 19 for more insults.
Students can make their own Shakespearean insults by following this formula:
- Begin with, ‘Thou art a …’
- Add an adjective or a compound adjectival phrase.
- Add a comma.
- Add another adjective or a compound adjectival phrase.
- Complete the insult with a noun.
The function of allusions in literature is to enrich the text in which they occur. Texts achieve this by establishing connections between well-known references at key moments. These allusions usually have an agreed upon meaning which reinforces or adds another layer to the meaning of the text. Allusions can be historical, mythical, Biblical or literary. Griffiths uses two types of literary allusions: references to other Shakespearean plays and references to modern culture.
Where are these lines appropriated from? Do a computer search by placing the words in the search engine. Hint: they are all Shakespearean plays:
“A bum by any other name would smell as sweet.” (p. 45)
“To pee or not to pee?” (p. 45)
“A dog. A dog. My kingdom for a dog.” (p. 45)
“Et tu, Rover?” (p. 45)
“To murder or not to murder …” (p. 68)
“To stab or not to stab … that is the question.” (p. 72)
“Methinks he doth protest too much.” (p. 76)
“Beware the ides of March.” (p. 76)
- Direct students to use a lotus diagram to organise the theme of ambition when it occurs in Just Macbeth! Each section of the lotus visual organiser should revolve around a different example of ambition. Ideas about ambition or quotations which illustrate ambition from Just Macbeth! should be written in the boxes which surround each central coloured box. This is an effective way of summarising and organising this theme.
- Using the information from the lotus diagram, the students write a persuasive response using the following statement:
How is the theme of ambition used in Just Macbeth!? Evaluate the importance of ambition throughout the whole text.
All applicable content descriptions include:
Ways of reading the text
Comparing Just Macbeth! to film appropriations of Macbeth
This activity is designed for students to engage with screen appropriations of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and compare them with Griffiths’ Just Macbeth!
|Film appropriation details
|Overview of scene
|Notable film techniques
|Comparison to Just Macbeth!
|Homer and Macbeth’s soliloquy
|Black Adder and Macbeth
|Macbeth and The Simpsons
- Why would Macbeth be considered such an unlucky play?
- Why are the scenes in The Simpsons and Black Adder funny?
Representing Australian culture through teenage stereotypical humour
One of the ways Griffiths represents Australian culture is by creating discourse which is directed at and representative of teenage humour.
Types of humour within Just Macbeth! include: ‘toilet humour’, puns, absurdist dialogue, immature repetition of words, jokes, etc.
Some examples are:
- Andy, Lisa and Danny trying to squeeze Andy’s dog to extract his spit. (pp. 6–8)
- The continual mention of Wizz Fizz throughout the text.
- Andy and Danny’s stichomythic dialogue. (p. 40)
- Andy acting courageously in response to being called a chicken. (p. 50)
- Lisa putting toothpicks into marshmallows as a method to entertain. (p. 53)
- Duncan singing karaoke at Macbeth’s house. (p. 69)
- The knock-knock joke. (p. 75)
- Farting toilet humour. (p. 80)
- Faeces toilet humour. (p. 117)
- The convolution achieved through repetition of ‘done’ and ‘undone’. (p. 89)
- Transforming McDuff into a gnome.
- Height jokes associated with McDuff. (pp. 98–100)
- Kilts, undies and dress jokes. (p. 110)
- Food fight. (p. 126)
- Repetitive ‘shut up’ insults. (p. 136)
- The F-word. (pp. 157–158)
- Bosom jokes. (pp. 162–163)
- The squirrel grip. (p. 182)
Is this a fair representation of young, contemporary Australian teenagers (when these examples of humour are read collectively)? Students justify their responses by drawing on their own experiences.
(ACELT1619) (ACELT1620) (ACELT1621) (ACELT1803) (EN4-8D) (EN4-2A) (EN4-1A) (EN4-5C)
Metafiction is when the author consciously highlights a text’s own artificiality. Such works are often self-reflexive so that the reader is aware that what they are reading is a construction. Griffiths also employs metafictional devices throughout Just Macbeth! A notable example is:
after Andy delivers an absurd soliloquy, his friend Lisa says, ‘You’re not doing a soliloquy, you’re just going on and on about nothing. Soliloquies are supposed to reveal what a character is really thinking!’ The purpose of Lisa’s comments are didactic and they add humour but they also break the action of the book, by having a character comment on the book’s action itself. (p. 13)
Students should comment on the purpose of the following metafictional examples and what they offer the reader:
- Duncan says, ‘No, I’m using a figure of speech to say that thou art like a seed that I’m going to look after so that thou groweth into a great big tree.’ (p. 61)
- The illustrative caption preceding page one. One sheep says to another, ‘Is this the start?’
- The Shakespearean head illustration at the bottom of page eight saying, ‘I demand some decent lines.’
- Lennox says, ‘Can’t you understand plain English?’ (p. 62)
Rich assessment task (productive mode)
Some of Shakespeare’s plays start or end with a monologue introducing or completing the idea of a play. For example, in Romeo and Juliet a speaker addresses the audience about ‘our two hours traffic of the stage’, meaning they are going to be listening to a play for two hours. The plays The Tempest (‘Let your indulgence set me free”) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (is ‘but a dream’) end with monologues, thanking the audience for listening and summing up the ideas of the play. Students can read examples such as these in preparation.
- Students imagine that they are Andy. They need to write a final monologue which would appear at the end of the book Just Macbeth! The monologue should be directed at the reader and the topic of the monologue should be whether the ending was a tragedy or a farce.
- Students edit, refine and rehearse their monologue along with appropriate movements.
- Students deliver their monologue to the class.
This task can be presented in two ways:
1. As a review of the novel, or
2. as a review of the performance in the novel.
- Students write a review of Just Macbeth! They make comment about characterisation, themes, structure and form, language, use of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and give a recommendation. Their review should be aimed at other teenagers. Note that some features of the review form include:
- the target audience is generally a broad one;
- multiple purposes such as to assess, analyse and summarise a text;
- an introductory paragraph that introduces the text being reviewed;
- the body of the review is usually divided into separate paragraphs on the text’s features (for example, characters, plot, language features, etc.);
- a conclusion which gives a recommendation, or withholds a recommendation to its audience.
- Just Macbeth! is a multi-genre text integrating a number of different genres: prose, image and play form. For this task students have to add a further genre: the review. The review can be embedded inside the book as a review of the performance in the play. Students have to decide where this would best fit in the existing book.
2. Director’s speech
Have the students imagine they are directors of the play Just Macbeth! It is opening night and they need to give a speech to their cast about the important aspects of the play, as well as encouraging them to give their best performances. The students’ task is to write, edit and deliver the speech in front of their peers.
In order to be more aware of the process they can use the Globe Theatre interactive Macbeth and become directors at the Globe Theatre. They can reflect on the decisions they made using this interactive website.
(ACELA1528) (ACELA1782) (ACELT1619) (ACELT1621) (ACELT1803) (ACELT1622) (ACELY1720) (ACELY1721) (EN4-2A) (EN4-1A) (EN4-8D) (EN4-5C) (EN4-4B) (EN4-3B)
Rich assessment task (receptive and productive modes)
Students write and perform an imaginary dialogue between William Shakespeare and Andy Griffiths. In script form, the students take on the roles of both personas. Encourage a natural flow between questions and answers as well as a range of possibilities for interaction between both characters. For example, Shakespeare could be delighted or angry about Griffiths’ appropriation of Macbeth. The worthiness of Shakespeare’s Macbeth as a source of appropriation and a comparison between both texts should also be topics for the discussion between Shakespeare and Griffiths.
Some features of a dialogue include:
- The composition should be set out in script form.
- Begin a new line each time a new character speaks.
- Start with the character’s name, followed by a colon and then write their dialogue without speech marks.
- Include the character’s tone and any actions in brackets.
- Ensure you have open-ended questions when they are asked.