Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Who Is the Third Murderer? - The Most Awesome Answer Ever

In Shakespeare's Macbeth, Macbeth hires two murderers to kill Banquo; however, three murderers show up to the scene.  The original two even make a note of it by asking this third interloper who sent him?  The answer that he was sent by Macbeth himself has a few flaws.

It would seem that Shakespeare meant to do something with this third guy, but never got around to fleshing it out, leaving English teacher geeks around the globe speculating here and there.  This third murderer recognizes Banquo, understands his habits around Macbeth's stables, and was able to give at least some of the original plan to the other two murderers so that they would accept him.  Yet he doesn't seem to know all of the plan since he was unaware of the light going out, and as a result, the main target got away.

You can find some more awesome images from Macbeth (including some really freaky looking witches) by going to the artist's (Amy Hood) web site.
So in my class of regular level students, I use this as an opportunity to get them to think deeper.  They find the clues and facts, list off everyone who could have been the murderer, and then find evidence to support their favorite suspect.  We get into a discussion over what the third murderer's motive was - to help kill Banquo and Fleance or to help Banquo and'or Fleance get away.

I tell them that on their test, they are going to have to accuse one character and then defend their statement.  We joked this year about people putting down Banquo as the murderer - a major feat since he was the one being killed at the time.

One student took this as a challenge and on the test stapled an extra sheet so that he would have enough space to properly accuse Banquo for being the third murderer of Banquo.  Here is his answer:

Banquo.  Banquo fakes his death in a simple process.  He knew from the witches that his child would be king and not Macbeth's children.  He knew that Macbeth was willing to kill to be king.  When Macbeth became king, Banquo knew it was only a matter of time before Macbeth would kill him. Banquo then got body doubles of himself and his son and sent his son out of Scotland.  when he heard of suspicious people meeting with the king, he knew it was time, and trailed the two murderers.  He declared his double to be himself so that the others wouldn't think.  When his son's double got away and met with Banquo for payment, Banquo killed him to tie up loose ends.  I believe that after the play ended, Banquo got his son to take over Scotland and then ruled through the shadows.

Flawed?  Sure, but he was so excited to prove that I was wrong when I said that Banquo COULDN'T be the third murderer.  It's not often that you get a regular level student to get this passionate about a test answer.  I'm sure you honors and AP teachers get this sort of crazy stuff all the time.

This same kid followed up this response with the answer to this question:
Who is most at fault for what has happened in this play?

King James I.  Shakespeare wrote this play because of the big stink James made about a supposed "witch" visiting him.  If he had stayed calm and not made a big deal out of it, this play would never have been written.

Folks, it's hard to argue with this kind of logic.  :)

Monday, October 24, 2016

Jack's Lament

If you have not seen the movie Nightmare Before Christmas by Tim Burton, you really should.  It is not a great movie for little kids, but excellent for middle school age children and older.  I'm not suggesting this as a movie to watch in class, just if you have children at home.  As far as class goes, there is a particular song in it that is useful for instruction: "Jack's Lament."

A quick bit of background information for those who have never seen the movie. Jack Skellington (pictured to the left) is the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town (every holiday has their own town).  He has just had another successful Halloween.  He has, once again, won all the praise of the inhabitants of Halloween Town.  And he is bored out of his mind.  This is the song he sings to express how unhappy he is, even though everything is going great.

Why show this song clip in your class?  To teach allusion. There are several examples and depending on the level of student that you have, they should be able to pick out most.

Here they are in order as they appear in the song:

  1. Sally, the rag golem is an allusion to Frankenstein's monster.  Students might be able to figure that out from the stitch marks.
  2. He is walking through a pet cemetery (Stephen King's Pet Cemetery).
  3. Zero the ghost dog - easy Rudolf allusion
  4. There is a grave stone figure that looks like Mushu from Mulan.  If students make that connection, that's great.  However, The Nightmare Before Christmas came out in 1993 and Mulan came out in 1998, so no true allusion there.
  5. The horse head tombstone is actually an allusion/pun.  It looks like the chess piece knight.  Use the homophone reference for night.
  6. You have two versions of the Scream painting by Edvard Muench.  One tombstone looks similar to the painting and the other looks similar to the Halloween mask designed after the painting.  To really drive it home, he even says that he, "grows so weary of the sound of screams," at the same time that he drapes his arm around one of the tombstones.  Students might recognize the tombstone from the movie Scream, which has a mask based on the same painting.
  7. He calls himself Jack, the Pumpkin King.  Maybe an allusion or at least a play on the idea of a Jack o' lantern?
  8. As Jack stands in front of the moon, it is a reference back to Tim Burton's Batman, when the batwing flies in front of the moon for a special visual effect.
  9. And of course, the Hamlet allusion as he takes off his skull and holds it to recite "Shakespearean quotations."
O.K., did I miss any?  I feel like I did.  If you notice any more, please leave a comment so that I can add it to the list.  I'll give you full credit!

If you have the movie, you'll find this song starting at about 6:10 and ending at 9:45.  If you don't, here is a You Tube version:



You can find the lyrics here if you would like to do a lesson on assonance.  every second and fourth line of each stanza uses assonance to fake the rhyme.

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Everybody Dies

Check out this poster created by Caitlin Griffin:



You can buy it from the National Theatre Shop in London by going to this link: http://posters.nationaltheatre.org.uk/art/533553/everybody-dies-poster-art

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Spider-Man Unmasked!

Here is a great creative writing prompt to get kids pushing their thoughts a bit.  You do not need to be a comic book fan to participate (although if you are, there is that much more interest in it).  All you need is the ability to think divergently.

Show students this cover:



Now, supposing that everything shown on the cover is true for the story inside, how could this happen and Peter Parker still keep his identity secret?  We have these characters on the cover:

  • Dr. Octopus - his four extra mechanical arms are just as strong as Spider-Man and allows him to reach far away.
  • Peter Parker - the true identity of Spider-Man.  He has the strength, speed, and agility of a spider and has a nifty spider-sense that warns him of danger (which didn't help as the cover shows).
  • Four random police officers
  • Betty Brant - she is a secretary for the newspaper The Daily Bugle and Peter Parker's girlfriend at the time of this comic.
  • J. Jonah Jameson - a newspaper editor who hates Spider-Man with a passion.
Let students write out how Peter Parker is able to keep his identity secret even though seven people clearly see him unmasked.  Give prizes to the most creative and the closest to the original.


So what is the real story?

Peter Parker has a cold, so he has lost all his spider powers.  Doc Ock, however, wants revenge on Spider-Man.  He notices that the Daily Bugle seems to get all the press on Spider-Man, so he breaks into their building, tells the editor, J. Jonah Jameson, that he will print a challenge to Spider-Man to meet him at a certain location.  He then kidnaps Jameson's secretary to insure that it gets done.  Peter Parker, fearful for his girlfriend's safety, dons his Spidey suit and goes after Doc Ock, even though he doesn't have his powers anymore.  Doc Ock beats him easily and unmasks him.  When he sees it is a teenager, he exclaims that the real Spider-Man is too scared to fight him and sent this kid in his place.  Figuring that was why Spider-Man's punches were so weak and why he was so easily beaten, Doc Ock throws Peter to the ground and leaves.  Betty and Jameson both think that Peter is quite the hero, albeit rather stupid, and the police, after toying with what to charge Peter with, finally leave them alone.