Sound and Fury

The opening scene in Macbeth is brief yet highly atmospheric. Act 1 Scene 1 is set in a deserted, open space. As with all plays from this period, there would have been no set or special effects, Shakespeare set the scene with words alone.


First Witch:
When shall we three meet again,
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?

Second Witch:
When the hurlyburly’s done,
When the battle’s lost and won.

Third Witch:
That will be ere the set of sun.

First Witch:
Where the place?

Second Witch:
Upon the heath.

Third Witch:
There to meet with Macbeth.

First Witch:
I come, Graymalkin!

Second Witch:
Paddock calls.

Third Witch:

Fair is foul, and foul is fair:
Hover through the fog and filthy air.

1. Read Act 1, Scene 1 above. You may choose to read it out loud with one or two classmates.

2. Answer the following questions:

  • What mood and/or atmosphere does this scene set for the audience?
  • Why do you think Shakespeare chooses this scene as the entry point to the play?
  • What type of language and what techniques does Shakespeare use to create the mood?
  • Why do you think it is important to set the mood at the beginning of a story or play? What effect does this have on the way the audience responds to the story or play?

3. In a group or as a class, stage the scene paying particular attention to mood and atmosphere. How can you use sound effects, rhythm, percussion and voice to present the scene? (You don’t need to be in a theatre space to try this, you can do this without even leaving your desks!)

This will create what is called a ‘soundscape’ for your scene.

4. Once you have all your sound elements for your soundscape, play with layering them for different effects. How does the scene sound with one sound, two, three, or multiple sounds together?

5. Now, go back to Shakespeare’s text and read Act 1, Scene 1 over the soundscape you have created. Play with how you can present text and sound within the same performance.

6. Present your rehearsed piece for your class. How many different versions of the same scene were there? And how were they different or similar in mood and atmosphere?

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