Gothic Features in Shakespeare's Macbeth

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The English advanced courses (LK) in secondary schools intensely work with authentic texts utilizing a vast variety of text types and formats that entail complex literary texts, non-fiction texts, and often visual, audiovisual or listening texts that are extracted from the radio, TV, or the internet. When it comes to advanced English courses, particular emphasis is placed on complex literary texts such as novels, dramas short stories, fairy tales or even pieces of poetry. Literature offers in-depth insights into various ways of presenting and evaluating basic human experiences, problems, and behaviors. Literary texts should not be treated in isolation but put into a thematic framework. Adequate handling of literary texts requires knowledge of important literary genres, literary design tools, and their text-immanent functions.

In addition, literature provides insights into different functions of literature and literary developments. It can serve the purpose of teaching students about the effect of artistic design as a creative process by engaging actively in the development of a literary text and thus stimulating the creative use of the target language. Hence, working with Shakespeare’s works, especially in advanced classes, offers a great insight into the literary world of the 1800s with regard to its literary genre or genres, its particular use of language and literary devices that are unique to the Shakespearean era. There is a widespread dislike of working with Shakespeare’s plays as well as poetry on the part of many teachers and students or pupils alike. It appears impracticable and expendable in the context of everyday communication.

Thus, I pondered on this notion and would like to offer a contrasting approach in this paper that considers including the Gothic genre and its features on the basis of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Although Shakespeare’s classic story of Macbeth predates the gothic genre, the tragedy frequently uses gothic characteristics that echoes through the entire play. The following lesson should thereby focus on the review of the Shakespearean tragedy with regard to its Gothic tone, motifs, characteristics, settings, characters and the overall plot to determine whether it can be classified as a gothic play and in what ways it utilizes Gothic fiction as in many ways Shakespeare seems to have inspired and validated Gothic fiction, and it could be argued that, in turn, Gothic fiction gothicized Shakespeare. Shakespearean characters and scenes from the latter half of the eighteenth century clearly depict Gothic elements. Despite the productions of the plays not being Gothic in themselves, the visual representations certainly have Gothic attributes.

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Analysis of Content in Question

The content in question concentrates on Shakespeare’s Macbeth which is a tragedy about the perils of ambition. The play is like a kaleidoscope as it reveals different patterns, meanings, and interpretations every time it is read or performed on stage. It can be viewed as a psychological study of a murderer’s mind, a play of illusions showing the effect on human beings of the mysterious or supernatural, a classic tragedy, a play of political and social realism or a historical thriller. The themes and imagery in Macbeth are endless and recurring. These include major themes such as ambition, order and disorder, equivocation, guilt and conscience, appearance and reality, pure evil. Further, the play is rich in imagery that carries powerful significance and such include the darkness and light, sleep, clothes, feasting and hospitality, blood, disease, and medicine.

If Macbeth is depicted within the context of plays that indulge in generic mixture, and are immersed within the context of the dynamics of change, the question put forth can determine to what extent Macbeth is a generic dichotomy with regard to genre borrowing of the Gothic era and to what extent (if it meets the requirements on a literary basis) it can be categorized as a depiction of a gothic forerunner.

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a prime example of his classic playwrights which are ingrained in curriculums in secondary schools, especially in advanced courses. The intent of including classic literature such as Shakespeare in classrooms, especially in foreign language classrooms (ESL/EFL), is for students to develop language-communicative skills. In addition, the students should learn the handling of media, as well as acquire presentation techniques.

Further, students should acquire cultural competences. In addition to the acquisition of cultural knowledge, this involves the development of intercultural competencies. Last but not least, the English language classroom aims to foster the use of texts - including authentic, appropriate reading. At the interface of literary didactics and cultural didactics, the introduction to Shakespeare takes place. The treatment of his dramas involves the handling of cultural goods and the literary text and getting to know the genre of drama. When analysing the content in question, it is important to mention that Shakespeare's reading in class seems to be in tension between outstanding cultural-literary relevance and excessive overburdening of students due to various factors such as the complexity of his language. The study of Macbeth offers a variety of teaching approaches which include the theoretical approach which can be text-based, for instance close reading and in-depth analysis of scenes. Also, a practical approach such as acting out scenes and offering a more modern spin on classic literature is possible.

The play fits in the genre of tragedy and yet displays a wide variety of genre borrowing with respect to the many Gothic features depicted in many scenes, the characters, the settings and certainly the tone and language of the play. Thus, the content in question stretches the play’s core genre in order to go into detail on the gothic influence and ponder to what extent Macbeth is a forerunner of Gothic literature in the play being ahead of its own time and predating the Gothic era. As Gothic literature focuses on humanity's fascination with the grotesque, the unknown and inexplicable aspects of the universe and the human soul, it fits to introduce students to this facet of Macbeth. Firstly, the characters in Macbeth have many Gothic traits and often set the mood for dangerous, malevolent acts that are unique to and add to the Gothic atmosphere.

These pertain to the three witches that cast the mood for the entire play with respect to their sinister, nursery rhyme sounding incantations which stand out in stark contrast from the blank verse spoken by other characters. It is said that Shakespeare’s Macbeth was written between 1604 and 1606. In turn, Shakespeare’s time was marked by witches who were feared and people used to believe in them and witchcraft in general. It is noteworthy that the inversion of the natural order is evident in the witches’ languages as they often utter contradictions. Therein lies the play’s strong sense of moral confusion as the underlying implication states that nothing is quite as it seems. This is certainly comparable with the core elements of Gothic fiction which include the unknown, the supernatural forces or evil spirits that can also be found in Macbeth. The content in question also includes a particular emphasis on Shakespeare’s tone which entails his use of language that reflect many salient features that are attributed to Gothic fiction.

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Gothic Features in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. (2020, November 26). WritingBros. Retrieved July 13, 2024, from
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