Macbeth Writing Prompt

My 10th grade students are reading Macbeth. When we are done I want the students to tell me whether Macbeth was a hero or a failure, --or–, whether ambition is its own reward or if it is better to play it safe and not risk dire consequences/downfall.

But I wanted to make it harder to jump on Macbeth…to play devil’s advocate a little. So I grabbed a few ideas from my textbook and made a Formative which has them look at two paintings depicting the Icarus myth. The first is dismissive and the second is more in awe of the flight. Then I have them read a poem where Icarus fall is mentioned initially, but the wonder and audacity of the flight is what is focused on more than anything.

From this I’m hoping they’ll consider that a band ending doesn’t necessarily mean the middle wasn’t worthwhile…and maybe I’ll avoid 150 papers telling me ambition is the root of all evil. I’m hoping to just shake them up more than anything. So any way…here’s what I made.

The clone code is: PGOTZT
And the URL is:


Hey Sean, I noticed that you are new here :slight_smile: Welcome to the Community Center! I think that your idea to help students juxtapose the two different paintings is brilliant and should lead to some interesting discussions that help students adopt more nuanced perspectives about those themes you mention! I’d love to hear what other @ELA_Educators think as well!


I love this idea! I do “Julius Caesar”, but I do Icarus along with “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” poem and “To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Triumph” poem along with the Breugel painting. They have to talk about how the poet transforms Icarus. I’m definitely going to think of your option! Thanks so much. Have a nice day.


Hi, Sean! Welcome. I like the way you lead your students through a closer reading of “Flight 063,” drawing their attention to specific words and rhetorical moves. The poem is new to me; thank you so much for sharing.

My tenth graders do not read Macbeth, alas. If I ever have the opportunity to teach it, however, I will certainly remember your approach.

@Lisa_Scumpieru, do you ever add “To a Friend Whose Work Has Come To Nothing” to the other Yeats poem and the Bruegel? Would that be too many texts for the students to juggle, do you think?

I have been thinking about ways to teach my students about persistence and failure. I think your ideas and Sean’s will help. Thank you both.



What I was describing is a three day process:
Day One: Bruegel painting and Yeats poem
Day Two: Icarus Sculptures and Sexton poem
Day Three: Looking at how Icarus’ story was portrayed in multiple sources.


This is a really interesting idea. I like the idea of teaching ambition can be a double edge sword. I will be trying this next time I teach Macbeth. Thanks for this.


Yes! That painting is so funny. It’s so dismissive of this huge character in mythology. It’s not hard to imagine how Breugel would paint Caesar!


Another thing connected to persistence/permanence is Shelley’s Ozymandias. I just made a Formative for that as well. Shelley, of course, seems to feel the work of the artist (the sculptor and himself, the poet) will outlast that of “great” men like Ramses II (and, arguably Caesar, Icarus, etc.)…that the men’s deeds are actually less important or memorable than the artistic representations which immortalize them.

I’m also attaching it, for me, to Macbeth–because I’m hoping some of them might point that only great men are immortalized as such, thereby justifying Macbeth’s ambition…or perhaps they’ll point out that Macbeth’s ambition is folly, and all that matters is that Shakespeare’s creative work immortalized him…but the play itself is a more meaningful expression of ambition than the deeds of any king like Macbeth/Ramses/Caesar. It can really go either way…which is why I threw it in.


@sbird: Last year I made one for Ozymandius as well. Here is mine:

Always good to see how everyone does a formative and perhaps combine some! :slight_smile: Have a great day.

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Okay, this will show all of you that I have way too many formatives to keep them straight. I put them in folders to keep things tidy and that helps, but then I forget what I have! I was looking for another formative and found a formative I did last year for Icarus. I thought I would share:
Have a great day.

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