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Being fearless with Shakespeare

​Scene from Macbeth by William Shakespeare

​'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.'

Some of us may recognise this famous quote from Shakespeare's tragedy Macbeth, but for many 11 and 12-year-olds, getting to grips with 17th Century English literature may seem challenging at first glance.

But grasping the key themes and language of Macbeth was exactly what a group of Junior Secondary students from Keebra Park State High School and Ashmore, Benowa and Southport state schools successfully did as part of a unique Shakespeare project – Be Fearless.

Monique Johnson, Head of English at Keebra Park State High School, explained that the Be Fearless project redefined how young people engage with Shakespeare in the classroom.

Over 18 weeks, the students worked together to traverse the rugged terrain of William Shakespeare's play. As well as reading the text and analysing the key themes, characters and motifs, they also examined Australian law, using aspects of the Queensland Criminal Code to justify their arguments around whether Macbeth was guilty or not guilty.

At the end of the project, the students presented their case at the Bond Mooting Court in front of a defence barrister and lecturer from the Bond University Law School as well as family and friends.

"Macbeth, first performed over 400 years ago, is a challenging play about ambition and the effects on those who seek power for its own sake," Ms Johnson said.

"Through this unique project, our students were able to see that Shakespeare's work is timeless yet still relevant today.

"By introducing young students into the world of William Shakespeare they were able to examine how the play's themes created a noticeable balance of relevance and distance from their own lives.

"A key aim of the project was to investigate the fearlessness and resilience of the young learner when confronted with a complex text, new language patterns and connections which arise from Shakespeare's Macbeth.

"We experienced outstanding results across the 3-month project with incredible literacy growth from the participants. The project highlighted many innovative ways of approaching challenging pieces of literature," she said.

Participating Year 6 student Annaliese Garget said that the language used in the text was complex and challenging, often using words that we no longer used in our modern language.

"We cannot wait to learn more about Shakespeare and some more of his plays in high school," Annaliese said.

The project was presented at the Shakespeare FuturED Conference at the University of Sydney earlier this month where it received positive feedback. Many academics and educational leaders were amazed and inspired at how the participants engaged with a complex text at such a young age.

Macbeth will be a prescribed Year 12 text for the General English subject in 2020.

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia (CC BY 3.0) ( )
Last updated
30 April 2019