Macbeth's Disciple - Exploring Character

In creating Macbeth’s Disciple and developing a set of notes, we believe we are offering a radical new way of teaching Shakespeare’s Macbeth to school students which will stimulate them, maintain their interest and concentration and improve their grades at examination or course assessment.

The invented characters in Macbeth’s Disciple (i.e. those that do not appear in Shakespeare’s Macbeth) were evolved using a method called Exploring Character invented by Lloyd Trott for teaching dramaturgical text analysis to Acting students at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). London, UK.

In the notes, we have gone into considerable detail in explaining the best way of approaching the method Exploring Character. We have used a step by step approach, anticipating teachers’ questions and highlighted the key moments of maintaining students’ interest.

Teachers may wish to use the complete Exploring Character programme or choose key elements of it to include in existing lesson plans. At the very least, we believe, reading these notes will stimulate teachers, with many individual tips, to invigorate their teaching.

By moving the students away from the main existing text, but staying within the world of Macbeth extended by their own imaginations, they can create characters and events that could happen in that world as we have done in our film Macbeth’s Disciple. The students absorb more of the world, and return to the actual Macbeth text with an enriched understanding of it, feeling more confident in making judgements about the actual text of Macbeth as written by Shakespeare.

The lead character in Macbeth’s Disciple is Cormac. Who is he? Where does he live? What does he do? Do we meet him in the play Macbeth?

Using the method of Exploring Character outlined on these pages, we took the character of the captain, from Act one, Scene 2 (1.2.1) and we called him, Cormac. We gave him a family. We gave him a back story and we identified his character. Then we created a scene where he interacted with Macbeth. A scene where Macbeth promises Cormac everything he’s ever wanted …all he has to do is kill a rebel leader.

Duncan says; “What bloody man is that? He can report…1.2.1.

Malcolm replies; “This is the sergeant who like a good and hardy soldier fought ‘gainst my captivity. Hail, brave friend…”

We asked some questions;
How possible was it to walk away from such a powerful character as Macbeth. The murderers of Banquo in Act 3 Scene 3 seen at first sight appear to be villains of the first degree but what was it that compelled them to carry out Macbeth’s orders? Could any of the three have been fundamentally honest? What if one of them was somebody the audience had met before such as the captain in Act 1 Scene 2. What could have been the life story that made the captain, whom we have named, Cormac, also be the third murderer? And what would be the situation if Macbeth gave him the ultimate test of loyalty?

In Macbeth’s Disciple, you will see Cormac faced with a choice. He will have to choose between Ambition and Honour just as Macbeth did when deciding to murder Duncan. We have set up a scene where Cormac is faced with a choice that will change history.

We asked ourselves some more questions;

What must it have been like to live in eleventh century Scotland when the real king Macbeth lived? What were the belief systems of the day? Why did Shakespeare deliberately put the three Wyrd Sisters (witches, weird sisters) on page one? Did he want us to know the world was very different from his Christian dominated 17th century? How much did the people of the eleventh century believe in the supernatural?

There are, of course, alternative settings for the story of Macbeth and we have seen many but as Shakespeare chose the eleventh century then that was our choice too.

Macbeth’s Disciple is set in an authentic 11th century Scotland. This is not the Scotland of Braveheart or Rob Roy, or King Arthur with kilts, but is a more Norse/Celtic world, almost Viking in appearance. In many ways, the world of Macbeth, to be authentic to the eleventh century, should look like Tolkiens ‘Middle Earth’.1

We can be fairly certain that Shakespeare’s Macbeth took liberties with the history as known and, for example, he shortened the reign of Macbeth from 17 years to about ten months. That said, Shakespeare retains many of the events from Holinshed’s Chronicles.

However, it was not our intention to try to reconstruct the truth about Scottish history. Our aim was to produce a first-class film which is an exploration of Shakespeare’s four hundred year old play for a modern audience.

Macbeth’s Disciple is a work of fiction, and like all story-tellers we do, indeed we must, take liberties with the so-called “known facts” of history to heighten dramatic effect. Therefore, in order to preserve the key aspects of Shakespeare’s play, we accept his characterisations and his version of events as definitive, and weave our story around those. Shakespeare may well have known a great deal of Dark Age history and has alluded to those mythological beliefs of the time. He tells us during the Malcolm/Macduff scene (4.2) that the English king Edward was on the throne so he clearly knew at the time of his Macbeth, Edward the Confessor was king of England.

However, where we do differ from Shakespeare is that we attempted to recreate 11th century Scotland more accurately than he could have done on stage.

To purchase the full notes for EXPLORING CHARACTER – please contact

1We loved THE REAL MIDDLE EARTH by Brian Bates.