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Unit 1: Shakespeare Speaks
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Session 9

Everyone's feeling guilty – except William Shakespeare. We show you how to use the phrase what's done is done from William Shakespeare's Macbeth - and bring you some useful expressions relating to guilt.


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Activity 1

What's done is done - get over it!

The Scottish play

Macbeth, one of Shakespeare's best-loved plays, is a tale of murder, guilt, magic and lots of drama. There is a superstition in the theatre that saying the name 'Macbeth' will cause bad luck, so actors often call it 'The Scottish play' to avoid disaster.

Someone's also having some bad luck at the market in this episode of Shakespeare Speaks - as you can see in the image below,

To do

Watch the video and enjoy. While you watch, answer the question: who is feeling guilty - and why? Pay attention - there's more than one guilty person. The answer's under the video – no looking!

Watch the video and complete the activity

Show transcript Hide transcript

It was a late summer's morning. William Shakespeare is at the market.

A pound of plums, please, Mary.

Here you are Mr Will.

Mary? You're not your usual happy self this fine morning.

I feel terrible, Mr Will. I did an awful thing to that Nell Butcher – she's had her eye on my George for ages. I've had enough. I put pepper all over her fruit pies. Oh Mr Will, poor Nellie's in so much trouble and it's my fault.

Well Mary, there's nothing you can do about it now. What's done is done!

Lady Macbeth said that in your play, didn't she Mr Will?

She did indeed Mary.

She was telling her husband that you can't change the past. You just have to forget about it and move on, even if it's really, really bad.

And it was indeed very bad in my play, Mary. Macbeth murdered the King. And Lady Macbeth encouraged him.

No wonder he feels bad afterwards... I feel bad enough about the fruit pies...

Macbeth feels very guilty. He has some terrible dreams. But Lady Macbeth doesn't feel the same. She tells Macbeth to forget his bad thoughts.

Say the lines, Mr Will.

Very well Mary. Close your eyes and imagine: Macbeth is feeling bad about the people he killed. Lady Macbeth tells him that they are dead, so his guilty thoughts about them should die, too. He can't fix things, so he shouldn't think about them. These are her words:

Lady Macbeth
How now, my lord! Why do you keep alone,
Of sorriest fancies your companions making,
Using those thoughts which should indeed have died
With them they think on? Things without all remedy
Should be without regard. What's done is done.

We'll leave them there for now. In Shakespeare's Macbeth, Lady Macbeth is central to the play's examination of the psychology of guilt. Deeply ambitious and ruthless, she encourages Macbeth to murder his way to power, but by the end of the play she is overcome by guilt and descends into madness. These days, people still use Shakespeare's exact phrase: what's done is done, usually to say that there's no benefit in feeling bad for a long time about past mistakes. Take footballer Thierry Henry, explaining how his father taught him to always think of the next game.

Clip 1
My dad always taught me to never be satisfied, to want more and know that what is done is done... You've done it, now move on.

Clip 2
Just explain you meant to send the email to a different Sophie - and then forget about it. What's done is done.

So Mr Will, should I forget about the pepper and the pies...?

Indeed you should, Mary. And forget about Nell Butcher too.

Hmmm... to forget, or not to forget: that is the question.

Mary is feeling guilty because she put pepper in Nell's fruit pies AND Macbeth is feeling guilty for killing the King! We also find out that even Lady Macbeth feels guilty by the end of the play.

Do you think they should feel bad about what they have done - or is it time to get over it?!

To do

Now let's look more closely at the video. Have a go at this quiz to find out how well you understood. Watch the episode again first if you want.


Lovely plums - or peppery pies?

5 Questions

Answer the questions about the video to win a treat from the market!

Congratulations you completed the Quiz
Excellent! Great job! Bad luck! You scored:
x / y

4-5 Well done! A pound of lovely plums!
0-3 Oh dear - peppery pies for you!


It's time for us to move on too - to the next activity. Go to the next page to learn more about the phrase what's done is done, and to learn more expressions with the word guilt.

Before you go, can you remember who advised footballer Thierry Henry to forget about the past and move on? Find out on the next page.

Session Vocabulary

  • For more great Shakespeare content visit our partner,The OU >


    What's done is done

    People still use Shakespeare's exact phrase: what's done is done, usually to say that there's no benefit in feeling bad for a long time about past mistakes.

    Example sentence
    Just explain you meant to send the email to a different Sophie - and then forget about it. What's done is done.


    Extra vocabulary

    a superstition
    a supernatural belief that certain things will bring good or bad luck

    to get over something
    to accept something that happened in the past and move on

    to have your eye on someone 
    to admire someone in a sexual way

    don't cry over spilt milk
    don't waste your time worrying about small mistakes or accidents that you cannot change

    let bygones be bygones
    forget about disagreements that happened in the past

    not causing any guilt 

    guilty pleasure 
    something you enjoy, but feel guilty or embarrassed about liking 

    to guilt-trip someone
    to make someone feel bad about something they have done, so that they then do something that you want them to do

    a guilty conscience
    a feeling of guilt when you have done something wrong


    About Shakespeare Speaks

    Shakespeare Speaks is a co-production between:

    BBC Learning English

    The Open University


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