Rebecca Rufo, East Side Middle School, New York City, NY.
Hamlet, Acts 1-3
What's On for Today and Why
Many students have trouble identifying central images, symbols, and themes in Shakespeare's plays without a teacher directly pointing them out. This assignment allows students to work independently and identify literary elements and techniques in the play Hamlet through a creative learning activity. Each student will select a line from the play that he or she wishes to explore, and then create original poetry based on the images and associations inspired by Shakespeare's language. Through this assignment students will have a chance to discover their own meanings in the play and engage in critical interactions with the text. This assignment can be done at any point during the play, but if you assign it during Act 3 students will have many rich lines from which to choose, while they can also reflect on their poems after finishing the play.
This assignment can be completed in one class period.
What You Need
Folger edition of Hamlet
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts
Brainstorm Web Example Handout
What To Do
1. Ask each student to select a line from the play that he or she finds particularly powerful or central to the play. This line should contain an image the student wishes to explore. (You may wish to review the definition of image/imagery before beginning the assignment.)
2. Model an example for the class by writing a line on the board. Example line: "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark" (1.4.100).
3. Ask students to help you create a brainstorm web for the example. (See handout below.) Ask students to think about the following: What words come to mind when we hear these words? What do the words mean (i.e., How would you define them)? Do the words have any connections to the Bible, mythology, or history? What colors, smells, tastes, sounds, and sights come to mind when you hear these words? When you have filled in several words, try to connect the associations together to see if a general theme, character, or situation emerges. Don’t be afraid to let your imagination take control!
4. Ask students to create their own webs for their own lines of text. You may wish to have students work in pairs.
5. After the students have completed their webs, have them share their responses with the class. What common ideas do the webs share? What differences do they have? How does each web relate to the play?
6. Explain to the students that they will each write a poem (or you may have them do so in pairs if you prefer) based on the webs they have created. Remind students that a poem does not have to rhyme, and it can be in any form they wish.
7. Model an example by using the web the class created together for “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”.
Example of a start to a poem:
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark
Something foul and sour has destroyed the innocence
Blood red murder corrupts and controls the country
King Claudius the serpent decays the Eden
8. By modeling the example, students will realize that they will want to add words into their webs as they establish a theme for their poems. I usually tell students their poems should be at least 15 lines and they should use the line they selected within the poem at least twice.
9. Have students share their poems with the class when they are complete. Ask students to identify how the one line from the play reveals a larger theme of the play. Lesson Extension: When students finish reading the play, ask them to re-read their poems and write a reflection letter. They may answer any or all of the following questions: Did the meaning of your line change when you finished reading the play? Why or why not? Would you add or change anything in your poem based on what you discovered on finishing the play? Why or why not? If you were to write another poem, which line would you use instead of the one you originally chose? Explain. How do you feel about your poem now?
How Did It Go?
Did the students come up with original images? Did they actively engage their imaginations in their associations? Did they identify key themes and character traits that relate to the play? Did they enjoy playing with their own language by building from Shakespeare's? Did they feel more connected to the language of the play through their original creations?
If you used this lesson, we would like to hear how it went and about any adaptations you made to suit the needs of YOUR students.