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What is Hamlet thinking?

Teachers' Rating:
  7 ratings

Bert Sharkey. John Barrymore as Hamlet. Engraving, early 20th century

June 2010

Carol Moran Petrallia (retired), taught English at Columbia High School, South Orange/Maplewood District, NJ and taught ESL in South Orange/Maplewood Adult School, NJ.


Plays/Scenes Covered
Hamlet 2.1 and 2.2
What's On for Today and Why

Act 2 reveals the complexity of Hamlet's character and the dilemma in which he finds himself. This three-part lesson utilizes a sequenced list of lines from important and descriptive passages that will help ELL/ESL students approach and explore Hamlet's character in a variety of ways.Reading and performing these passages will help students understand that Hamlet is questioning his own motivation as well as the motivations of those around him. The list of lines may be used to introduce theme and plot, provide opportunities for students to read aloud, study language use, perform scenes, analyze character development, and write in response to their learning.


Part 1 will take one class period

Part 2 will take up to three class periods

Part 3 will take one class period

What You Need

Folger edition of Hamlet
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts


List of lines from selected passages

Notebook with pockets to keep class handouts and notes

List of passages
What To Do

Part 1: Introduction and Reading Aloud

1. Introduce Act 2 by handing out lists of lines from selected passages.


2. Have students read the lines aloud, "read around the room" style.


3. Write any unusual or difficult phrases (e.g Sith nor...nor") on the board/smart board and refer students to the reference pages in the Folger edition.


4. Repeat step 2 so that all students have a chance to read. Encourage students not to worry about pronunciation or complete understanding at this point.


5. Have students highlight/underline the names of the characters who speak the selected lines. Re-introduce the students to the characters in these scenes and refer to the List of Characters in the play.


6. Have students highlight/underline key words in each passage that indicate the main topic or emotion of the text. Have students share their findings and discuss the tone of such possible choices as "hell", "horrors", "lunacy", "madness", "conscience".


7. Finally, have students re-read the lines aloud ,"around the room". As the students become more familiar with the language, they will begin to form a clearer sense of Hamlet's character.


Part 2: Exploring meaning through preparation and performance


1. Divide the class into small groups and have students research the words and expressions used in the selected passages, keeping a record of their findings in their notebooks.


2. Have them read the lines that introduce and follow each passage sequentially thus placing the text  in a larger context.


3. As students re-read Act 2 have them address the following questions

  • Who are the other characters involved in this dialogue?
  • What do they say to or about Hamlet?
  • What do we learn about Hamlet's character?
  • What do Hamlet's own words tell us about his thoughts and motivation?
  • What do other characters reveal about themselves?

 There is no one correct answer to some of these questions and different interpretations are welcome but should be justified with reference to the text.


4. Have students present an informal reading or more formal performance of a specific scene based on one or more of the passages.


Part 3:

1. Have students review the list of passages as a helpful strategy for recalling the sequence of events and identifying the individual characters' descriptions and relation to those events.


2. Have students keep their work in their files as a reference.


3. Have students discuss and write responses to the importance of the passages in revealing Hamlet's character. They may also write predictions about events to follow in Act 3 based on their reading.

How Did It Go?
In what ways did students find the focus on specific passages helped them with character analysis and follow plot development?Did re-reading the passages help build vocabulary and pronunciation skills?

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.

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  Common Core State Standards

There are no standards associated with this Lesson Plan.

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