Jenny Beekley, Danvers High School, Danvers, Massachusetts.
Hamlet 1.2.1-164 (The New Folger Edition)
What's On for Today and Why
Students will confront the central problem of this play: Hamlet's dilemmas. Focusing on Hamlet's reactions to the death of his father and the remarriage of his mother, students will study the text and grasp its subtleties by assuming the roles of directors and actors. Students will perform the scene for the class in groups and discuss the editorial and directorial choices each group made. Students will then watch a film clip of this scene and discuss the choices that the director and actors in the film made. Finally, they will write about this series of activites in a journal entry.
The goal of this lesson is for students to explore the dynamics that exist between the characters, and how those dynamics create dramatic tension. It will also encourage students to consider Hamlet's first soliloquy through the eyes of a director and performer.
This lesson plan will take two days.
What You Need
Photocopies of 1.2.1-164 (pages 21-31 of the Folger Edition of Hamlet, available in print and Folger Digital Texts) for each student, with all stage directions removed.
The handout (Reminders.pdf below)
A TV and VCR or DVD
Hamlet film (Almereyda, 2000; Branagh, 1996; or Zeffirelli, 1991)
What To Do
1. Students will have read 1.2 before coming to class. Begin with a quick clarification session on what, if anything, students didn't "get" in the reading.
2. Give students photocopies of 1.2.1-164 with all stage directions removed. Divide students into groups of 5 or 6 students each. Instruct the groups to assign parts and read through the scene together. Encourage students to add notes in the margins, making collective decisions as to when characters should enter and exit, where they should stand, what emotions they should convey, etc. Students should feel free to cut long sections of text, as long as the "essence" of the scene remains. As a guideline, students should be working with an edited script that takes 5-6 minutes to perform.
3. After 15 minutes, students should be on their feet, scripts in hand, working through the scene and their new stage directions. Remind students that this scene will be performed the next day. To guide students while they are working, distribute a list of important reminders (see handout).
4. When students enter class the second day, have them get in their groups and do a 5 minute run-through of their scene. Remind students to follow the guidelines on their handout. Students should arrange their seats so that the classroom has an open area to act in. Encourage students to watch the other groups closely, noting the decisions each group made. The audience should consider: body language, tone of voice, position of characters in relation to each other, and the overall mood of the scene.
5. After the last group finishes, ask students to respond to the performances. Ask students to highlight the similarities and differences between the scenes. Particularly, how did each group choose to portray Hamlet as he responded to his mother? Was he insolent, despairing, or angry? How did Claudius act? What did each group cut from the scene? What did each group leave in? Let the discussion run its course, but leave at least 10 minutes at the end to view the scene on film.
6. Show the class one director's idea of how to do this scene (I recommend the Branagh or Zeffirelli versions). Tell students that they will be responding to this section of the film in a writing assignment for homework: a journal entry that discusses the directorial decisions of the films, and the effectiveness of the actors' portrayals.
How Did It Go?
Were students talking in their groups about the "vital" parts of the scene? Did each student thoughtfully present his/her character to the audience and to the other characters? Were students aware of the different choices each group made? Was the effect of those choices apparent to students? In their writing, did students think about the characters' motivations and how these motivations are conveyed? Are the students developing a sense of what the problems in this play are?
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.