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A Guilty Gertrude: Performing Speaking and Silent Moments in Hamlet

Teachers' Rating:
  5 ratings

Attr. to George Jones. Hamlet in the Queen's closet. Oil on panel, ca. 1830.

March 2004
Caroline Lee, Bronx High School of Science magnet school, Bronx, New York.

Plays/Scenes Covered
Hamlet 4.5
What's On for Today and Why

In this lesson, students will examine Gertrude's behavior, lines and thoughts in a scene that is normally analyzed for what it reveals about Ophelia's madness. Students will have to synthesize what they know about Gertrude to perform her chraracter in a scene where she has some enigmatic lines and long silences.


This lesson should take two to three class periods.

What You Need
Folger edition of Hamlet
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts
What To Do
1. Remind students what they have learned about Gertrude prior to this scene. It may be helpful to write a list of her attributes from 1.2 (coronation scene), 3.4 (bedroom scene), and 4.1 (Gertrude and Claudius scene) on the board. You can ask: What have we learned about Gertrude prior to this scene? How would you characterize her? Why might she have remarried so quickly? How do you explain her guilt in the bedroom scene? Where do her loyalties lie: to her son, husband, former husband, or herself?

2. Divide the class into 6 groups and distribute the selected lines to each group. Ask students to carefully read these lines first and then examine them in context to understand Gertrude's role.

Group A
Begin with Queen's "I will not speak with her." (4.5.1)
End with Queen's "Let her come in." (4.5.21)

Group B
Begin with Queen's "To my sick soul (as sin's true nature is)," (4.5.22)
End with Queen's "Alas, look here, my lord." (4.5.42)

Group C (Silent Gertrude moment)
Begin with Ophelia's "Larded all with sweet flowers;" (4.5.43)
End with King's "Give me superfluous death." (4.5.103)

Group D
Begin with Queen's "Alack, what noise is this?" (4.5.104)
End with Queen's "O,this is counter, you false Danish dogs!" (4.5.120)

Group E
Begin with King's "The doors are broke." (4.5.121)
End with Queen's "But not by him." (4.5.146)

Group F (Silent Gertrude moment)
Begin with King's "Let him demand his fill." (4.5.147)
End with Laertes's "How now, what noise is that?" (4.5.177)

3. Instruct students that they will be required to write down stage directions prior to acting out the scenes. These stage directions (in prompt book fashion) should clearly articulate the goals of each actor on stage, particularly Gertrude.

4. Each group will have to act out their portion of the scene, carefully figuring out how she is saying her lines and how she is behaving while she is both speaking and silent. Tell students that each person should be active in some way in the scene. Give them some time to prepare and then let the presentations begin!

5. Students should be focusing on and illuminating the role of Gertrude in each of the scenes that they see. Conclude with a discussion on the similarities and differences that students noted in each performance. Students can also evaluate each group's performance.
How Did It Go?
Did students make effective performance choices for Gertrude's variety of speaking and silent moments? Were they able to articulate the differences in interpretation that result from the different possible performances? Did the activity bring out elements of her character that students had been missing?

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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