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Enter Players: Constructing Character Connections in Hamlet

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William Shakespeare. Hamlet, prince of Denmark. London, 1768.

April 2010
Christina Porter, English Teacher/Literacy Coach, Revere HS, Revere, MA

Plays/Scenes Covered
This is a pre-reading activity for Hamlet. While the handouts contain examples from Hamlet, this activity can be adapted to any play using the cast list from that particular work.
What's On for Today and Why

Because the names of Shakespeare's characters are unfamiliar to many students, and because students may be unfamiliar with reading and performing drama, this can lead to problems that interfere with comprehension.  By allowing students to construct a visual map of all the characters in the play and their connections before reading, they have a tool to use while reading and acting to enhance their understanding and to go to if they get confused about the identity of a character in the play.  Visuals are also wonderful tools to support the comprehension of diverse students such as English Language Learners (ELLs).


Not only does this lesson allow students to become familiar with the characters, it also introduces students to how the characters are connected to one another.  After viewing these connections, students can make predictions about the characters, which can serve as a motivation to read and find out if their predictions are correct.


This lesson should take one class period.

What You Need
Folger edition of Hamlet
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts


Handout #1 (or copies of the cast list from the version of Hamlet  your class is using)


Large paper for students to create their character maps (11.5 x 17 works well)


Handout #2 (Optional)


Handout #3

Enter Players: Constructing Character Connection
What To Do

1. Arrange students into small groups and give them Handout #1 (the Folger edition cast list of Hamlet).


2.Provide each group member with large paper to construct their character maps on: 11.5 x 17 paper works well. NOTE:  If you do not use the Folger edition, you can also copy the cast list from whatever edition you use and hand that out to students.


3. Explain to the students that they will use the cast list of the play to create a character map that they can use to aid in their comprehension as they read the play.


4. Begin as a class, reading aloud the first character and character description (if there is a description).  On the Folger edition list, the first character is "The Ghost."  On the whiteboard/chalkboard/SmartBoard, draw a ghost and label it.  Instruct students to do the same on their maps.


5. The next character listed is Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, son of the late King Hamlet and Queen Gertrude."  Somewhere on the board, draw a stick person and label it, "Hamlet," write the character description below. If you are working with diverse students, it may be necessary to clarify expressions such as "the late king" or the meaning of certain words such as "widow."


6. The next character is "Queen Gertrude, widow of King Hamlet, now married to Claudius."  Just as for Hamlet, draw a stick person for Gertrude, write her description, and draw a line to Hamlet to indicate she is his mother.  Explain to students that whenever a connection is described between characters (son of ... wife of ... friend of ... etc.), they should draw some form of line to indicate that on their map.


7. Now that students have the first few characters mapped, explain to them that they should continue to create their maps in their small groups based on the character descriptions and the connections described in Handout #1.


8. Circulate around the room as students work, answering questions and checking their maps.


9. When students have finished, ask for volunteers to share their maps with the class.


10. OPTIONAL:  Give students Handout #2, one version of a connection map from the Folger edition cast list.


11. For homework/classwork, give students Handout #3 and ask them to fill in their predictions about the characters using their character maps.

How Did It Go?
Were students able to construct a complete character map in their small groups?  Did they accurately depict connections between the characters based on the information from the cast list? 

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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