Kevin J. Costa teaches English and Drama at the McDonogh School, Owings Mills, MD
This is a pre-reading exercise for the study of Hamlet.
Common Core State Standards covered: RL.6-12.2, 4, 5, 7
What's On for Today and Why
Using the Insider's Guide video for Hamlet, students will work with famous quotes from the play in an active way to introduce them to the play’s language and issues; to engage with the play’s cultural significance; and to reinforce their understanding of the of grammatical structure in an engaging, performance-based manner.
This lesson, depending on your time, can take from 1-2 45-minute classes.
What You Need
Folger edition of Hamlet
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts
- Key to Famous Lines and Phrases (below)
- Hamlet Insider's Guide Worksheet (below)
- Objectives and Tactics Handout (below)
- Folger videos "Insider's Guide:Hamlet," and "Is That Your Sandwich?"
Hamlet Quotes & Phrases
Hamlet Insider's Guide Worksheet
Objectives and Tactics Handout
Insider's Guide: Hamlet
Is That Your Sandwich?
What To Do
1. Show students the Folger's video, Hamlet: An Insider’s Guide, and take special note of the narrator’s comment, “You probably know more of the language of the play than you think. . . . This play has become so important, so central to our imagination . . .” This may be emphasized in step #3, when you turn to famous lines and phrases.
2. Facilitate a discussion about what the students do or don’t know about the play already. Has anyone read it? Does anyone know the story? Does anyone know famous quotes from the play? What are they? What do they think the play will be about? Does anyone know famous movie titles, for instance, that allude to Hamlet (e.g., What Dreams May Come) or book or song titles (or lyrics)?
3. Using the Folger edition of Hamlet, turn to pp. 339-42, “Key to Famous Lines and Phrases.” If you are using an e-book, online text, or other edition of the play that is not the Folger, please refer to the handout, below. Note that Folger e-books are available for tablets and e-readers.
4. Divide the class into groups of 4 or 5 students, and have them each choose one different quote per person (it doesn’t matter, however, if some groups pick the same quotes).
5. The objective is to have each group stage a famous quote. They do not need the full context of the quote(s) to do this; the idea is to have them play with little sections of language.
6. Once they have chosen their quotes, show them the Folger video, Is That Your Sandwich, which offers a lesson about how a single line may be spoken in a number of different ways based on how a student chooses to emphasize a word or words.
7. After you screen the video, ask one group to take a short line of text from the "Key to Famous Lines and Phrases" and play with stressing different parts of the sentence to see how meaning changes. It might be best to have the student or group speaking the line not be ones to describe the meaning; leave that up to the class to reflect on, and you’ll engage more of the class. Very likely, students will assign adjectives to what they hear in the spoken line. Encourage students to talk about how meaning changes, and have them describe the state of the speaker. Is he or she “angry,” “scared,” “happy,” etc.
8. Groups should now work on the lines they’ve chosen, and each student should print or access the handout, "Hamlet Insider's Guide Worksheet," below. Refer to the directions on this handout for details about this step in the lesson. Please note that this handout references "Objectives and Tactics Handout." You may wish to go over both handouts before students begin this step.
9. Once students have completed step number 8, you are ready to stage a mini festival of famous quotes from Hamlet. Ask the class to sit in a circle (if you have access to a school theatre, try to reserve that space). Each group should have one quote and accompanying mini-play per group member; this way, each student will have a chance to “star” in a mini scenario, and each will have a chance to play as part of the ensemble. Students may go in any order -- this is up to you. The hope is that these lines will serve as the starting point for imaginative, fun work with Shakespeare’s language. By having students “do” a line, they will be unpacking the possibilities of its meaning without even realizing it.
10. After everyone has gone, facilitate a class debrief on this lesson. Have each student in the circle finish the phrase, “I learned . . .”
11. Since the language of objectives and tactics rely heavily on sentence structure, you may choose to reinforce their grammar learning in having them debrief on the difference between adjectives, verbs, subjects, and objects. This is an active, practical lesson on grammar as well as on Shakespeare and acting.
How Did It Go?
- Did students feel comfortable working with small bits from a big play?
- What did they love most about this exercise?
- Do they understand that meaning in Shakespeare isn’t "hidden" or one fixed thing but that meaning is the result their choices and of Shakespeare’s language?
- Do they see how the choices they make are understood in terms of objectives and tactics?
When students realize that doing Shakespeare helps them to understand Shakespeare, they will interact with the plays in very different ways.
Transfer and Application
Each Folger edition of Shakespeare’s plays includes an appendix, "Key to Famous Lines and Phrases," so this lesson can be adapted to every single play. This is an excellent pre-reading strategy to familiarize students with the play in small bits, that introduces them to some basic concepts from theatre, and that can reinforce their understanding of sentence structure and grammar.
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.