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"To Show Virtue Her Own Feature," Insider's Guide to Hamlet: Ophelia’s Madness

Teachers' Rating:
  1 rating


August 2012

Kevin J. Costa teaches English and Drama at McDonogh School, Owings Mills, MD


Plays/Scenes Covered

Hamlet, Act One, Scene 3; Act 2, Scene 1; Act 3, Scene 1; Act 3, Scene 2; and Act 4, Scene 5


Common Core State Standards covered: RL.6-12.1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

What's On for Today and Why

The class will break into five groups of equal numbers to create a photographic "Illustrated Ophelia" series, similar to the tradition of editions of the Complete Works, primarily in the 19th. c., where drawings were used to illustrate key moments from the plays.


In this lesson, students will use the program, Instagram, with captions depicting moments from Ophelia’s life in Hamlet. At the culmination of this lesson, students will have performed close readings of at least one of the scenes with Ophelia, will have selected key lines of language, will have produced photographic renderings of central moments from the play in the form of tableaux allowing the class to follow her journey through language and image.


This lesson will also allow students to explore Ophelia’s journey into madness.


This lesson should take two to three 45-minute classes and requires access to popular technology via smart phones, tablets, or computers.


This lesson will work best if you have already studied the play through Act 4, Scene 5.

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

  2. Folger Video, "Ophelia and Madness" (below)
  3. Digital cameras or smart phones;
  4. Projector and screen or Smart Board
  5. Instagram accounts

Ophelia and Madness
What To Do


  1. Show the Folger video "Ophelia and Madness." Look especially at the section between 2:20 - 3:15 when the actor playing Ophelia in the Folger Theatre production discusses how Ophelia undergoes a transformation from a passive to an active figure.
  2. Facilitate a discussion about this topic and ask them to reflect on Ophelia’s plight. Invite conversation about any other elements of the Folger video.
  3. Next, look at examples of Shakespeare illustrated. Many examples exist from the 19th. century. Excellent resources include:
    1. Shakespeare Illustrated (Emory University)
    2. Illustrated Shakespeare (University of Wisconsin)
    3. Luna Images (Folger Shakespeare Library)
  4. Break the class into five groups of equal size, and assign each one of Ophelia’s scenes (1.3, 2.1, 3.1, 3.2, 4.5)
  5. Once each group has a scene, they should work on it, either by doing a table-read (i.e., a reading with all the parts cast and with people sitting around the table with pencils in hand) or by staging it. Students should choose which mode they prefer. Whatever they do, they are to each mark lines that could be “caption worthy” -- a moment that really distills the essence of Ophelia, of an event, or of a relationship.
  6. The groups should have ample time to work on this (30 - 40 minutes), and this part of the exercise might run into the next class.


  1. Each group should review the captions from Day 1. Once they have reviewed these, they should choose three lines or phrases from which they will create a tableaux -- a frozen picture that will dramatize the piece of text with which they are working. It is important they they justify their choices not only in terms of the line they’re using, but of the context in which the line occurs.
  2. When the tableauxs are completed, one of the group members will take a picture of the scene and upload it to Instagram so that effects may be added (time should be allowed for students to play with this program, if they aren’t already familiar with it). While this is fun and creative, the students should be able to justify their choices for the kinds of effects they use.
  3. Since there are three captions that must be staged, every student in the group should have an opportunity to be in a tableaux, even as an extra to the scene.
  4. When all the groups have their photos ready, with effects and captions, they will present their work to the class. Photos may be shared to Instagram’s site or to Facebook.
  5. Each group should consider the following questions in their presentation:
    1. What is the context for the chosen text?
    2. What is the tableaux communicating about this text and the context from which it is taken?
    3. Why were these particular lines chosen over others?
    4. What other lines were being considered? Why weren’t they selected?
    5. What effects from Instagram were used and why?

What can we learn about Ophelia’s journey into madness, from textual and visual points of view, based on this project? To the extent you can, all responses should be defended by evidence from the text.

How Did It Go?
  • Were students engaged in project-based learning?
  • Did you see evidence of collaborative close reading?
  • Did students engage in interpretive practices with complex text?
  • Did they communicate their intended messages effectively through visual media?
  • Were they able to gain a clear understanding of Ophelia’s journey and transformation in the play?


Transfer and Application


This exercise will work with just about any character in Shakespeare’s plays. Characters with strong journeys include:


Kate, Taming of the Shrew

Richard II, Richard II

King Lear, King Lear

Juliet, Romeo and Juliet

Macbeth & Lady Macbeth, Macbeth

Miranda, The Tempest

Malvolio, Twelfth Night

Titus Andronicus, Titus Andronicus

Leontes, The Winter’s Tale

Beatrice and Benedick, Much Ado About Nothing

Marc Antony, Julius Caesar & Antony and Cleopatra


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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