A Guilty Gertrude: Performing Spoken and Silent Moments in Hamlet

Author: Caroline Lee, Bronx High School of Science magnet school, Bronx, NY 

Editor: Greta Brasgalla, Folger National Teacher Corps and Curriculum Specialist at El Dorado High School, El Paso, TX

Common Core Anchor Standards: R.1, R.3, W.10, SL.6

Text: Hamlet 4.5

Lesson Overview

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 synthesize what they know about Gertrude to perform her character in a scene where she has some enigmatic lines and long silences. Students will evaluate where Gertrude’s loyalties lie within the scene.

Time: Two to three 45-minute class periods


  • Folger edition of Hamlet
  • Loyalty cards: each group has four cards to use after performances that say: herself, her husband, her former husband, her son

What To Do

Day One

  1. Activate prior knowledge: 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.
  2. Guiding questions: 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? Display this list on a chart tablet or on the board as the activity progresses.
  3. Divide the class into six 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.
    2. 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

    4. 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.

    5. 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.

Day Two

  1. Give students a few minutes to rehearse their scene. Give each group their set of “loyalty cards” to use after each section is performed.
  2. Students will perform their scene. After each scene, groups not performing decide which “loyalty card” fits for Gertrude in this section. The group displays their card and gives evidence to support their claim.


Students will write an open ended response in which they identify two loyalties that Gertrude exhibits in the scene and give textual evidence to support their assertion.