Paparazzi Shakespeare: Ophelia’s Madness Revealed!

Author: Kevin J. Costa, Folger National Teacher Corps and teacher of English and Drama at McDonogh School, Owings Mills, MD 

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

Common Core Anchor Standards: R.3, R.10, W.3, W.6, W.9

Text: Hamlet, 4.5

Alternative Texts:

  1. Malvolio’s "mad" scene in Twelfth Night 3.4
  2. The scene following Duncan’s murder in Macbeth 2.3
  3. Leontes’s jealous rage in The Winter’s Tale 1.1
  4. Titus’s famous banquet scene in Titus Andronicus 5.3
  5. Caesar’s assassination in Julius Caesar 3.1

Lesson Overview

Students will examine Hamlet 4.5 through a variety of lenses: performance, social media, and writing. Students will analyze how social media uses urgency and emotional appeals to develop a story. Students will create short, powerful messages within a 140-character limit. Students will discover how news becomes universal by using targeted key words (hashtags).

Time: Three 45-minute class periods


  • Folger edition of Hamlet
  • Folger’s Video, “Ophelia and Madness
  • Digital cameras, video cameras, or smart phones
  • Twitter accounts - or you can use to imitate a Twitter feed
  • Computers with Internet access
  • Projector and screen or Smart Board
  • Video-editing software (widely available)

What To Do

Day One

  1. Watch "Ophelia and Madness" from Folger's Insider's Guide. This video will give your class a context for 4.5 without giving all of the details away.
  2. Have students put the following names in a hat, and have each student draw a name (this lesson is designed for 25 students, but you may adapt this to your numbers, doubling parts or multiplying roles as appropriate).
    1. Gertrude
    2. Gentleman
    3. Horatio
    4. Ophelia
    5. Claudius
    6. Messenger
    7. Laertes
    8. Laertes’s followers (3)
    9. Paparazzi Tweeters (3)
    10. Paparazzi Photographers (3)
    11. Lead writers (3)
    12. Television News Anchors (3)
    13. Camera people (3)
  3. Once everyone has his or her role:
    1. Actors should begin work on staging their scene by reading the scene, establishing entrances and exits, and establishing any set pieces or props needed. They do not have to memorize their scripts.
    2. The Paparazzi should set up a specific Twitter hashtag to use for each of their networks. If Twitter is not allowed, students can still use a hashtag and “tweet” their 140-character observations using
    3. Lead writers, anchors, and camera people should invent a network based on what they know of TV news. They should establish what type of news they carry and the image they want for their network.

Day One Homework

  1. Actors should read through the scene and their parts making sure that they understand their words and relationships as best they can.
  2. The rest of the class should NOT read the scene for homework.
  3. Paparazzi photographers should establish with their networks a location to send photos (a private Facebook page or other photo sharing platform).
  4. The non-acting students should also all watch at least one news program that evening to refresh their memories of what broadcast news stories look and sound like. Ask them to take notes of key features they notice.

Day 2:  A Scandal at Elsinore!

  1. The class should begin right away:
    1. Actors should take their places
    2. Paparazzi Tweeters and photographers should “hide” in the place where the scene will occur
    3. Camera people and news anchors should be in another room to take notes.
  2. The scene should begin, and, as it unfolds, the Paparazzi should be live-tweeting the information they’re getting from the scene remembering to use the appointed hashtags. When they can, the paparazzi should quote directly from the scene.
  3. As the live tweets and photographs come in, the writers and camera people (they should work together) should be sifting through words and pictures to figure out what story they wish to broadcast. What will their lead be? How should events be organized in the story?
  4. This kind of real-time chaos should continue until the scene is over (it should take approximately 12 - 13 minutes for the scene to be played out).
  5. Once the scene is done, each network will now spend 25 - 30 minutes:

    1. Writing a 30-second spot (about 75 words max.)

    2. Rehearsing it for taping

    3. Taping the show.
  6. Each broadcast should

    1. Include at least two photographs in the spot

    2. Include at least one direct quote from any character in the scene

    3. Actors from the scene can be available for interview spots.
  7. The class should work to complete this video in the time allowed -- pressure to produce is part of the fun and engagement.

Day 3

On day three, each network should screen their videos. Students should fill out the assessment questions during and after the videos are screened.


Students answer the following questions and discuss them as a class.

  1. Which story was most accurate? Why?
  2. What details were correct, and which were not? Use the text to support your answer.
  3. Did the type of network make a difference in the way the story was viewed (TMZ-style vs CNN-style)
  4. Did each story have a photograph?
  5. Did each story quote at least once character?
  6. Which was your favorite story and why?
  7. Actors: were you portrayed accurately? Why or why not?