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Hamlet

William Shakespeare

Theme: Grief, Guilt, and Revenge!
Grades: Grades 11-12


Summary:
Hamlet, Shakespeare's most well-known and most frequently performed play, is a tragedy of revenge, betrayal, and inner conflict. The Danish prince Hamlet is outraged by the hasty marriage of his uncle, Claudius, to his mother after the death of his father. When he is told in a terrifying encounter with his father's ghost that Claudius had in fact poisoned the king, Hamlet agrees to avenge the murder. Throughout the play, however, he faces a struggle between his desire to act and the uncertainties, fears, and obstacles that prevent him from doing so. In the midst of his anguish and ambivalence, he feigns madness, spurns the woman he had loved, and leaves a trail of death and destruction before finally killing Claudius and dying himself.


THEME OPENERS
  1. Concept Web.
    Ask students to work independently or in small groups to create a word web or other graphic organizer that explores one or more of the following concepts: fate, revenge, ambition, guilt. You might encourage students who are having difficulty in getting started to define the concept, give examples that illustrate it, and list their personal reactions to the concept.
  1. Role-Playing.
    Have students discuss or role-play the following situation. Ask them to imagine that they feel guilty about a crime they have committed. They want to have peace of mind, but they are unwilling to give up what they gained from their crime. Have students role-play a discussion of their situation with a psychologist or spiritual advisor.
CROSSCURRICULAR ACTIVITIES
  1. Out for Blood.
    Have students tell revenge stories to the class. They can read contemporary stories, folk tales, or stories they have made up. After each story is read, ask the class to compare the story's hero with Hamlet.

  1. A Deadly Game.
    Hamlet must overcome many obstacles before finally achieving his goal of revenge. Have students develop a Hamlet game in which the characters advance along squares on a board by throwing dice. The squares may have situations from the play that either reward or penalize the player who lands on them, or they may call on the player to make difficult choices.
RESEARCH ASSIGNMENTS
  1. The History of Blood Revenge.
    Discuss the concept of blood revenge with students. Blood revenge—personal injury inflicted by an individual in revenge for an injury to that individual or a family member—is most commonly practiced in communities or societies where no formal legal system exists. Ask students to research the history of this primitive form of justice and write a research paper about it.
  1. Mourning Practices.
    Inititate a discussion about mourning in Hamlet. Claudius complains that Hamlet grieves for too long, and Hamlet complains that Laertes grieves too loudly. In this project, students will give oral reports on mourning practices in different cultures.

    Suggested Procedure:

  • Have the class brainstorm a list of questions about mourning, such as, What rituals do family members perform? How are people supposed to express sorrow? How are the dead memorialized? Then ask students to name cultures whose mourning practices they would like to learn more about.
  • Divide the class into small groups, assign each group a different culture, and then have students in each group research the mourning practices of that culture. Research might include interviewing family members, classmates, or friends. Encourage students to find artistic expressions of mourning to share with the class, such as songs, music, poems, and artwork.
  • Students should decide among themselves how they will share in the presentation of information. After they finish their research, have each group give an oral report to the class.