Hamlet Lesson Plan - Lesson Plan

eNotes Lesson Plan

Introductory Lecture and Objectives

Hamlet eNotes Lesson Plan content

Introductory Lecture

One of the best-known plays ever written and undoubtedly William Shakespeare’s most popular, Hamlet was first performed in 1601 or 1602. Although it appears Shakespeare took the basic premise from another play written decades earlier, his drama is a very significant literary departure from the original—and from revenge plays of the era: It is a psychological drama developed through the protagonist’s intense introspection. Furthermore, Hamlet is the first truly introspective character in English literature. By focusing on Hamlet’s inner conflict rather than plot action, Shakespeare created a character that has endured through the ages. 

Hamlet is an emotionally complex young prince, educated in philosophy and theology. Upon his father’s death, he returns home where he finds reason to believe his father, the King of Denmark, was murdered by his brother Claudius, who has assumed the throne. The responsibility of avenging his father’s death by killing his uncle falls to Hamlet; complicating his charge is that Hamlet’s mother has married Claudius. Although Hamlet vows to avenge his father’s murder, he delays. Much of the play centers on Hamlet’s prolonged inaction and, most importantly, on the psychological torment of his emotional quandary. He wants to act, but for reasons even he does not fully understand, he does not. Plagued by uncertainty, Hamlet grows increasingly volatile and troubled; he is ultimately killed, his death the result of a devious scheme orchestrated by the illegitimate king he was to have murdered in revenge. Although Hamlet eventually kills Claudius, his action proves to be irrelevant by the time it occurs. Hamlet dies as the result of his own inner turmoil, and there is no sense of redemption in the play’s conclusion. 

Although modern readers may not relate to Hamlet’s life as a prince or to the precise dilemma he faces, his essential conflicts are universal: the challenge of doing the right thing, especially when the right thing is not clearly defined; the inner conflict between passion and reason; the emotional turmoil of family drama; the trauma of betrayal; and the complex issues of deception, trust, loyalty, and honor. Although few readers would opt to feign madness, as Hamlet does, adopting a certain persona or emotional disguise when faced with a difficult new situation is not unusual human behavior in any age. Hamlet has been adapted to the screen more than twenty-five times, proving that these themes still resonate with readers today. 

Hamlet is rife with uncertainty. Shakespeare does not answer the questions raised by his characters and their actions; readers will have their own interpretations of what the playwright intended. There is much room for doubt about different characters’ motivations and Hamlet’s true emotional and mental state. Some readers will sympathize with Hamlet’s desire to do the right thing, while others will regard his increasingly volatile behavior with ambivalence, at best. Hamlet’s complexity and unpredictability are precisely what give Shakespeare’s play its depth and humanity. At times honorable, rash, deceptive, moralizing, cruel, mocking, insightful, and kind, Hamlet is endlessly fascinating. He may be a Danish prince from a distant century, but in his struggles to find his place in the world and behave honorably, Hamlet endures as an intriguing figure in world literature, as relevant to readers today as he was to Shakespeare’s audience.

By the end of the unit the student will be able to: 

1. Define and describe Hamlet’s moral quandary. 

2. Identify the primary themes in Hamlet

3. Determine what makes Hamlet such a timeless and popular work. 

4. Explain Hamlet’s feelings about passion vs. reason. 

5. Identify examples of deception in the text and explain their significance. 

6. Discuss ambiguity and uncertainty in the play and Shakespeare’s possible intentions regarding them. 

Instructional Focus: Teaching With an eNotes Lesson Plan

This eNotes lesson plan is designed so that it may be used in numerous ways to accommodate ESL students and to differentiate instruction in the classroom. 

Student Study Guide 

• The Study Guide is organized for an act-by-act study of the play. Study Guide pages may be assigned individually and completed at a student’s own pace. 

• Study Guide pages may be used as pre-reading activities to preview for students the vocabulary words they will encounter in reading each act and to acquaint them generally with its content. 

• Before Study Guide pages are assigned, questions may be selected from them to use as short quizzes to assess reading comprehension. 

• Study Guide vocabulary...

(The entire section is 598 words.)

Essay and Discussion Questions

1. In Act One, Scene Three, Polonius advises Laertes: “To thine own self be true.” Given all of Hamlet’s attempts at deception, how do you think Hamlet would feel about this advice? Although Hamlet is not honest with everyone around him, do you think he is honest with himself? Can you justify and reconcile Hamlet’s notions of honor with his acts of deception? 

2. Hamlet struggles with the dueling forces of passion and reason, behaving impulsively at some moments and restrained by his thoughts at others. What are some examples of his behavior in which passion is the driving force? When does he appear to be driven by reason? What are the dangers of each, according to Hamlet? Do you agree? 


(The entire section is 406 words.)

Act One, Scene One


assail: to assault

avouch: archaic to affirm, to offer proof

emulate: archaic adjective competitive, ambitious

eruption: a volatility

forfeit: to sacrifice

heraldry: an armory

jump: archaic precisely

moiety: archaic a half; a part or portion

palmy: archaic prosperous

parle: a conversation

portentous: ominous

precurse: archaic a prologue

rummage: a commotion

smote: attacked

unfold: archaic to identify

uphoarded: hoarded

usurp’st: archaic disturbs


(The entire section is 486 words.)

Act One, Scene Two


beteem: to permit 

canon: the law 

countenance: noun the face 

dole: archaic sorrow 

impious: profane 

obsequious: excessively servile in self-promotion 

obstinate: stubborn 

perchance: archaic perhaps 

retrograde: backward 

sable: black 

supposal: archaic an assumption 

suspiration: a sigh 

tenable: defensible 

truant: lazy 

writ: archaic prescribed 

Study Questions

1. “Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother’s death / The memory be green . . . .” Who says this, and what does he...

(The entire section is 839 words.)

Act One, Scene Three


beguile: to woo, to seduce 

behooves: requires (in the sense of being necessary or worthwhile) 

besmirch: to tarnish 

blastments: archaic sudden strikes 

bounteous: generous 

calumnious: malicious, false 

chariest: archaic most cautious 

circumscribed: restricted 

credent: naïve 

dalliance: a flirtation 

importunity: an insistent demand 

libertine: someone lacking moral principles 

perilous: dangerous 

precepts: rules 

prodigal: wasteful, extravagant 

scanter: scarcer 

sect: a rank 

slander: to disgrace 

tether: a restraint, often in the...

(The entire section is 573 words.)

Act One, Scene Four


beetles: archaic overhangs 

canonized: saintly, above reproach 

cerements: shrouds, cloths for wrapping corpses 

clepe: archaic to name, to call 

impartment: archaic a communication 

issue: archaic an end 

plausive: expressing praise or approval 

ponderous: weighty 

rouse: to wake 

traduced: archaic exposed someone falsely to shame or blame 

upspring reels: archaic lively dancing, spinning 

wassail: riotous drinking, revelry 

Study Questions

1. What does Hamlet think of Claudius’s drinking?...

(The entire section is 262 words.)

Act One, Scene Five


abused: archaic deceived 

adulterate: relating to an extra-marital affair as an act of adultery 

ambiguous: unclear 

antic: crazy 

arrant: archaic extreme, without moderation 

blazon: a coat of arms 

cellarage: a part of a cellar 

disposition: character, nature 

forged: false or deceptive (a forged document) 

incestuous: relating to incest, an intimate relationship between a brother and sister or between other close relatives 

lazar-like: like Lazarus, a famous leper 

leprous: suffering from leprosy, an infectious disease that causes deformities 

lewdness: crudeness 


(The entire section is 689 words.)

Act Two, Scene One


beshrew: archaic to curse, to blame 

coted: archaic treated 

drabbing: associating with prostitutes 

encompassment: an encirclement 

fordoes: archaic destroys 

incontinency: a lack of restraint 

perusal: a study, an observation 

prenominate: archaic aforementioned 

purport: significance, meaning 

wanton: extravagant, somewhat immoral 

wherefore: archaic why 

windlasses: devices for raising or lowering, typically on a ship 

Study Questions

1. What does Polonius ask of Reynaldo? How does he propose that Reynaldo go...

(The entire section is 360 words.)

Act Two, Scene Two


abridgement: an interruption 

appurtenance: archaic an accessory 

arras: archaic a tapestry 

bawdry: archaic coarse, obscene 

declension: a descent 

distemper: a bad humor, an ill temper 

escoted: archaic provided for 

expostulate: to speak 

fain: archaic gladly 

fretted: archaic divided 

gentry: archaic courtesy 

impasted: archaic encrusted 

indict: to accuse 

levies: taxes 

liege: archaic a sovereign 

o’erhasty: archaic overly quick, rash 


(The entire section is 808 words.)

Act Three, Scene One


affliction: a sickness 

affront: to offend 

assay: archaic to tempt 

beck: archaic command 

bestow: archaic to hide 

bodkin: archaic a dagger 

bourn: archaic borders 

calumny: a false, slanderous statement 

contumely: archaic insulting language 

discourse: a conversation 

disprized: archaic lacking value 

espials: archaic spies 

inoculate: to protect, to render immune 

niggard: archaic reluctant, difficult 

orisons: archaic prayers 


(The entire section is 1002 words.)

Act Three, Scene Two


beget: archaic to bring on 

choler: anger 

confederate: allied 

enactures: archaic actions 

groundlings: the people who stood on the ground instead of being seated at the theater, usually the poorest and least well-educated in the audience 

judicious: discerning through sound judgment 

keen: archaic piercing 

lief: archaic prefer 

naught: archaic naughty, vile 

occulted: archaic hidden 

purgation: purification 

robustious: boisterous, unruly 

shent: archaic rebuked 

stithy: archaic an...

(The entire section is 867 words.)

Act Three, Scene Three


assay: archaic an effort 

engaged: archaic involved 

estate: archaic reign 

mortised: connected 

noyance: archaic harm 

vantage: archaic an advantageous perspective 

weal: archaic welfare 

Study Questions

1. How does Claudius justify sending Hamlet away with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern? Is this the real reason? 

Claudius claims that Hamlet’s madness is a danger to him and to the kingdom. The real reason is that Claudius is aware that Hamlet intends to punish him for his crime, but he cannot reveal...

(The entire section is 610 words.)

Act Three, Scene Four


batten: archaic to fatten, to glut 

bulwark: a defensive wall 

counterfeit: a fake 

cutpurse: archaic a pickpocket 

enseamed: archaic greasy 

gambol: to run playfully 

incorporal: lacking form, immaterial 

panders: indulges 

ravel: to tangle 

reechy: dirty 

rhapsody: a highly emotional expression of feelings 

rood: a crucifix 

scourge: a whip used for punishment 

tristful: sad 

unction: a salve 

Study Questions

1. At the beginning of the scene, Gertrude says to Hamlet, “Hamlet, thou hast thy father much offended.”...

(The entire section is 859 words.)

Act Four, Scenes One, Two, Three, Four, and Five


appliance: archaic a remedy

arraign: to accuse

cicatrice: archaic a scar

collateral: an accessory

countenance: archaic verb to support, to favor

counter: archaic treason, rebellion

cuckold: the spouse of an adulterer/adulteress

heaves: sighs

hectic: archaic noun a fever

hedge: to protect, to surround

hugger-mugger: clandestine

importunate: archaic unfortunate, unendurable

imposthume: archaic an abscess

incensed: angered


(The entire section is 1001 words.)

Act Four, Scenes Six and Seven


abuse: archaic a deception 

bore: archaic scope, size 

grapple: to wrestle, to struggle 

gyves: shackles 

incorpsed: archaic absorbed 

overlooked: archaic read 

unsinewed: archaic cowardly 

Study Questions

1. How does Hamlet explain his return to Denmark? 

In a letter to Horatio, Hamlet explains that his ship was chased by pirates. He alone became their prisoner, and they returned him to Denmark. 

2. Laertes asks why Claudius did not kill Hamlet when he had the chance. What two reasons does Claudius give? 


(The entire section is 497 words.)

Act Five, Scene One


abhorred: archaic adjective horrifying, repulsive 

betoken: archaic to signify 

bunghole: the hole in a cask by which it is filled and emptied 

churlish: taciturn, rude 

crowner: archaic a coroner 

cudgel: to beat 

equivocation: an ambiguity, a falsehood 

forbear: to be patient 

gibes: sneers, mockery 

indentures: property liens 

kibe: an inflamed heel 

loggats: an old English game 

maimed: archaic shortened 

mazzard: archaic a head 

obsequies: archaic funeral rites 

pocky: diseased 


(The entire section is 597 words.)

Act Five, Scene Two


benetted: archaic surrounded 

canker: disease, destructive force 

carouses: toasts 

concernancy: archaic relevance 

conjuration: a magic spell 

cozenage: archaic a scam, a trick 

dearth: a lack 

extolment: praise 

imponed: archaic staked 

importing: archaic regarding 

imputation: a statement attributing guilt 

insinuation: an unpleasant hint or suggestion 

kettle: a drum 

meed: archaic a fitting reward 

o’ercrows: archaic conquers 

ordinant: an order, a decree 


(The entire section is 752 words.)

Multiple-Choice Test and Answer Key

1. The ghost in the first scene is the spirit of 

A. Hamlet’s uncle, Claudius. 

B. Hamlet’s older brother, who was meant to become King of Denmark. 

C. Hamlet’s father, former King of Denmark. 

D. the King of Norway, who has come to warn Hamlet of impending war. 

E. Horatio, Hamlet’s former tutor, who has come to warn him of corruption within the kingdom. 

2. The ghost reveals to Hamlet that 

A. England plans to attack Denmark. 

B. Claudius killed Hamlet’s brother, heir to the throne. 

C. Hamlet’s mother killed his father to marry...

(The entire section is 1989 words.)

Essay Exam Questions With Answers

1. Hamlet is preoccupied with death throughout the play. Why is Hamlet so consumed by death? Explain how each of the following quotations addresses a different aspect of death and Hamlet’s thoughts on the subject. Also, discuss what each statement reveals about Hamlet’s character. 

“O, that this too too solid flesh would melt, / Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew,/Or that the Everlasting had not fixed / His canon ’gainst self-slaughter!” 

“To be or not to be–That is the question. / Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer / The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of trouble, / And by opposing end them.” 

While holding...

(The entire section is 2948 words.)