Through dialogue, playwrights reveal a character’s motivations, personality traits, and relationships with other characters. Diction (word choice) plays an essential role in writing dialogue because it creates mood, develops characters, and establishes events in the play. The following activity will help students analyze passages of dialogue and determine how they inform scenes in the play.
Arguably Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy, Hamlet addresses regicide and its terrible consequences. As the prince of Denmark and heir to the throne, Hamlet returns home from Wittenberg to find that his father, King Hamlet, has died and his mother, Queen Gertrude, has married Claudius, the king’s brother, who now rules Denmark as an illegitimate but powerful monarch. Intensifying Hamlet’s shock and horror is learning that Claudius murdered King Hamlet to usurp the throne and satisfy his lust for Gertrude. Grieving for his beloved father and despising Claudius, Hamlet is driven by the need to avenge his father’s murder and by his conflicting feelings about Gertrude; he loves his mother but condemns her for marrying Claudius almost immediately after his father’s death. The toxic relationships between Hamlet, Claudius, and Gertrude developed throughout the play are underscored in act 3, scenes 3 and 4, when Hamlet secretly observes Claudius in prayer and later confronts Gertrude in her bedchamber to unleash his fury over her betrayal of King Hamlet and their marriage. In these scenes, Claudius’s and Gertrude’s characters, as well as Hamlet’s, are revealed more fully.
Skills: character analysis, drawing inferences from text, interpreting diction for connotative meaning
In completing this activity, students will
- analyze passages of dialogue to identify the speaker’s character traits, conflicts, and motivations;
- examine the diction in passages of dialogue to interpret the connotations of key words and explain how they create mood in the scene;
- determine from passages of dialogue characteristics of the speaker’s relationship with another character in the play.
Our eNotes Classroom Activities give students opportunities to practice developing a variety of skills. Whether analyzing literary devices or interpreting connotative language, students will work directly with the text. The main components of our classroom activities include the following:
- A handout defining the literary elements under discussion, complete with examples
- A step-by-step guide to activity procedure
- An answer key or selected examples for reference, depending on the activity
In completing these classroom activities, students will be able to classify and analyze different literary elements, thereby developing close-reading skills and drawing deeper inferences from the text.