The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark by William Shakespeare

Teacher Guide by Rebecca Ray

Find this Common Core aligned Teacher Guide and more like it in our High School ELA Category!

Hamlet Lesson Plans

Student Activities for Hamlet Include:

One of the most quoted lines of Shakespeare comes from The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark: "To be or not to be, that is the question!" Inspire and engage your students with captivating storyboards as you teach The Tragedy of Hamlet, a dark tale of a prince consumed by revenge. Bring the vivid imagery to life with our invaluable teacher guide that incorporates all four strands of the ELA Common Core State Standards.

Hamlet Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Five Act Structure in The Tragedy of Hamlet

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A common use for Storyboard That is to help students create a plot diagram of the events from a story. Not only is this a great way to teach the parts of the plot, but it reinforces major events and help students develop greater understanding of literary structures.

Students can create and show a storyboard that captures the concept of the Five Act Structure by making a six cell storyboard, like the one below. For each cell, have students create a scene that follows the acts in order: Prologue, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Denouement.

Act 1: Prologue

The setting is Elsinore Castle, in Denmark. The former king of Demark has died, and a group of soldiers tell his son, Prince Hamlet, that they believe they saw his ghost. Hamlet later sees the ghost and it is indeed his father. Hamlet learns the king was poisoned by Hamlet's uncle (the king's brother), who has since married the queen and is now the new king.

Act 1: Conflict

Hamlet feels that he must seek revenge on his father’s behalf. However, he struggles with the authenticity of the “ghost” and is indecisive about his course of action.

Act 2: Rising Action

Claudius hires two of Hamlet’s old friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, to spy on the prince. Polonius, chief counselor to Claudius, also spies on Hamlet. Polonius’s daughter, Ophelia, had been courted by Hamlet, but he now seems to reject her, perhaps in an effort to convince Claudius he is mad. Throughout the rising action, Hamlet tries to figure out if Claudius truly killed his father. When he hears a group of actors are coming, he requests that they act out a play that depicts a king being poisoned in the ear. This mimics the way the ghost claims he was killed. Hamlet thinks if Claudius reacts, it will prove his guilt.

Act 3: The Climax

Claudius leaves the play and goes to pray forgiveness for killing Hamlet's father. Hamlet overhears this and wants to kill him. However, he thinks if he kills him while he is praying, Claudius will go to heaven.

Act 4: Falling Action

Hamlet speaks to his mother about how disgusted he is that she is married to Claudius. Hamlet accidentally kills Polonius and is banished to England. Claudius includes a letter to the King of England that orders Hamlet’s execution. Hamlet escapes and comes back to Denmark. Ophelia, crushed by Hamlet’s apparent disdain and the death of the father, has drowned herself. Hamlet is challenged to a fencing match by Laertes, Ophelia’s brother, who blames Hamlet for the deaths of his sister (Ophelia) and his father (Polonius).

Act 5: Denouement

At the match, Laertes poisons the tip of his sword. Claudius poisons a cup and tries to get Hamlet to drink from it. Hamlet refuses and Queen Gertrude drinks from it instead. Laertes stabs Hamlet. They grapple, and Laertes is stabbed by his own sword and also poisoned. Hamlet makes Claudius drink from the poison cup, and then stabs him with the poisoned sword. In the end, only Horatio is left to tell the story. Fortinbras, King of Norway, arrives to find the royal family dead, and claims Denmark.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a visual plot diagram of Hamlet.

  1. Separate the play into the Prologue/Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Denouement.
  2. Create an image that represents an important moment or set of events for each of the acts.
  3. Write a description of each of the steps in the plot diagram.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Key Themes, Symbols, and Motifs in The Tragedy of Hamlet

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Valuable aspects of any literary work are its themes, symbols, and motifs. Part of the Common Core ELA standards is to introduce and explain these complex concepts. However, abstract ideas are often difficult for students to anatomize without assistance. Using a storyboard, students can visually demonstrate their understanding of these concepts, and master analysis of literary elements. For best practices, see our article with specific lesson plan steps on setting up your classroom and activities to teach themes, symbols, and motifs.

In the classroom, students can track the rich symbolism Shakespeare uses throughout the play. In the example storyboard below, the creator has focused on the motif of death. For Hamlet, death is the unknown, and he contemplates his actions in accordance with what he believes will be the consequences after death. In the storyboard below, the theme of death is explored.

Hamlet Themes, Motifs, and Symbols to Discuss

Nothing is Certain

Throughout the play, Hamlet searches for the truth. He wants to know what will happen after death, he wants the truth about his father’s death, and he wants to know what action are right. He cannot find answers to these questions though.

The Complex Nature of Taking Action

Unlike other Shakespearean protagonists, Hamlet doesn't take action. He is so concerned with finding out the truth, that he weighs or delays every action. Unlike Macbeth, who acts without thinking, Hamlet might wait too long, which also has consequences.


“To be or not to be, that is the question.” Hamlet’s obsession with understanding death is brought on by the tremendous grief he feels after his father dies. In his famous speech, he ponders why we suffer through life. In the end, he assumes that we endure life for fear of death.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes in Hamlet. Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.

  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify the theme(s) from Hamlet you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  3. Create an image for an example that represents this theme.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Hamlet as a Tragic Hero

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Hamlet is full of important literary elements for students to explore. One of these elements is the tragic hero, a protagonist who seems to be ill-fated, and destined for doom. In this play, Hamlet is the tragic hero as he leads himself and many others to their ruin and deaths.

The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, was the articulated the specific attributes or principles of a tragic hero. For the storyboard below, students can use a template to storyboard the qualities that make Hamlet, a tragic hero. The finished product outlines each of Aristotle's principles with a detailed explanation of the specific attributes.

Hamlet - Tragic Hero

HamartiaFlaw in the Character Hamlet’s repeated indecision prevents him from immediately killing Claudius, indirectly causing every other death in the play.
HubrisExcessive Pride Hamlet believes he is clever enough to beat Claudius and Laertes in any challenge. In the fencing match, Laertes takes advantage of this to poison Hamlet with his fencing blade.
PeripeteiaReversal of Fortune Hamlet proves to himself that Claudius is guilty, but now Claudius knows he has to kill Hamlet. His first attempt, with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, fails, but he then arranges the fencing match between Hamlet and Laertes.
AnagnorisisA Moment of Critical Discovery There are several moments of Anagnorisis in Hamlet. The whole play is set in motion when the Ghost of King Hamlet tells the prince that it is Claudius who has killed him.
NemesisFate that Cannot be Avoided Hamlet's failure to act immediately leads the duel between Hamlet and Laertes, where both men are poisoned and die.
CatharsisAudience's Feeling of Pity or Fear After the Hero's Fall With the Danish royal family dead, only Horatio is left to tell the story, while the King of Norway claims the crown of Denmark.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows how Hamlet can be considered a tragic hero.

  1. Identify events of the play or characteristics of Hamlet that fit into Aristotelian attributes of a tragic hero.
  2. Illustrate examples for Hamartia, Hubris, Peripeteia, Anagnorisis, Nemesis, and Catharsis.
  3. Write a short description below each cell that specifically relates Hamlet as a tragic hero.
  4. Save and submit the assignment.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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A Character Map for The Tragedy of Hamlet

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As students read, a storyboard can serves as a helpful character reference log. This log (also called a character map) allows students to recall relevant information about important characters. When reading a play, small attributes and details frequently become important as the plot progresses. With character mapping, students will record this information, helping them follow along and catch the subtleties which make reading more enjoyable!

Using a character map for Shakespeare is often even more beneficial. It also allows students to record the nuances of characteristics which create "foil" characters. The information that they record will help them to return and review personalities that contrast. The ability to visually see this helps students create connections and makes understanding concepts easier.

You can click on this map and create a copy on your teacher account. Feel free to use it as is, or to edit it for the level of your class. Printing it as worksheets, for your students to complete while reading, is a fast and easy way to incorporate this character map into your classroom.

Hamlet Characters

King HamletThe Ghost
Prince HamletThe Protagonist
ClaudiusHamlet's uncle and current King of Denmark
GertrudeHamlet's mother
HoratioHamlet's best friend, they studied together at the university
PoloniusLord Chamberlain, Laertes and Ophelia's father
OpheliaPolonius's daughter, courting Hamlet
LaertesOphelia's brother
Rosencrantz and GuildensternCourtiers and former friends of Hamlet, who spy on him for Claudius
OsricA servant, summons Hamlet and Laertes to a duel
FrotinbrasKing of Norway
ReynaldoPolonius’ servant sent to France to spy on Laertes

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a character map for the major characters.

  1. Identify the major characters in Hamlet and type their names into the different title boxes.
  2. Choose a character from the "Medieval" tab to represent each of the literary characters.
    • Select colors and a pose appropriate to story and character traits.
  3. Choose a scene or background that makes sense for the character.
  4. Fill in Textables with Plot Details, Characterization, Motives, Friends, and Enemies.
  5. Save and submit the assignment.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Shakespearean Vocabulary

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Another great way to engage your students is with a storyboard that uses Shakespearean vocabulary. Many students struggle with the meaning of commonly used Shakespearean terms; getting them to use them in context before reading is an excellent way to cultivate the comprehension of vocabulary. In the example below, students were asked to create storyboards that use familiar Shakespearean terms.

In a Shakespearean vocabulary board, students can use the words in a sentence they create, or they can pick a phrase from the play. In the example storyboard, the student has chosen to create their sentences for their words:

  • Marry - Indeed:

    "Then they asked me if that was the word of the Prince, and I replied, 'It was marry!'"

  • Pray - To hope:

    I pray the nurse comes quickly with good news!

  • Sauce - Sassy:

    The saucy porter wouldn't let me in without a password.

  • Thou - You (used for one person who is the subject of a sentence):

    If thou hast a cold come see me... the friendly apothecary!

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a spider map storyboard for Shakespearean vocabulary words and phrases.

  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify unfamiliar words or phrases that Shakespeare uses.
  3. Type each into the title boxes.
  4. Briefly describe the meaning of the word in the description box.
  5. Create a standalone comic in each cell that has the word in a sentence in a speech or thought bubble.
  6. Save and submit the assignment. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Conflict in The Tragedy of Hamlet

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Literary conflicts are often taught during ELA units. Building on prior knowledge to achieve mastery level with our students is important. An excellent way to focus on the various types of literary conflict is through storyboarding. Having students choose an example of each literary conflict and depict it using the Storyboard Creator is a great way to reinforce your lesson!

In Hamlet, much of the conflict stems from the information the ghost gives Hamlet, which ultimately leads to his death. In each act, Hamlet's need for revenge causes misfortune and death.

Having students create storyboards that show the cause and effect of different types of conflicts reinforce and develop literary analysis strengths.

Examples of Literary Conflict in Hamlet

MAN vs. MAN: Laertes vs. Hamlet

The men argue, and eventually fight over the deaths of Polonius and Ophelia.

MAN vs. SOCIETY: Hamlet vs. Court

Hamlet struggles with the Danish court. Convention has placed Claudius on his brother's throne, and allowed him to marry Gertrude, both of which upset Hamlet.

MAN vs. SELF: Hamlet vs. Himself

“To be or not to be, that is the question!”

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows at least three forms of literary conflict in Hamlet.

  1. Identify conflicts in Hamlet.
  2. Categorize each conflict as Character vs. Character, Character vs. Self, Character vs. Society, Character vs. Nature, or Character vs. Technology.
  3. Illustrate conflicts in the cells, using characters from the story.
  4. Write a short description of the conflict below the cell.
  5. Save and submit the assignment.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Brief Hamlet Summary

The Tragedy of Hamlet by William Shakespeare takes place in Elsinore Castle, the home of Denmark’s royal family. A ghost resembling the recently dead King Hamlet, has been spotted walking throughout the Castle. Prince Hamlet, the late King’s son, comes to speak to the ghost. The King tells his son that he was murdered by Claudius, the King’s brother, who inherited the throne and married the queen, Gertrude. Before disappearing, the ghost orders his son to seek revenge.

Prince Hamlet, a devoted son, agrees to avenge his father’s death but is overwhelmed by the weight of the task. Hamlet has been moody and depressed since his father’s death, and now becomes manic. Claudius and Gertrude had asked two of Hamlet’s good friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, to spy on him, but even they are unable to discover the cause of Hamlet’s strange behavior.

Before long, Hamlet devises a plan to test his uncle. A group of actors have come to perform at the castle, and Hamlet instructs them to perform a scene resembling his father’s death. Horatio, one of Hamlet’s oldest friends, and the only other person who knows of the murder, agrees to watch Claudius’ reaction.

During the sequence, Claudius runs to pray. Horatio and Hamlet believe this suffices to prove his guilt. Hamlet goes after Claudius with the intent to kill him, but hesitates, and refuses to kill Claudius while in prayer.

Hamlet then confronts his mother about his father’s death and her new husband. While in her room, he hears something behind the curtain. Thinking it is Claudius, he draws his sword, stabs through the curtain. The person behind the curtain was Claudius’s chief counselor, Polonius.

Hamlet is banished to England with for accidentally killing Polonius. The King sends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, along with signed orders for the King of England to kill the prince. Knowing their treachery, Hamlet switches out the letter with orders to kill Rosencrantz and Guildenstern instead. The two men are executed, and Hamlet returns to Denmark.

Back in Denmark, Polonius’s his daughter, Ophelia, who had been courting Hamlet, drowns herself in a river. Polonius’s son, Laertes, vows to avenge his father’s death, and blames Hamlet for Ophelia’s death as well. Claudius and Laertes devise a plan to kill Hamlet during a fencing match.

In the match, Hamlet scores the first point. Claudius offers him a drink from a poisoned goblet but Hamlet declines. Instead, his mother takes a drink and it kills her. Hamlet is struck by Laertes with a poisoned sword, and in a scuffle over blades, the two switch swords, and Laertes is shortly after wounded with the poison blade as well. Before he dies, Laertes confesses to Hamlet that Claudius poisoned the goblet. Hamlet stabs Claudius, and forces him to drink the rest of the poison from the goblet. Horatio attempts to drink from the poison goblet, but Hamlet orders him to stay alive to tell the tale. Fortinbras, King of Norway, arrives to find the entire royal family dead, Horatio tells him the story of what has happened, and Fortinbras takes the crown for himself.

Essential Questions For The Tragedy of Hamlet

  1. What decisions will I make today that will affect my life in the future?
  2. How would knowing what will happen after death affect the way I live?
  3. When is it appropriate to act on impulses, and when should care and consideration be taken?

Other Lesson Plan Ideas

  1. Create storyboards that show a contrast between times Hamlet acted quickly and when he was methodical. Show how the outcomes were different.
  2. Depict an event from the play that, if it happened differently, would have changed the entire play.
  3. Create a parody or satire of the play as if it took place now with social networking! Storyboard That has the icons you need to adapt Hamlet to your favorite website!
  4. Depict the important parts of the famous Hamlet soliloquy, “To be, or not to be...”, in six cells.
  5. Add a presentation to any storyboard project to showcase your abilities! (And hit CCSS Speaking and Listening Standards!)

From Stephanie (Head of Creativity)

Hamlet conjures images of ghosts, dark castles, characters acting (or going) insane, and sword fights that end in bloodshed. So, Storyboard That made it all for you!

  • Personal Favorite - I think the ghost is one of the coolest character designs of Storyboard That. Find it in the Monsters & Myths Character tab!
  • Pro-Tip - Adding blood, shadows, and other gruesome little details to your storyboards will make them more complete and visually appealing. Try adding items onto shelves, tables, and other surfaces to create a more immersive environment for your characters!

The artists always do their best to create items and scenes tailored to certain books. Great castle scenes can be found under the Historical Scenes tab and useful characters (including Hamlet himself) can be located under the Medieval Characters tab.

Check out all of our Shakespeare Resources

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•   (English) The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark   •   (Español) La Tragedia de Hamlet, Príncipe de Dinamarca   •   (Français) La Tragédie D'Hamlet, Prince de Danemark   •   (Deutsch) Die Tragödie von Hamlet, Prinz von Dänemark   •   (Italiana) La Tragedia di Amleto, Principe di Danimarca   •   (Nederlands) De Tragedie van Hamlet, Prins van Denemarken   •   (Português) A Tragédia de Hamlet, Príncipe da Dinamarca   •   (עברית) הטרגדיה של המלט, נסיך דנמרק   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) مأساة هاملت، أمير الدانمارك   •   (हिन्दी) डेनमार्क का पुरवा, राजकुमार की त्रासदी   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Трагедия Гамлета, Принца Дании   •   (Dansk) Tragedien i Hamlet, Prins af Danmark   •   (Svenska) Tragedin av Hamlet, Prins av Danmark   •   (Suomi) Tragedia Hamlet, Tanskan Prinssi   •   (Norsk) Den Tragedien Hamlet, Prins av Danmark   •   (Türkçe) Danimarka Prensi Hamlet Trajedisi   •   (Polski) Tragedia Hamleta, Księcia Danii   •   (Româna) Tragedia Hamlet, Prințul Danemarcei   •   (Ceština) Tragédie Hamlet, Princ Dánska   •   (Slovenský) Tragédie Hamlet, Princ Dánska   •   (Magyar) Tragédiája Hamlet, dán Királyfi   •   (Hrvatski) Tragedija Hamleta, Princa Danske   •   (български) Трагедията на Хамлет, Княз на Дания   •   (Lietuvos) Hamletas, Prince Danijos Tragedija   •   (Slovenščina) Tragedija Hamlet, Prince Danske   •   (Latvijas) Traģēdija Hamlet, Prince Dānijas   •   (eesti) Tragöödia Hamlet, Prince Taani