Appreciating Shakespeare’s ~’Hamlet~’ requires effort and dedication. The writing activities in this lesson will help your students get as much as possible out of the play.
Why Hamlet Writing Activities?
Are you working on Shakespeare’s Hamlet with your students? This play is a wonderful example of canonical literature, but it also presents a certain degree of challenge to many readers. One way you can help your students understand the play and feel more connected to it is by incorporating writing activities into your instruction. When students write in response to Hamlet, they have to take ownership of their own comprehension and access the play on their own level. Writing will also help your students understand the amazing feat Shakespeare accomplished in composing the play. These activities can be modified to meet the exact needs and abilities of students in your class.
Creative Writing Activities
These activities approach Hamlet from a creative point of view. Students will have to be open-minded and make sense of the play in their own terms as they work through these activities.
For this activity, each student should choose one specific scene from the play to focus on. Their job is to rewrite the scene but using contemporary English rather than Shakespearean language. They should maintain the structure of the dialogue and also the meaning, but their vocabulary and grammar will be modern. As a challenge, see if students can do this while still using iambic pentameter!
Letter from Ophelia to Hamlet
This activity should happen following Ophelia’s death. Ask your students to imagine that after Ophelia dies, she is still able to see everything that transpires in Hamlet’s life. Have them write letters to Hamlet from Ophelia, from beyond the grave. Your students will have to imagine what Ophelia would say to Hamlet and how she would respond to plot developments after her death.
If Someone Could Hear…
Hamlet’s various soliloquies are essential to Shakespeare’s play and to his character development. It is key that he makes these speeches in isolation, but for this activity, students should imagine that someone is actually listening to Hamlet talk. They should write a line by line response to Hamlet’s soliloquies, either rebutting or agreeing with the various assertions he makes and responding to his ideas and to his character.
Shakespeare’s Director’s Notes
For this activity, students should imagine that they are directors staging a version of Hamlet. They can either imagine that they are Shakespeare, or they can pretend to be more modern directors. They should write a memo to their actors or to audience members describing their vision for the play and adding any special notes about how they will be interpreting the various characters and events in the play.
These activities are slightly less creative in nature, but they ask that students access the play while developing their skills as expository writers. To do this work, students will have to plan, draft, revise, and edit; they may end up with quite sophisticated works.
Ask your students to plan and write an essay comparing and contrasting two of the major characters in Hamlet. For each of the characters they select, they should describe their major characteristics and behavioral patterns. For each comparison or point of contrast students make, they should provide specific evidence in the form of direct quotations from the play.
‘To Be or Not to Be’
Ask your students to choose one quote from Hamlet that is very well-known. They should write an essay analyzing this quote in depth, arguing for what it means in the context of the play as well as how it is referenced in general parlance. Students should comment on why the quote is such a well-known one, developing their own opinions about the ideas communicated via the quote. They should speculate as to what it is about Shakespearean language and thought that makes him so oft-quoted.
The Biggest Tragedy
Students will come to understand that Hamlet represents a prototypical Shakespearean tragedy. Have them write a persuasive essay either arguing that Hamlet is an intrinsically tragic play, or that it actually is not that tragic. Students should back up their opinions with specific evidence and quotes from the play.
We Shouldn’t Have Read This…
Many students might argue that Hamlet is too hard or uninteresting. Others will be deeply moved and grateful that they read it. Ask all of your students to write essays arguing that Hamlet should or should not be included in your syllabus, using as much evidence as they can to persuade you of their argument.