Hamlet

1. Begin with a discussion about what the children know so far about the play, characters, themes and storyline etc. Discuss the theme of family and kinship and the importance of these in Elizabethan England. Discuss Hamlet’s character, why he feels the need to kill the king and also, why he cannot do it. Introduce the word ‘Tragedy’ and explain the meaning of this in terms of Shakespeare and the Elizabethans.

2. Game – ten second objects. In groups, the children are asked to prepare a three dimensional object related to the play, for example, a crown (Physical Theatre). They are asked to do this a quickly as possible to encourage group work, discussion, listening skills and team work. Comments are made on each version of the object, it’s creativity etc. and how they relate to the play.

3. In the same groups, the children are asked to prepare a family portrait of the characters both before and after the king’s murder. The children are encouraged to consider what each character might be thinking at the time and how they might be standing or sitting and what their facial expression might be. Characters in the portrait should be Hamlet, his father the king, Gertrude, Claudius and possibly Ophelia as a guest.

4. Show the portraits to the rest of the class and ask the children to justify their choices.

5. The children are then asked to prepare a series of Freeze Frames which, when put together, tell the story of the play. These are shown to the class and constructive comments are made. These can be shown again and Thought Tracking can be used to track what the characters are thinking and to demonstrate the difference in their attitudes and motives before and after the death of the king.

6. The children are given a narrative of the killing of Hamlet’s father and asked to prepare a Chinese Mime where one narrates the story and the others act it out in mime. The children are encouraged to exaggerate their movements and facial expressions so that the audience has a really clear picture of events. These are shown to the class and discussed.

7. The children are introduced to the idea of a Play within a Play which Shakespeare uses here and in a number of his other plays. A chosen group is asked to play out their mime and narration again. This time, however, three of the children are to play Hamlet, Gertrude and Claudius. After discussion and explanation of what Hamlet is trying to do here, the mime is performed and the three main characters react accordingly (e.g. Claudius stands up angrily and storms out of the room) and the rest of the class show their responses also. Discussion follows on the effectiveness of this technique.

8. Stage combat workshop. The children are taken though a short sword fight routine between Hamlet and Laertes. After practice and rehearsal time, pairs are asked to come up and perform their scenes. Ask for volunteers to play Gertrude etc. and act out the death scene at the end. Finish with some Tableaux of the final scene if there is time.