Students analyze a famous Shakespearean soliloquy for meaning, language, and context and select and perform a Shakespearean soliloquy.
- Length: 3-5 class periods
- Grades: 9-12
- Students apply knowledge of language and context to interpret the meaning of Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy.
- Students apply knowledge of dramatic elements to analyze and compare different dramatic performances.
Shakespeare: Scene from Hamlet
Found On: Performance Excerpts
Vocabulary, Materials, and Handouts
acting styles, audience, character, classical, conflict, discovery, environment, monologue, mood, motivation, protagonist, script, situation, soliloquy, stage business, tension, text, voice
TV/VCR or DVD player, copies of Hamlets To be or not to be soliloquy (in the Toolkit binder or online), versions of Hamlet performed by other actors, copies of additional soliloquies from Hamlet or other plays, footnoted and annotated copies of Hamlet
- The Language of Hamlet
Instructional Strategies and Activities
Day 1: Prelude to the Soliloquy Analysis
- Show the KET video segment of Hamlets To be or not to be soliloquy featuring Kevin Hardesty. You may want to repeat the viewing several times over the three days of this lesson. Repeated viewings will help the students better analyze the performance.
- Distribute the soliloquy script to all students. Have several students read the soliloquy aloud.
- Have students read the soliloquy in unison, led by the teacher for pacing. As students hear and read the soliloquy multiple times, they become familiar with the speechs meaning and language.
- For homework or in class, ask each student to paraphrase or summarize Hamlets speech as he or she understands it at this time. Ask them to list words or phrases they are having trouble understanding or interpreting. Use the handout given in this lesson plan called The Language of Hamlet. Print and distribute it as a handout, or use it as an overhead for note taking and discussion of particular phrases.
- Assuming that the students have been made familiar with the entire play (have read it, been given a synopsis of each act, or viewed a live performance or video), they can also comment on the context of the soliloquy as it affects the entire play. Have students consider what actions occurred before the speech and Hamlets emotional state. One of the unique features of the To be or not to be speech is that it does not need the context of Hamlet to be fully understood; it becomes a kind of stand-alone soliloquy. However, it is best studied and analyzed in the context of the play.
Day 2: Analyzing the Soliloquy
- When each student has developed a feel for the soliloquy, begin a class discussion to compare perceptions. Suicide is commonly identified as the theme. However, some scholars have also offered the idea that suicide is but one theme in the speech. Ask students to consider other ideas in the soliloquy.
- Provide each student with a copy of the vocabulary for this lesson, or have the vocabulary projected on an overhead. (See the handout titled Critical Vocabulary.) Encourage the students to use this vocabulary during their discussion. Explain any terms that seem to present difficulties.
- If class size permits, divide the class into small groups. Each group is to discuss the language and meaning of Hamlets speech. Allow for differences of opinion, but guide students away from misinterpretations, as the purpose of this exercise is to help make Shakespeare and his work accessible. Each group should give a report to the class of its discussion. An extra class period may be needed.
- After the students have analyzed the speech on their own, provide copies of the play with footnotes and annotations. Guide students in using these resources to increase their understanding after personal analysis. You might have them note meanings/interpretations of difficult words and phrases on the Language of Shakespeare handout. Do not allow them to consult annotations and glossaries before they test their own findings.
Day 3: Optional Related Activities
Several options are available for day 3, including text analysis, student performance, and performance analysis:
- Text Analysis
Have students attempt analyses of other soliloquies from Hamlet that are more closely keyed to the context of the play. Some suggestions: I, ii, 129-159 (sullied flesh); II, ii, 547-603 (rogue and peasant slave); III, ii, 395-406 (witching hour); III, iii, 36-72 (my offence is rank); and IV, iv, 32-66 (How all occasions).
- Oral Interpretation
Students perform oral interpretations of the To be or not to be soliloquy. Offer extra credit for performance or memorization/performance.
- Other Versions of Hamlet
View, analyze, and compare other versions of the soliloquy on video or DVD. Questions to consider:
- How does the style of the performance (classicalSir Lawrence Olivier; traditionalMel Gibson; contemporaryKevin Bacon) affect the speech?
- How do body language, mannerisms, costumes, setting, and other elements influence the audience interpretation?
- Several women have performed the soliloquy. How does that influence the role? Does it make a difference?
Extensions for Diverse Learners
- Employ some editions of Shakespeare that include an easy, modernized version of the text of the play.
- Select portions of a Shakespearean play for viewing and discussion that are easy to understand or which include music and dance, thereby introducing diverse learners to Shakespeares works.
Writing To Communicate
- Write a monologue or soliloquy dealing with a personal problem similar to some of Hamlets dilemmas that a young person might experience today. For example: the breakup of a romance; problems with parents, friends, or siblings; the difficulty of being young. Steer clear of topics which are loaded, such as suicide, etc.
Applications Across the Curriculum
- Hold a Shakespeare monologue contest for the language arts classes in the school or in one grade.
- Hamlet tells his friend Horatio during the play that there are more things in the world than are dreamt of in your philosophy. Research the major scientific discoveries that were made during Shakespeares day.
- Research how banks and finance worked during Renaissance times.
- In the play, Hamlet is sent to England and captured by pirates on the way. How much of a problem was piracy on the high seas during the Elizabethan Age?
- Historians often comment in their work about hygiene during Elizabethan times. (Queen Elizabeth herself was often mentioned as having problems with personal hygiene.) What were some of the problems that Elizabethans had in keeping themselves clean?
- What were some of the jobs that ordinary people did during the Renaissance period? Check Hamlet and other plays for references. For example, in Act V, we find gravediggers. What are some other jobs of Shakespeares characters?
Open Response Assessment
You are a student coach preparing Notes for Actors for students who will perform the To be or not to be soliloquy for a regional Shakespeare contest. Considering your knowledge of the meaning, language, and context of the speech, what directions and advice would you give to the actor in your notes to him/her?
- Prepare Notes for Actors for students who will perform the To be or not to be soliloquy for a regional Shakespeare contest.
- Point out places in the speech where an actor must be diligent concerning interpretation.
- Give suggestions for movement and body language.
- Sum up several points about the impression that the actor who plays Hamlet must make on the audience.
Open Response Scoring Guide
|Student demonstrates comprehensive knowledge of the meaning, language, and context of the soliloquy with rich details and examples. Student is able to successfully communicate this knowledge in his/her notes to give instructions for the performance of this soliloquy.||Student demonstrates broad knowledge of the meaning, language, and context of the soliloquy with insightful details and examples. Student is able to effectively communicate this knowledge in his/her notes to give instruction for the performance of this soliloquy.||Student demonstrates basic knowledge of the meaning, language, and context of the soliloquy with some details and examples. Student is able to adequately communicate this knowledge in his/her notes to give instructions for the performance of this soliloquy.||Student demonstrates limited knowledge of the meaning, language, and context of the soliloquy, using few details and examples. Student is ineffective in communicating this knowledge in his/her notes to give instructions for the performance of this soliloquy.||Blank, no answer, or irrelevant response.|
Students will perform a Shakespeare soliloquy (maybe the To be or not to be soliloquy, but that choice is not mandatory) from the suggestions listed under Day 3 Optional Activities in the Instructional Strategies and Activities section. If there is not enough time in class for this activity, students might videotape their performances for the teacher to critique or for the class to view later.
- Choose a Shakespeare soliloquy and perform it for the class.
- Introduce the soliloquy so that the audience will understand its meaning and relationship to the character and its placement in the context of the play.
- At the conclusion, allow the audience to ask questions concerning the performance.
Performance Scoring Guide
|Student completes assignment effectively, exhibiting thorough understanding of the meaning, language, and context of the chosen soliloquy. Student exhibits thorough critical thinking skills and creativity in completing the performance. Student thoroughly completes all aspects of the task as stated in the directions for the performance task.||Student completes assignment effectively, exhibiting broad understanding of the meaning, language, and context of the chosen soliloquy. Student exhibits broad critical thinking skills and creativity in completing the performance. Student successfully completes all aspects of the task as stated in the directions for the performance task.||Student completes assignment, exhibiting basic understanding of the meaning, language, and context of the chosen soliloquy. Student exhibits basic use of critical thinking skills and creativity in completing the performance. Student partially completes or is unsuccessful in attempts to complete all aspects of the task as stated in the directions for the performance task.||Student works on assignment, exhibiting minimal understanding of the meaning, language, and context of the chosen soliloquy. Student exhibits no use of critical thinking skills and creativity in completing the performance. Student minimally completes or is unsuccessful in attempts to complete all aspects of the task as stated in the directions for the performance task. Student shows minimal interest or enthusiasm.||Student does not participate.|
Support - Connections - Resources - Author
Students and Teachers Resources
- Earley, Micheal and Phillippa Kell, ed. Soliloquy: The Shakespeare Monologues. Applause Books, 1989.
- Eagleson, Robert D. and C.T. Onions, ed. A Shakespeare Glossary. Oxford University Press, 1986.
- Kerrigan, Michael, ed. To Be or Not To Be: Shakespeare Soliloquies. Penguin USA, 2003.
- Oxford University Press edition of Shakespeares plays, online at www.Bartleby.com.
- Rodenburg, Patsy. Speaking Shakespeare. Palgrove McMillan, 2002.
- Silverbush, Rhona and Sam Plotkin. Speak the Speech! Shakespeares Monologues Illuminated. Faber and Faber Inc., 2002.