Hamlet – Lesson 1

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Crash Course Hamlet

Excerpt: Hamlet
In this first lesson of the unit, students begin their study of Hamlet by reading and viewing Act 1.1. Students explore Shakespeare’s language, initial plot points, characters, and the setting of the play.


  1. apparition (n.) – a supernatural appearance of a person or thing, especially a ghost
  2. assail (v.) – attack vigorously or violently; assault
  3. stalks (v.) – walks with measured, stiff, or haughty strides
  4. unfold yourself (phrase) – disclose your identity
  5. harrows (v.) – torments
  6. late (adj.) – living until recently; not now living
  7. haste (n.) – speed or motion of action
  8. dreaded (adj.) – causing great fear
  9. fortified (adj.) – made someone or something stronger

Read / Listen and Answer Questions

Read the title and the Dramatis Personae, or Character List.

  1. What information do you gather from the full title of the play: The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark?
  2. What information does the reader learn from the first 6 lines (4 names) of the Dramatis Personae?

Read Hamlet, Act 1.1, lines 1–190 (from “Who’s there? / Nay, answer me. Stand and unfold yourself” to “Where we shall find him most convenient”).   Focus on what choices Shakespeare makes to begin the play.

  1. Describe Barnardo and Francisco’s tone in the first 5 lines. What words demonstrate their tone?
  2. What is Barnardo doing in lines 6–7?
  3. Based on the masterful reading and the Dramatis Personae, what is likely the “thing” that Horatio asks whether it has “appeared again tonight” (line 26)?

Reread lines 28–30. According to Marcellus, what does Horatio think of the Ghost?

  1. How many times have Barnardo and Marcellus seen the Ghost?

  2. Why is Horatio present in this scene?

Read lines 36–46 (from “Sit down awhile, / And let us once again assail your ears” to “Marcellus and myself, / The bell then beating one”)

  1. In lines 36–39, what does Barnardo suggest to Horatio?
  2. What mood does Shakespeare create through Bernardo’s story? How does he accomplish this?

Read lines 47–61 (from “Peace, break thee off! Look where it comes again” to “Stay! speak! speak! I charge thee, speak!”)

  1. How does each of the men react to the appearance of the Ghost?
  2. Whom does the Ghost look like?
  3. What is the cumulative impact of the men’s reactions on the mood of the text?

Reread lines 54–58. Using the explanatory notes and context, paraphrase these lines. What does Horatio ask of the Ghost?

  1. How does the Ghost react to Horatio’s speech?

  2. In addition to Barnardo’s story and the men’s reactions to the Ghost, how does Shakespeare create a mood in this act?

Quick Write (10-15 minute paragraph)

Respond briefly in writing to the following prompt:

  • What choices does Shakespeare make about how to begin the play? How do these choices contribute to meaning and aesthetic impact?

Use this lesson’s vocabulary wherever possible and use the Short Response Rubric and Checklist to guide your written responses. Answer the prompt using evidence from the text.

Independent Work

Reread Act 1.1, lines 1–190 (from “Who’s there? / Nay, answer me. Stand and unfold yourself” to “Where we shall find him most convenient”) and write an objective summary of the scene.
Use this lesson’s vocabulary wherever possible in your written response. Remember to use the Short Response Rubric and Checklist to guide your written response.


Focus on the setting and the mood that the director creates.

  • Watch Act 1.1, from 0:00–6:36 of the film