Hamlet Teaching Resources

Hamlet English Key Stage 3

What can an opera do that a play can't?

The play Hamlet opens on the battlements of the King of Denmark’s castle. It is a nervous time. The old king has just died, and there are fears that war with Norway might be brewing.
Read the opening few lines of Hamlet here, perhaps you could read it in groups of four – each reading a different role.
  • In how many different ways can you read it? Nervously? Breathlessly? Excitedly? Does it look like normal Shakespeare? Do you notice anything about the line-lengths?
  • Try and read it exaggerating the punctuation, or making it sound as if you are interrupting the speaker before.
  • What do you think is the ‘thing’ that has ‘appeared again tonight’?
  • What atmosphere do you think Shakespeare is trying to create, and what tools has he been able to use to create this atmosphere?
Now watch and listen to the scene in the opera where Hamlet delivers his most famous soliloquy – ‘To be or not to be’.

Both the director (Neil Armfield) and the opera’s composer (Brett Dean) are able to add their own ideas of the play’s atmosphere.

Discuss and list the various different techniques that are used to create this atmosphere, and then decide how many of them are unique to the art-form of opera.

Here is the section of the play where Hamlet sees the ghost for the first time. The ghost is of Hamlet’s father – Old Hamlet. Read the passage on your own, then perhaps in groups. You will need to discuss the language – particularly of Hamlet himself. Have a look at the word choices that Shakespeare uses.
  • How many different words can you find in this excerpt that relate to things hellish or supernatural?
  • Can you see where there is a description of what the ghost looks like?
  • Given the language that Hamlet uses, why do you think Horatio and Marcellus advise Hamlet to leave the ghost well alone?
  • What does Hamlet decide to do, and why? If you were directing this scene, how would you encourage the actor playing Hamlet to deliver his lines?

Now look at the ghost’s appearance in the opera.
  • What immediately strikes you about this scene, compared to the same scene in the play excerpt that you have just read?
  • Who is singing ‘Angels and ministers of grace defend us’?
  • What is added to the scene by the nature of the music, and how it is being sung?

Some of the decisions about how Hamlet might play this scene have been made by the nature of the music he has to sing. Some of the decisions have been made by the singer. What do you think Hamlet is feeling in this scene? Does it tally with the ideas you had about the scene from the play?

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