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Lesson Plan

Analyzing Character in Hamlet through Epitaphs

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Analyzing Character in Hamlet through Epitaphs

Grades 9 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Four 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Nancy Barile

Nancy Barile

Revere, Massachusetts


National Council of Teachers of English



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From Theory to Practice



Students compose epitaphs for deceased characters in the play Hamlet, paying particular attention to how their words appeal to the senses, create imagery, suggest mood, and set tone. Using three-paneled poster board, students design gravestones to display their epitaphs. Students must capture the essence of their characters in their epitaphs, and their poster boards must reflect the themes that support their character's personality and station in life. The resulting projects make compelling hallway displays and provide students with an audience for their writing.

This activity can be easily adapted to another tragedy by changing the characters students write epitaphs about. For instance, students can write epitaphs for Romeo, Juliet, Mercutio, and Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet or write epitaphs for Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, Duncan, and Banquo in Macbeth.

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ReadWriteThink Drama Map: Students analyzing a play can map out the key elements of character, setting, conflict, and resolution for a variety purposes.

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In her article on teaching short stories, Diana Mitchell explains the importance of involving students in investigating and exploring texts:

"When we teach something, we learn more than the students. We have to think deeply about the material, extract important ideas and concepts, and figure out how to involve students. We look for points of connection, figure how it's related to other things in class, and how we can have students respond through writing and talking. Instead of remaining the chief learner in the classroom, why not let the student be part of this kind of critical thinking and learning?" (73)

In order to create meaningful epitaphs for this classroom activity, students tap such critical thinking and learning as they explore their characters deeply. This opportunity for deep thinking provides students with a summative assessment activity that goes beyond repeating facts and details to deeper engagement with the literary texts that they read.

Further Reading

This lesson plan is based on an idea from: Mitchell, Diana. "Using Short Story Collections to Enrich the English Classroom." English Journal 86.8 (December 1997): 73-77.

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