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An A Level Guide to Hamlet

Richard Gent | Monday October 19, 2020


  • Hamlet Guide Introduction and Act 1 New pdf
  • Hamlet Guide Act 2 New pdf
  • Hamlet Guide Act 3 New pdf
  • Hamlet Guide Act 4 New pdf
  • Hamlet Guide Act 5 New pdf

In addition to our guides the following are some ideas for delivering lessons.

Discuss the students’ experience of the tragic genre and Shakespeare to date (likely tragic Shakespearean texts studied at KS4 include Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet and, perhaps, Othello). Such texts can be useful counterpoints in the study of Hamlet.

Introduce two possible approaches, conventional essay and re-creative, making clear the differences between the two.

Discuss what ‘tragedy’ is – texts, common themes, elements, characters, plot aspects. NB Perhaps use The Cambridge Introduction to Tragedy as a course textbook to dip into as appropriate.

Introduce concepts from the following, using extracts from critical reading where appropriate:

  • Aristotle’s Poetics, e.g. a worthy but flawed protagonist, serious tone/formality/dignity, peripeteia, catharsis, hamartia, anagnorisis
  • Renaissance dramatic theory, e.g. five act structure (parabola), inclusion of noble characters, in media res, death of the protagonist
  • Later dramatic theory, e.g. AC Bradley, Hegel, Nietzsche, Stephen Greenblatt, Camus, Eagleton
  • Concepts such as domestic tragedy, revenge tragedy and tragedy of circumstance

It is intended that these critical approaches will form a toolkit which can applied or contrasted to Hamlet: stress the importance of critical objectivity and of not simply applying a theory if it does not fit the text.

Emphasise skills which will be incorporated and developed throughout the scheme of work and relate to assessment objectives:  application of terminology; close textual analysis (language, structure and form); integrating quotations; application of theory; integration of context; comparative skill(if applicable); how dramatic form and structure contribute to tragic genre; how annotations can be...

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