ENG 4U: Preparing for Hamlet

There won’t be much traditional homework during our study of Hamlet. Instead, you need to engage with the text. For example, if you are struggling with a particularly challenging scene, you should review it at home. While reading from printed version we will use in class is a great strategy, I also recommend the following:

Performance Plus from The Stratford Festival is a wonderful tool that combines text from the play with a recorded performance. When an actor says a particular line, the line is highlighted along the left-hand side.

No Fear Shakespeare: Hamlet can be used in two ways: to preview a scene before reading the original text or to reinforce your understanding of challenging scene.  Regardless of the option you choose, you need to return to the original text after consulting the No Fear version.

What Should Shakespeare Sound Like?

Let’s start with an incredible bit of acting from Damien Lewis. He has a long list of credits including Homeland, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and, most excitingly, Phineas and Ferb.  In this clip, he will perform the most famous lines from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Here is what you need to know:

  • Julius Caesar, the dictator of ancient Rome, has died
  • the speaker, Marc Antony, was a great friend of Caesar’s.
  • Antony has been given permission to speak at the funeral by Brutus and other Roman senators.
  • Worried about Caesar’s ambition, Brutus and the other senators had stabbed Caesar to death in the middle of Rome. Talk about a tense funeral, huh?
  • In their defense, Caesar was really ambitious. He had taken his Roman army into the city itself, which was actually against the law. He ended the Roman Republic–essentially a form of democracy–by making himself the man in charge. In fact, there were even whispers that he wanted to make himself emperor (hence the crown references in the speech you are about to hear).
  • Antony is addressing all of his fellow Romans in attendance.



That, ladies and gents, was perfect. Did you notice the shifts in tone? The emotion in his eyes?

I wonder: how has Lewis’ delivery impact your understanding of  the text?

Let’s see if we can use his stellar monologue to help us better understand the text. In front of you, you will find our white boards featuring a printed version of the text.  Please mark up the text as you see fit by doing the following:

Making sense of the text

  1. Hath=has. Easy, right?
  2. Because Shakespeare often wrote in iambic pentameter, he needed to play with the structure of conventional sentences. Find any examples of:
    1. words that have been shortened to fewer syllables (William need to maintain his meter!)
    2. lines where the conventional word order has been inverted (think of Yoda)
    3. words that you may recognize, but may have an unclear meaning in the context. Try replacing the word with a synonym that fits the context of the line.
  3. Look for repetition in structure. What patterns do you see?
  4. Look for repetition in sound. How does this repetition impact your understanding?
  5. Finally, look for shifts in tone. Where do you see them? What makes those shifts work?

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