Giving up the Ghost: Ways of Seeing the Ghost in Hamlet

By Janet Field-Pickering
Folger Shakespeare Library
Washington, DC

Introduction: This lesson uses images of artwork and clips of a theatrical performance and a silent film to help students think about various ways to interpret the character of the Ghost in Hamlet. It can be also used as a continuation of a previous elementary level lesson, Hamlet: Word Pictures and Ghost Stories.

Goals: To explore different ways of viewing and interpreting character through artwork, performance, and film; to listen and contribute to ideas in class discussions; to analyze how the visual, nonverbal components of performance and film contribute to an interpretation and understanding of character.

Skills: critical viewing of artwork, performance and film; collaborative learning; making inferences

How long: 1-2 class periods

Suggested grade level: 4-6

Lesson-Part 1

Angels and ministers of grace, defend us!
Be thou a spirit or goblin damned,
Bring with thee airs from heaven or blasts from hell
Be thy intents wicked or charitable
Thou com'st in such a questionable shape
That I will speak to thee. O answer me!
Let me not burst in ignorance, but tell
Why thy canonized bones, hearsed in death,
Have burst their cerements; why the sepulcher,
Wherein we saw thee quietly interred,
Hath oped his ponderous and marble jaws
To cast thee up again. What may this mean
That thou, dead corse, again in complete steel,
Revisits thus the glimpses of the moon,
Making night hideous, and we fools of nature
So horridly to shake our disposition
(Hamlet 1.4.43-62, cut)
  1. Read the preceding passage from Hamlet aloud to your students. Fill them in with just enough details about Hamlet so that they know what is happening at this point in the play. You might want to simply explain that Hamlet's father, the former King of Denmark, has recently died, and that friends of Hamlet have reported seeing a ghost. Hamlet decides to investigate, and the apparition appears to him.
  2. Read the passage aloud again. Then discuss with your students what they might see if they were Hamlet, looking at the ghost of his father. Encourage your students to use their imaginations, but also ask them to think about what information, if any, the lines from the play tell us. You might want to jot down a few details on an overhead or chalkboard.
  3. Explore the Art Archive of Hamlet on the Ramparts with your students. How you do this will depend upon technological resources in your school, but the idea is to allow students to view a representative sampling of pictures of the Ghost. The following are links to several good examples, but if you have the time and the technology to let your students explore, encourage them to find their own favorites.
  4. As you view each picture discuss the following questions:

(Click on images to get enlarged views.)

If your students completed the activities of the lesson, Hamlet: Word Pictures and Ghost Stories, and created their own drawings, compare the artists' work with the children's drawings by asking the following questions:

Lesson-Part 2

1. Look at the clip of the Georgia Shakespeare Festival's production of Hamlet, where the Ghost first starts speaking to Hamlet.


Mute the volume of the scene so that your students can't hear the dialogue.

2. Discuss the actor's interpretation of the Ghost. Concentrate on what you see.

3. Look at the actor who plays Hamlet. Again concentrate on what you see.

4. After discussing the clip, play it again and see if the students notice anything else about the clip. Then ask them to select their favorite image from the Art Archive and compare or contrast the actor's vision of the Ghost with the artist's vision of the Ghost.

Extending the lesson:

Show your student a clip of the same scene from the 1913 Forbes-Robertson black and white silent film, and discuss, using the same questions as above.




Handout of Hamlet 1.4.43-62

Full Text of Hamlet 1.4 - 1.5

Janet Field-Pickering's Bio