Using a Double-Entry Journal with Shakespeare's Hamlet

Grade Levels: 10 - 12

Lesson Summary

This lesson is for a high school language arts class. During the lesson, students will use a double-entry journal to help them understand the characters in The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.


  1. Students will read Shakespeare's play The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark and use a double-entry journal to reflect upon the characters and their actions.

  2. Students will use a graphic organizer to improve their reading comprehension of literary characters.


  1. Demonstration

    Explain to students that although Shakespeare's plays were written more than 400 years ago, the themes that run through his plays are timeless. Hamlet is one of the characters that has been interpreted and played many times on many different stages. Point out that the language of Shakespeare's plays and his complex characters sometimes confuse students and prevent them from enjoying his plays.

    Explain that one of the key ways to truly understand the depth of a Shakespearean play is to understand the characters and why they act the way they do. A double-entry journal is one way in which students can keep track of and respond to the characters and their actions in each act.

    Before beginning to read Hamlet, discuss the characteristics of a tragedy and explain that Shakespeare's plays are broken into five acts. Discuss exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement. Explain to students that they are going to use the double-entry journal as they read Hamlet. They are going to have a separate double-journal entry for every act to help them respond to and understand the characters, and therefore better understand the play.

    Explain that in Act I, students will learn some background knowledge about the characters and what has happened to them up to that point. Have students take turns reading Act I aloud. Distribute the blank double-entry journal form, or have students copy it into their notebooks. The title of the first journal is Double-Entry Journal for Act I of Hamlet. In the left column, have students write Quotations as the head. In the right column, have students write Reflections and Analysis.

    As a class, select some of the most important quotes from the major characters in Act I and have students write them in the left column. In the right column, have students identify the speaker and what they have learned about the speaker from what the speaker says. Encourage them to try to relate to the characters and to voice any questions they have about what will happen to the characters in subsequent acts. Point out that many of the characters' lines are quite long, so students can simply pick out several of the lines that add to the overall developing plot and best support what the character is trying to convey. Use the double-entry journal below as an example. Note that these are only a few examples of important quotes from Act I. Students can also include quotes from Laertes, Polonius, and Ophelia.

  2. Quotations Reflections and Analysis
    "If there be any good think to be done/That may to thee do ease, and grace to me,/Speak to me." (I, i, 130-2) Horatio; he doubted the existence of the King's ghose, but then he sees the ghost himself and begs the ghost to explain his presence. The ghost leaves, and Horatio wants Hamlet to see the ghost because he thinks the ghost will speak to Hamlet. Horatios seems like the ghost is a good friend.
    "...But to perservere/In obstinate condolement is a course/Of impoius stubborness, 'tis unmanly grief,/(I, ii, 92-4) The King; he thinks that Hamlet has been mourning his father's death too long. He wants Hamlet to recongnize him as the new King and Hamlet's mother as the King's wife. This seems strange. Why would the king rush Hamlet's mourning? I don't think a child can take too long in mourning a parent's death.
    "Within a month,/Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears/Had left the flushing in her galled eyes,/She married--O most wicked speed..." (I, ii, 153-6) Hamlet; he is disgusted and angry that his mother remairried his father's brother so quickly after his father's death. I can't blame Hamlet. That would make me angry, too. I wonder if Hamlet will do anything about that?
    "Let not the royal bed of Denmark be/A couch for luxury and damned incest./But howsom ever thou pursues this act,/Tain not thy mind, not let they sould contrive/Against thy soul contrive/Against thy mother aught." (I, v, 82-6) Ghost; Hamlet meets his father's ghost. The ghost tells Hamlet that his brother (Hamlet's uncle) fell in love with his wife (Hamlet's mother) and killed him. The ghost tells Hamlet to avenge his death, but that he shouldn't do anythign against his wife (Hamlet's mother).

  3. Guided practice

    Have students use the double-entry journal as they read the rest of Hamlet. Encourage them to read an entire act, or at least a few scenes, before they use the journal. Have students write their predictions in the right column, that is, what they think will happen to the characters as the play progresses.

    Pair students, and have each use his or her double-entry journal to construct a character-identification quiz for his or her partner. Have students select one quotation from each act that they recorded in their double-entry journal and write it on a piece of paper. Ask them to exchange the quotes and then have their partner identify the speaker and the situation in which the quotation was spoken.

    Also, have students use the double-entry journal as a study guide for upcoming tests.

  4. Assessment

    Collect students' double-entry journals throughout their reading to evaluate if they understand Hamlet and are employing critical-thinking skills in their analysis of the characters and their actions.

    Assign students a character-study essay. Have them use their double-entry journals as an outline for their essay. For example, they could write a character study of Hamlet or Polonius and use the quotes and analysis they recorded in their double-journal entry to further develop their thesis about the character.

    As a final evaluation tool, have students use the double-entry journal to show they understood the play. Have students copy questions that you ask them in the left column, and have them write their answers in the right column. Collect the double-entry journal and grade students on their comprehension.

For more information on using journals in the classroom, see Journaling and Double-Entry Journals

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