Suits of Woe: Grief and Loss in Hamlet ~ Lesson Plan

Lesson Overview

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LESSON TITLE: Suits of Woe: Grief and Loss in Hamlet

GRADE LEVEL: Grades 9-12

TIME ALLOTMENT: One to two 45-minute class periods


In this lesson, students will explore the themes of grief and loss in Hamlet. The lesson will begin with an exploration of the students’ understanding of how grief and loss may be experienced in life. Students will then draw a connection between these everyday examples and the presentation of grief in Hamlet by viewing a video segment from the PBS series Shakespeare Uncovered. Next, students will turn to the text of Hamlet and examine the responses to grief that appear in Act I, Scene ii of the play. They will break into groups to examine the ways Hamlet, Gertrude, and Claudius characterize grief and mourning and draw upon their understanding of the play to speculate about the significance of these reactions. Students will then select one of three characters Hamlet, Ophelia, or Laertes and in a short paper explore how grief and loss is presented in the chosen character and how that grief drives the character’s actions for the rest of the play.

This lesson is best used during a reading of Hamlet.


English/Language Arts


After completing this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Describe how Shakespeare explores the themes of grief and loss in Hamlet.
  • Draw connections between the students’ experiences with grief (personal or otherwise) with the grief experienced by characters in Hamlet.
  • Interpret a literary text by identifying the techniques used by the author and how they contribute to its meaning.
  • Analyze themes, plot, and character in Hamlet.


National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)

Standard 1

Students read a wide range of print and non-print texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.

Standard 2

Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.

Standard 3

Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).

Common Core Literature Standards for Grades 11-12

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.2 Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful. (Include Shakespeare as well as other authors.)



Shakespeare Uncovered: Hamlet with David Tennant, selected segment.

Access the video segment for this lesson at the Video Segments Page.

“Grief-Stricken Hamlet”

An overview of Hamlet and a discussion of the theme of loss within the play.


For the class:

For each student:


Prior to teaching this lesson you will need to:

Preview all of the video segments used in the lesson. Prepare to watch them using your classroom’s Internet connection.

For each student print out and make copies of the Hamlet Act I, Scene ii Text Excerpt; the Hamlet Act I, Scene ii Student Organizer; and the Grief in Hamlet Assignment.

Print out one copy of the Hamlet Act I, Scene ii Student Organizer Answer Key for the class.

Proceed to Lesson Activities.

  • Lindsay Cooper

    Thank you for this lesson. I’m having trouble with the video segment, however. It has told me that there is an error on 3 different devices that I have tried. Can someone help?