STUDY GUIDE FOR TEACHERS
Copyright ©2007 Rubicon Theatre Company
How to use this Study Guide?
This packet contains a variety of information and activities to help you prepare your students for their
trip the theatre. Although it is not necessary to review all the material with your group we do
encourage you to share the sections indicated in the table of contents that have been marked with an
asterisk. We feel that these pages will be most valuable for your students to not only enjoy the play but
understand what it means to be in the audience of a live performance and what is expected of them.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
William Shakespeare: A Brief Biography
Words Invented By Shakespeare
Trivia - “To Be Or Not To Be Hamlet”
Opportunity Cost Visual Organizer
Page 13 -14
Advanced Study Questions for Hamlet by Acts
*Be sure to review these chapters with your students before you come to the theatre.
Rubicon Theatre Company
Please review with your student group before you attend the theatre.
Thank you for "crossing the Rubicon," and exposing your students to live professional theatre. To assist you in preparing
your students for the experience, we have created some guidelines which we hope may be of use.
Live theatre is different from the experience of attending a rock concert, where the performers may "break the third wal " and
interact with the audience. At rock concerts, it might be acceptable for an audience member to get up and go talk to
someone else in the audience, or to leave to bring concessions back into the auditorium. This is not the case in the theatre.
At a small theatre such as ours, there is no enhancement from microphones. Hence, it is essential that the audience refrain
from talking, scraping chairs, rustling papers and the like. More important, the story and the message are in the language,
not in the visuals, close-ups and/or special effects - and that requires a careful ear. Audience members must concentrate on
what is being said, and the distractions of extraneous noise interfere with concentration.
Theatre is also different from television or movies. At a movie, if you leave to get popcorn or whisper to someone sitting next
to you, it doesn't disrupt the performance or distract the performers. In the theatre, the audience becomes the "other
character in the play." The actors can feel when an audience is with them. Often a performance is improved or heightened
when an audience is intensely involved in the action or words of the play. The audience helps shape the experience.
Good live theatre also tends to present complex characters and issues. Like poetry, the enjoyment of which requires thought
and later discussion, live theatre is often best appreciated after the program is over. Audience members then have a chance
to think about how characters change over the course of the play, how the resolution of the conflicts conveys the playwright's
and the director's views, or how specific lines delivered by specific characters affect our own view of the world differently.
Live theatre, therefore, should be discussed afterward; and to discus with insight, the audience needs to listen carefully.
Live theatre is an "intimate" experience. Because we are close to the actors, who, if they are good, are portraying powerfully
the deepest human emotions, we are able to feel that emotional tenor ourselves. Concentrating on what the actors are
feeling enhances an audience's enjoyment.
Many of our participating schools have thoughtfully prepared and trained their student body to be a good live audience. If
you are one of those schools, we thank you for the work you have done. If you are not sure, the following are some
suggestions we know other schools have found effective:
1. There shall be no late seating. All students and staff should arrive by 9:30 a.m. and be seated before the program
2. Instruct your teachers and chaperones to sit throughout the theatre with the students. The presences of an adult is
sometimes enough to remind students to behave.
3. The opening and closing of doors, for whatever reason, creates distraction and can disrupt the performance.
Therefore, once the performance has started no one will be allowed to leave the theatre unless it is an emergency,
so be sure to advise your group use the restroom before the performance begins and then again at intermission.
4. Encourage positive audience participation; applause and laughter appropriate to the action are expected. They are
to refrain from catcalls and any response which is likely to distract others. Remind them of the importance of
5. During the intermission, Rubicon wil provide your group with free bottle of water and a granola or breakfast bar.
Please note that there is only one per person.
6. There is no gum, food or drink allowed in the theatre.
7. The use of cell phones, pagers, i-Pods and the like is strictly prohibited. Students found using these devices during
a performance will be asked to surrender these items to the usher until the completion of the performance at which
time they will be returned.
8. The taking of photos, with or with out a flash and the use of any recording device is prohibited by law and strongly
enforced at our theatre.
9. If you haven’t already done so we invite you to use the contents of this study guide to prepare your students in
advance. Students who have previous exposure to the subject matter through in class discussions and exercises
are more likely to be an attentive audience. One remarkable teacher who brought her students to see our
production of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons instructed her class to read only the 1st and 2nd acts of the play and then
write their own version of the 3rd act envisioning how play would end. The students did not know the true outcome
of the play until they saw the performance. It proved to be a very exciting and engaging experience for all.
10. Before you arrive at the theatre ask the students to think about three questions they would like to ask the actors
during the post-show “talkback” session. Direct them to stay away from questions that might be inappropriate. For
example questions about an actors age or marital status. Instead, help them focus on questions that directly relate
to the play, its characters and themes. Students may also be interested to know more about the technical and
scenic elements of the performance.
11. At the end of the performance a Rubicon representative will provide you with an evaluation packet containing feed-
back forms for both you and your students. We truly want to hear about your experience and ask that you work with
your students to fill out the forms and send them back to us at the following address: Rubicon Theatre Company,
1006 East Main Street, Ste. 300, Ventura, CA 93001 Att: Brian McDonald.
Finally, on behalf of the entire Rubicon Outreach Committee, I thank you for your participation and look forward to personally
welcoming you to Rubicon. If we can be of help to you, or if you have ideas regarding how we can make this a better
experience for your students, please let our school Liaisons know. You can also contact me at
firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (805) 667-2912 ext. 234.
Thank you again for your continued interest and support.
Associate Producer/ Outreach Director
William Shakespeare: A Brief Biography
William Shakespeare (1564 –1616) wrote approximately 38 plays and 154
sonnets in his lifetime, as well as a variety of other poems. Born in
Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare is believed to have attended King
Edward VI Grammar School in central Stratford. At the age of
eighteen, he married Anne Hathaway, with whom he had two
children. After the birth of his two children in 1585, he disappears
from all existing historical records until the 1590’s, when he shows
up in records as a reputable actor, playwright, and part-owner of the
Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a popular London-based theatre company.
William Shakespeare is counted among the very few playwrights who
have excelled in both tragedy and comedy, and his plays combine
popular appeal with complex characterisation, poetic grandeur and
philosophical depth. Shakespeare's works have been translated
into every major living language, and his plays are continually
performed all around the world. In addition, Shakespeare is the
quoted writer in the literature and history of the English-speaking world, and many of his quotations
and neologisms have passed into everyday usage in English and other languages.
Hamlet: PLOT OVERVIEW
Plot summary courtesy of Wikisummaries: Free Book Summaries.
Outside Elsinore Castle in Denmark, two months after the death of King Hamlet,
a ghost has begun haunting the night. The watchmen who discover the ghost
show Horatio, a friend of Prince Hamlet's, who suggests they show the prince.
King Hamlet's ghost tells Hamlet that he was murdered by his brother Claudius,
and begs Hamlet to avenge his murder. Claudius is currently the king, having
married the former King Hamlet's wife Gertrude and taken the throne.
Hamlet is determined to take revenge. Mired in doubt, he decides to pretend to
be insane. His mother, Queen Gertrude, and his stepfather, King Claudius, enlist
two of Hamlet's friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, to discover what's
wrong with Hamlet.
Polonius, Claudius’ closest advisor, suspects that Hamlet may be mad with denied love for Polonius’ daughter Ophelia.
Claudius and Polonius decide to spy on Hamlet while he talks to Ophelia, and Hamlet rejects her.
An acting troupe arrives at the castle. Hamlet decides to use the players to discover if Claudius is truly guilty. He directs the
actors to enact a play depicting the supposed events of King Hamlet's murder, as told by the ghost. True to Hamlet's
expectations, Claudius jumps up when the murder is shown, and quickly leaves the room.
Hamlet plans to kill Claudius, but when he finds him praying, he changes his mind and
decides to wait and kill him later, [Claudius, by praying, guarantees his own entry into
Heaven; Hamlet wants to make sure Claudius goes straight to Hell for his sins.].
Soon after, Hamlet and his mother Gertrude talk in her private room. He tells her about
his suspicions and scolds her for her disloyalty to his father, not realizing that Polonius is
hiding behind the curtain. He hears a noise and immediately stabs the intruder to death,
believing it to be the King. After accidentally killing Polonius, Hamlet is sent away to
England immediately. However, the King has secretly arranged for Hamlet to killed, by
sending sealed letters with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
Shortly after setting sail, they are attacked by pirates. Hamlet manages to escape and
return to Denmark. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern continue sailing for England, unaware
that Hamlet has switched out the sealed letters they carry with orders that they be put to
Scorned by Hamlet and
orphaned by Polonius'
death, Ophelia loses her
mind. Her brother Laertes returns from France, determined to
avenge the death of his father Polonius. His heartbreak and
anger intensifies when Ophelia drowns shortly after his return.
Claudius convinces Laertes to seek his revenge against
Hamlet. Together they scheme to arrange a fencing match
between Laertes and Hamlet, [wherein Laertes will cover the
tip of his sword with poison with which to kill Hamlet.] If
Hamlet wins, the King will supply a poisoned cup from which
Hamlet may drink.
Shortly after returning to Denmark, Hamlet chances upon
Ophelia's funeral and is stricken with grief, insisting that he
always loved her. Back at the castle, the sword-fighting match begins between Laertes and Hamlet. Hamlet is initially
winning. Queen Gertrude drinks to his success and is killed by the poisoned cup. Meanwhile, Laertes wounds Hamlet. They
accidentally exchange swords, and then Hamlet wounds Laertes. When Hamlet perceives that he, Laertes, and Gertrude
have been poisoned, he stabs Claudius with the poisoned blade and makes him drink the rest of the poisoned drink. Laertes
absolves Hamlet of guilt in his and Polonius' murder. Laertes, Hamlet, and the King all die within a few minutes of one
Major Character Chart
• Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, the title character, is the son of the late King, also named Hamlet.
He is just back from Wittenberg, where he was a sometime student at the university.
• Claudius, King of Denmark, Hamlet's uncle. He succeeded to the throne upon the death of his
brother, the old King Hamlet. He also, in short order, married Gertrude, his brother's widow,
Hamlet’s mother. He is revealed to be the killer of King Hamlet.
Gertrude, Queen of Denmark, Hamlet's mother widowed by King Hamlet's death, she rather
too quickly wedded Claudius. In Shakespeare's England, marriage to the brother of one's
deceased husband was considered incest by the Church.
• Ghost appearing to be Hamlet's father, the former king may be an evil spirit. The old king has
died recently, so his spirit, while suffering in Purgatory, could be walking at night, vexed and
• Polonius, counsellor to the king is Claudius's chief advisor and father to Ophelia and Laertes.
He is old, and often humorously played as fatuous and long-winded.
• Laertes, son of Polonius is a young aristocrat, who has been living in Paris and comes home
for the coronation of Claudius. "Laertes" is the name of Odysseus's father in Homer's epics.
• Ophelia, daughter of Polonius. She and Hamlet have had a romance, although whether it was
mainly in the form of letters, gifts, and significant looks, or had advanced further, is not clear.
She is later driven mad by her father's death.
• Horatio, Hamlet's friend and fellow-student from Wittenberg. Apparently a Dane, he had come
to Elsinore for old Hamlet's funeral and has stayed on. He is viewed as a "scholar", and
converses easily with almost everyone in the court, from the guards to the royals. Horatio is the
only character with whom Hamlet converses freely for the majority of the play.
• Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, former schoolfellows of Hamlet. If they knew him at university, it
must have been a while ago, as they seem not to know Horatio, recently from Wittenberg. Both
their names were extant in Denmark at the time Shakespeare composed Hamlet, so he could
have obtained them from a number of sources.
• Fortinbras, Prince of Norway. He is the son of King Fortinbras, who was killed in battle by
Hamlet's father, so he, too, has vengeance on his mind. His firm and decisive action contrasts
with Hamlet's procrastination. His name means "strong arm".
• Osric is a courtier, "full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse," who referees the sword fight
between Hamlet and Laertes.
Words Invented by Shakespeare
During Shakespeare’s day, much as today, the world was changing rapidly and new words had to be
invented to describe this changing world. Today, journalists, music and rap stars, scientists, internet
users and others constantly come up with new words, which include blog, e-mail, texting, f’shizzle,
peeps, bling, and a long list of words that are inappropriate for print in this study guide.
Words that are first credited to Shakespeare include:
Addiction Admirable Aerial
Belongings Birthplace Bloodstained
Dalmation Dewdrop Dexterously
Downstairs Employer Engagement
Epileptic Exposure Eyeball Fashionable Foul-mouthed
Invulnerable Laughable Madwoman
Majestic Misquote Never-ending
Retirement Savagery Schoolboy Successful Tardiness Useless
Common phrases first credited to Shakespeare include:
“Come what may”
“Double, double, toil and trouble”
“Hearts of gold”
“It was Greek to me”
“Lend me your ears”
“Love is blind”
“My own flesh and blood”
“Rhyme nor reason”
“Too much of a good thing”
“Woe is me”
My words fly up, my thoughts remain
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
below. Words without thoughts never to
I must hold my tongue.
Do you think I am easier to be played on
Frailty, thy name is woman.
than a pipe?
Thrift, thrift, Horatio.
I will speak daggers to her, but use none.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be.
Alas, poor yorick! I knew him, Horatio.
This above all – to thine own self be true.
The cat will mew, and dog will have his
There are more things in heaven and earth,
Horatio, then are dreamt of in your
A hit! A very palpable hit!
Good-night, sweet prince, and flights of
Words, words, words.
angels sing thee to thy rest.
Brevity is the soul of wit.
Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove
Thou this be madness, yet there is method
To hold, as t’were, the mirror up to nature.
What a piece of work is a man.
There is nothing either good or bad, but
thinking makes it so.
I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count
myself a king of infinite space, were it not
All that lives must die, passing through
that I have bad dreams.
nature to eternity.
The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the
There’s rosemary, that’s for
conscience of the king.
remembrance...and there is pansies, that’s
To be or not to be – that is the question.
A little more than kin, and less than kind.
Get thee to a nunnery.
I am but mad north-north-west. When the
The lady doth protest too much, methinks.
wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a
My offence is rank, it smells to heaven.
The rest is silence.
Trivia - “To be or not to be Hamlet”
• Laurence Olivier, (1937) John Gielgud (1939), and Derek Jacobi (1978) played the title
role of Hamlet at Elsinore Castle in Denmark, the actual setting of the play. Christopher
Plummer played the role in a television version (1966) that was filmed there.
• After John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln, his brother Edwin Booth went
into a brief retirement but made his comeback in his signature role of Prince Hamlet.
Rather than wait for Hamlet's first appearance in the text to meet the audience's response,
Booth sat on the stage in the play's first scene and was met by a lengthy standing ovation.
• Booth's Broadway run of Hamlet lasted for 100 performances in 1864, an incredible run
for its time. When John Barrymore played the part on Broadway to acclaim in 1922, it
was assumed that he would close the production after 99 performances out of respect for
Booth. But Barrymore extended the run to 101 performances so that he would have the
record for himself.
• The longest recorded London run is Henry Irving's, who played the part for over 200
consecutive nights in 1874 and revived it to acclaim with Ellen Terry as Ophelia in 1878.
• Peter O'Toole played Hamlet in the premiere production of the Royal National Theatre
• The longest Broadway run of Hamlet is the 1964 production starring Richard Burton and
directed by Gielgud, which ran for 137 performances. The actor who has played the part
most frequently on Broadway is Maurice Evans, who played Hamlet for 267
performances in productions mounted in 1938, 1939, and 1945.
• Actresses who have played the title role in Hamlet include Sarah Siddons, Sarah
Bernhardt, Asta Nielsen, Judith Anderson, and Diane Venora.
• The only actor to win a Tony Award for playing Hamlet is Ralph Fiennes in 1995.
Richard Burton was nominated for the award in 1964, but lost to Alec Guinness in Dylan.
Hume Cronyn won the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play
for his performance as Polonius in that production.
• The only actor to win an Academy Award for playing Hamlet is Laurence Olivier in
• The youngest actor to play the role on film was Ethan Hawke, who was 30. The oldest is
Johnston Forbes-Robertson, who was 60.