A Formative Assessment for Teaching Shakespeare (Hamlet Specifically) with Email Clarification

Yesterday, I was at some training, so I had my sub give the following assignment.


CHOOSE ONE PASSAGE and RESPOND accordingly to the instructions.


  • Pick one of the following monologues to dissect and analyze. In a formal written response capture the essence of the passage in a concise SUMMARY, and then analyze the passage through the lenses of EXPERIENCE, INTERPRETATION, and EVALUATION.
  • Please write four distinct, fully-developed paragraphs, one for each of the aforementioned areas of analysis (SUMMARY, EXPERIENCE, INTERPRETATION, and EVALUATION.) Note: Your SUMMARY paragraph will most likely be your briefest one.
  • Revisit your DiYanni text, if you need further guidance regarding these realms of interpretation. After reading through the DiYanni text –if needed– contact Mrs. M with further questions via email (email redacted) or in person tomorrow or Friday.
  • Also, HELP EACH OTHER! Processing through dialogue is a very valuable strategy.


Even though he is told otherwise, Hamlet suspect that his Claudius and Gertrude have sent for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to possibly cheer him up, spy on him, or both. He finally gets them to admit this and responds thusly:

I will tell you why; so shall my anticipation
prevent your discovery, and your secrecy to the King and
queene: moult no feather. I have of late, (but wherefore
I know not) lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises;
and indeed, it goes so heavily with my disposition;
that this goodly frame the earth, seems to me a sterrill
promontory; this most excellent canopy the air,
look you, this brave o’erhanging firmament, this Majesticall roofe,
fretted with golden fire: why, it appeares no other thing
to me, then a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.
What a piece of work is a man! How noble in
reason, how infinite in faculty! in form and moving
how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel!
in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the
world! the paragon of animals! And yet to me, what is
this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me; no,
nor Woman neither; though by your smiling you seem
to say so


As Hamlet plans his revenge upon his new “father” King Claudius, he cannot help but contemplate his own existence. In the following speech, he weighs the ever-famous question: To be, or not to be?

To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
The Heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks
That Flesh is heir to? ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; Aye, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There’s the respect
That makes Calamity of so long life:
For who would bear the Whips and Scorns of time,
The Oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s Contumely,
The pangs of despised Love, the Law’s delay,
The insolence of Office, and the Spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his Quietus make
With a bare Bodkin? Who would Fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered Country, from whose bourn
No Traveller returns, Puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of.
Thus Conscience does make Cowards of us all,
And thus the Native hue of Resolution
Is sicklied o’er, with the pale cast of Thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment,
With this regard their Currents turn awry,
And lose the name of Action …




Within five minutes of class time starting, I (happily) engaged in the following email exchange with one of my students, while I was in training.
What do you mean write a paragraph about experience, interpretation, and evaluation? Specifically experience and evaluation cause I’m guessing by interpretation you mean tell what happened in detail.

(student name redacted)

Hi (student name redacted)

Thanks for asking.

EXPERIENCE–>  How might you relate Shakespeare’s words to your own life? Do you agree or disagree with the message/sentiments of the passage? Why? Have you ever experienced something that reminds you of what is being expressed here? If so, tell us about it. If not, can you relate it to something else you’ve read? seen? heard from someone else?

EVALUATION–> Why do you think Shakespeare included this passage? Why is it important to the story? to the reader? or is it? Make a value judgment. Is it well-written? Is it poetic? Explain.

Hope this helps! If you have further questions, let me know.

Alright (sic) thanks. So the interpretation is just a detailed analysis of what happened right?

(student name redacted)
Hi again, (student name redacted)

The SUMMARY will be a brief account of what happened.

The INTERPRETATION will be where you explore the choices Shakespeare made. Did he use metaphors? similes? personification? oxymoron? etc. Why did he make these literary choices?  Was there any double meaning in what he wrote? What do we know that the other characters don’t know? Who else is in the scene? How do those characters play in? Who is the intended audience? What does this passage say about Hamlet? What does it say about the culture he lives in?

You don’t necessarily have to answer ALL of these questions, but this should get your brain working!


It is lovely to be able to clarify an assignment — even when I’m not there — through the marvel of (sort of old) modern technology. The 1:1 iPad initiative has done many things for our district, but one of the most valuable is leveling the communication playing field (as much as possible) for our students.

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