Hamlet for High School Teachers: Symbolism, Character Analysis and Themes

Character symbols, themes and motif visuals for teaching hamlet to high school students

Teaching Hamlet to High School Students

Are you a high school teacher looking to freshen up your teaching of Hamlet? If so, you have come to the right place! 

In this blog post, I’ll review the characters, symbolism and themes found in Shakespeare’s masterpiece. 

I’ll show you the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) visuals I created that makes the play more accessible for ALL students. 

I’ll also provide a list of my favourite symbols and themes in the play for you to pick from.


Most English teachers have been asked to teach Shakespeare’s Hamlet at one time or another. It is an excellent play to use in the classroom as it lends itself to the rich analysis of theme, symbolism and character development. 

Visual Tools for Character, Theme and Symbolism in Hamlet

I use visual tools for Hamlet to simplify the basics like character, theme and symbolism in all the Shakespeare plays I teach. I’ll introduce the visuals to my high school students right before we jump into chapter 1. 

 Let me share some examples from my classroom.

Characters in Hamlet

If you are teaching any sort of character analysis, then an understanding of the character relationships is essential!

I use color coded Hamlet Character Visuals  to help students map out and SEE the connections.

 I don’t love the movie and film adaptations of Hamlet, so these visuals are helpful in allowing students to visualize the characters.

character visuals

Hamlet Character List

  • Hamlet
  • Horatio
  • Ghost/The Ghost
  • Gertrude & Claudious
  • Courtiers (Osric, Voltemand, Cornelius, Gentleman)
  • Rozencrantz & Guildenstern
  • Polonius, Ophelia & Laertes + Reynaldo
  • 1st Player, 2nd Player, 3rd Player, 4th Player
  • Priest/ Doctor of Divinity
  • Gravediggers/Clowns
  • Fortinbras & Captain
  • Fransisco, Barnardo & Marcellus
  • Misc Roles: Sailor, Messenger

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Teaching Themes in Hamlet

Revenge, madness, death… 

I love teaching the dark and gory themes of Hamlet.

Themes are all about ‘reading between the lines, which is a challenge, especially when studying Shakespeare.

So much time is spent through each Act looking for quotes.

Hamlet Theme Visuals keep ME and my students focused on what matters in the play. They act as visual targets to narrow and focus our daily discussions. Are also crucial for students to consider.

 Themes such as death, betrayal, and madness are all explored in the play. Understanding these themes, students can better understand the characters and their motivations.


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Pick 3-5 Themes for teaching Hamlet

  1. Delay
  2. Action vs. Inaction
  3. Revenge
  4. Revenge vs. Justice
  5. Subversion of Relationships
  6. Impossibility of Certainty
  7. Madness
  8. Ambiguity of Language
  9. Language & Words
  10. Corruption
  11. Disease & Decay
  12. Mystery of Death

Symbols and Motifs in Hamlet

symbolism visuals

One of the most important things to consider when teaching Hamlet is the play’s symbolism. 

The use of symbols in the play helps to reinforce the themes and ideas that Shakespeare is trying to communicate. 

Visual resources create a concrete starting point to explore the use of abstract literary devices.

 With a concrete visual displayed on the board, students can more easily recognize the variations and layers of symbols and motifs that get brought up again and again in the play.

Check out my Hamlet Symbolism and Motif Visuals in my TPT Store.

Pick 4-6 Symbols to Teach for Hamlet

  • Lying/Lies
  • Eavesdropping/Spying
  • Ghosts
  • The weather
  • Bad weather
  • Fencing swords
  • Rosemary
  • Weeds
  • Flowers
  • Ophelia’s Garden
  • Ophelia’s Flowers
  • Rank Gardens
  • Unweeded Gardens
  • Gardens
  • Blood
  • Poison
  • Yorick’s Skull
  • Skulls
  • Skulls/Death
  • Skulls/Death/Disease
  • Graveyards
  • Costume Changes

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Picture of Carley 📚 Teacher Author @ Visual Thinking Classroom

Carley 📚 Teacher Author @ Visual Thinking Classroom

B.A., B.Ed., Graduate Certificate in Teacher Librarianship // carley@visualthinkingclassroom.com