Stage 3: Abstract Conceptualisation

Aim: Development of abstract concepts and theories from the extract.

Activity: Students brainstorm as a group to draw out as many concepts as they can from the extract. Each student compiles his or her own list of concepts from this brainstorming session. There will be many shared concepts, but also a range of differences around the group. The students should be encouraged to think big and to consider how the extract might suggest concepts that the play as a whole explores. Their concepts could relate to characterisation, language use, staging, cultural context or any other areas of interest that the extract foregrounds. They should feel comfortable to list concepts that seem clichéd or obvious, trivial, idiosyncratic or weird. Importantly, they should be able to say how the concept arises from or appears in the extract.

The teacher can ask individual students to explain the connection they see between selected concepts and the extract to help them make more robust, evidential links. For example, in the pilot run of the Bard Blitz one student wrote ‘The Renaissance’ as a concept relating to Extract 2 (Hamlet: ‘I will tell you why…by your smiling you seem to say so’; 2.2.278-292): this was good, but got a lot better when the teacher guided the student in unpacking the concept and demonstrating how it emerged from the extract. The result was it turned into a useful cluster of concepts to do with human aspiration and possibility that linked directly to the extract: this was much better than the vague idea of ‘The Renaissance’. The pilot run revealed that students are likely to write down concepts that they have been told are relevant to the play without considering what a concept might mean or how it might be evidenced in the extract. They must be urged to avoid this relatively lazy and top-down approach which simply parrots what the student thinks the teacher wants to hear. Instead, they should work upwards from the words and ideas they see in the extract and in their translation of it to produce more abstract or general concepts. Students should be kept alert to where this task is headed: they are gathering a page of miscellaneous concepts that arise from or are evidenced in the extract and which ideally connect to the play as a whole. This concept hoard will become the seedbed of their original argument to be developed in Stage 4.

Using the Table: The ‘Concepts’ column is most relevant here, but the other columns may also be useful.


  1. Once students have accrued their concept hoard, the teacher could demonstrate how they could do some concept mapping to help them give some order to their hoard by visual clustering of related ideas, balancing of opposing ideas, and dismantling of general concepts into constituent concepts;
  2. The teacher could offer students evocative pieces of historical context to consider;
  3. The teacher could present accessible and thought-provoking examples of theses developed by scholars in published work on Hamlet or information about specific interpretive methodologies or academic schools of approach;
  4. Consider what concepts arise from viewing a specific adaptation of the text.