Hamlet 1: His Father's Ghost

Hamlet returns home to find his father has died. Zimbabwean actor Tonderai Munyevu explains how Hamlet is about a man who has to figure out what happened while he was away.


My experience of Shakespeare

In Zimbabwe where I had my formative years, so that’s to say I was born there and lived there until I was twelve years old, we always heard Shakespearean lines or Shakespearean words spoken without realising that they were actually Shakespearean words and Shakespearean lines. So ‘All that glitters is not gold’ is something that, you know, we would say. ‘Constant as the Northern Star’ is something that we would say. ‘To be or not to be’ is something that we would say. Because our culture, our Zimbabwean culture is so full of proverbs and words and exciting word play. So we grew up around that. And I have to say that it’s only years later that I realised that a lot of what we were speaking as young children was actually Shakespeare. And then of course Romeo and Juliet is something that we did at school very early on. And I fell in love with the story of these two young people who were just like myself, young and growing up.

The Story of Hamlet

I think it starts off very simply. It starts off with someone returning. So I think as an audience we then think, well, just naturally where has he been and what has happened since he has gone. And then we find out you have a king who has been killed by his brother so that the brother can take o­ver the kingdom. But we find out in many different ways. So there’s a spiritual finding out, the ghost comes, you know, something unexpected, something from the other realm. And then there’s also reason. Hamlet seeing things for himself. And then Hamlet encountering each person who he left behind, because he’s been somewhere else. So, you know, there’s Polonius who has his own motives and his own family. You have his mother who has her own motives and has made certain decisions. You have the uncle who has his own motives and has made certain decisions. You have the threat that perhaps something from outside will happen to the country. Hamlet is shocked that his mother didn’t know that his uncle killed his father. He doesn’t sort of believe it. And when he believes it, when he really begins to understand that his uncle killed his father and married his mother he really takes it to his mother and says, ‘Why do you not see that this person has done this and why are you married to him? And why do you settle for someone who is this person compared to your husband?’ He really finds it shocking that his mother not only marries his uncle but that she doesn’t seem to be useful or helpful in setting things right. And then we get to see Hamlet try to fix what has happened. And then we see how things go wrong. And then finally we are given an opportunity to start again at the end of the play. So that’s how I see the storytelling, and I think it’s beautifully done. I think it tells us things of the present, of the past, of what happens when we die, of what it means to be alive and to fight for the things that you believe in.

Task 1

Task 2

Task 3

We use 'would' + infinitive to talk about habits and repeated actions in the past. Talking about his childhood in Zimbabwe, Tonderai remembers:

We always heard Shakespearean lines or words spoken without realising that they were Shakespearean. 'All that glitters is not gold' is something that we would say. 'Constant as the northern star' is something that we would say. 'To be or not to be' is something that we would say.

This meaning of 'would' is similar to 'used to'.


Task 4

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Language level

B2 English level (upper intermediate)

Submitted by meknini on Fri, 15/07/2022 - 02:23


A few movies I have watched are or more or less have similar storylines although I can't sadly recall their titles and quite a few Greek mythologies share similar plots and forgive me again as I can't recall them either except they might involve the god Zeus and the demi god Odysseus.

Submitted by dascirre on Sun, 24/10/2021 - 15:27


When I studied B1, I would drink at least three cups of tea and ate cake.... Just to practise 'would'.....

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Submitted by Dieudonné on Sat, 13/02/2021 - 11:12

I do not understand why in this context, "would + verb" is used to describe something that has occurred in the past.

Hello Dieudonné,

In more technical terms, this is related to the use of 'will' to express habitual aspect; among other things, 'would' can be a past form of 'will', and so can be used to talk about past habitual actions.

In terms of learning to use English, though, I'd recommend that you just learn this as one of the uses of the modal verb 'would'. You can read a bit more about the tenses we most commonly use in this respect on our Talking about the past page.

Hope this helps.

All the best,


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by twarita.bajoria on Sun, 24/05/2020 - 12:17

very curious to know after this one part of hamlet why hamlet's uncle killed his father..would see in next one

Submitted by Meg3 on Sun, 24/11/2019 - 11:43

I cannot play videos in this section, I get Connection Error. Some other content on this site works perfectly.

Hello Meg3

I'm sorry to hear that. Is the video still not working for you? It's working for me right now. If you can't see it, can you see any of our Starting Out videos? What about our Video zone videos?

In any case, I'd suggest trying a different web browser and/or using a different device to see if that solves the issue.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by nhungfelaji on Sat, 03/08/2019 - 15:47

nothing but his face looks scary==

Submitted by Nubes on Sat, 15/12/2018 - 23:15

'The Searchers' by John Ford is a great example of, in this case, an old soldier returning to his home. It is a western, so the story sets in the Old West in 19th century. As the title implies, it´s a search of a woman who was kidnapped by Comanches. She is a relative of the protagonist, so he and another man just travel around the arid landscape of the desert for years to find out the presence of the girl. For me, the western narratives are not interesting; actually, I prefer to focus on the narrative of the landscape, that Ford in this, and in many other films, express with a poetic sensitivity that describe perfectly the vast nature of United States. In a sense, The Searchers propose a reflection on redemption, self control, psychological troubles, of the main character, as in Hamlet, that is the perfect expression of the Self.

Submitted by Néstor Serrano on Tue, 17/07/2018 - 19:12

Hi! I was remembering about the sound of music movie that the girl is returning to your country to see if she was really prepared to be a nun, or to see the world and she could experiment and take some relationship. It is different story that, at the end they finally, fell in love, and get married.
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Submitted by Abdo Hassan f on Mon, 12/03/2018 - 10:39

Hi, British council teamwork I have a question has perplexed my humble mind, the quotation which is the advice that ploniuos have it to his son "To thine own self be true" yes I knew it means be true with your self but I need analysis for the sentence syntactically

Hello Abdo Hassan f,

This is a sentence which is taken, as you say, from a literary context and it uses inversion for rhetorical effect. The verb is an imperative and the speaker is giving strong advice - almost a command:

Be true to yourself (without inversion, with the modern word for 'yourself')

Be true to your own self (without inversion, using a more poetic flourish)

Be true to thine own self (without inversion, using a more poetic flourish and an older word for 'your')

To thine own self be true (with inverstion)



The LearnEnglish Team

*gave it to his son Sorry for technical mistake because I have turned on predictive text feature

Submitted by Josep Anton on Fri, 26/01/2018 - 16:33

I can find similar story on the book of Odyssey, when Ulises return to Ithaka where her wife Penelope was courted by many suitors. Then Ulises won the proof what Penelope had set marry with the winner. After that Ulises killed all suitors, and return with Penelope. The difference with Hamlet is that Ulises isn't the son of Penelope if not her husband.

Submitted by Khaled v on Tue, 16/01/2018 - 19:59

A Tale of two Cities: The high pressure will cause explosion .. In time of war you cannot know who is guilty and who is innocent but there is a place for love ..and unlimited trend this what had happened for Sydney Carton..when he decided to die to bring the happiness for Lucy Manatte ... it is different of Hamlet ..it full of events ,..the Revenge will go in wrong direction when innocent one(Charles) will pay for his family mistakes..However Sydney Carton decided to pay and silently the love was the victorious.