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Archive for the ‘Hamlet’ Category

By Sara Lehn

Last year an unforgettable group of my twelfth grade students became fascinated with the connections they saw between Batman and Hamlet.  At first I was skeptical, but the more they defended their beliefs, the more I came around to their way of thinking.

Consider: an angry, morose member of the wealthy elite who has lost his parents and has very few people to whom he can turn, disgusted with the disgraceful state of his beloved city and obsessed with a need to seek justice for his lost loved ones.

It does sound kind of familiar, doesn’t it?

My students used this parallel as the basis for their final video project on Hamlet, performing the famous “closet scene” between Gertrude and Hamlet in full Batman regalia, drawing parallels to the interrogation scene between Batman and the Joker in the film The Dark Knight.  They called it The Adventures of Batlet Hamman and played it to an enthusiastic response at our school’s Shakespeare Festival in April.

Since then, I have been intrigued by connections between Shakespeare’s classic works and current pop culture.  Teachers frequently use modern updates of the plays in class, but many of us don’t consider the films and television shows out there that share similar themes and characters but may not have been intentionally conceived with Shakespeare in mind.

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Secondary Festival 2013

Secondary School Shakespeare Festival, 2013. Folger Shakespeare Library.

By Mike Klein

Year after year kids in my classroom have strikingly similar reactions to my announcement, “Tomorrow, we’ll be starting Shakespeare.” That reaction is usually a series of “Ughs,” or “Oh nos!” or “Whys?” The most dreaded by English teachers everywhere is, of course, “I hate Shakespeare!”

Perhaps I am different, perhaps I’m a masochist, but I relish these answers. I see them as my opportunity to do what I set out to do when I decided to become a teacher – change minds.

Teaching Shakespeare in my class begins by starting not with books, but with words. Not just any words, Shakespeare’s words. The most effective method of getting kids of any age (I know because I do these lessons with my middle school drama kids!) comfortable with Shakespeare is by leaving the books on the shelves. Books can be cumbersome and have copious notes and footnotes so I begin by giving them a single page of lines from the play I’m going to start them with.

Almost any play works with an exercise called “Three-Dimensional Shakespeare,” outlined by Michael Tolaydo in Shakespeare Set Free. I use it for Hamlet, King Lear, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Much Ado About Nothing.

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Hamlet. First Folio. Courtesy Folger Shakespeare Library.

Hamlet. First Folio. Courtesy Folger Shakespeare Library.

By Sara Lehn

“Stand, who is that?”
“Tis I.”

“Who’s there?”
“Nay, answer me.  Stand and unfold yourself.”

What’s the difference between the two exchanges above?  Either not much or quite a lot, depending on your perspective.  Both indicate two people looking to identify each other.  Therefore, both imply a certain level of curiosity or suspicion, as well as the likelihood that they cannot see each other very well.

Both are the opening lines of Hamlet.

The first set of lines comes from the 1603 Quarto of the play.  The second set of lines comes from the 1604 Quarto, and is the one that appears in the First Folio. The second quarto is commonly considered the more authoritative version of the play.

In talking to some of my fellow teachers, I found that, while most were aware that there are quarto and folio versions of the plays, few had considered using the differences between them as a teaching tool.  Personally, it wasn’t until my time at the 2012 Teaching Shakespeare Institute, when I was able to hear a talk by Dr. Barbara Mowat, co-editor of the Folger Editions, that I really saw the worth of these different versions in the secondary classroom.

English teachers across the United States are feeling the pressure of the Common Core and are searching out techniques and tools to address standards such as RL.11-12.4, which asks students to “determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone.”

Many students find this kind of sophisticated close reading difficult, but by providing them with two different possibilities for just a small section of the play, students are able to see how even the tiniest change in diction can affect layers of nuance in the overall impact of the lines. (more…)

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By Dana Huff

In order to help students develop close reading skills, we teach them how to annotate.

Annotation has traditionally been thought of as a pencil-and-paper activity, but e-readers, such as Kindle and iBooks, have great annotation tools. However, website annotation has been more of a challenge for students since browsers don’t typically include the same kinds of annotation tools as e-readers do.

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Performance helps bring Shakespeare alive, and listening to his words being spoken brings them off the page and into a new relevance for students.

With the Folger Shakespeare Library launching a new series of Shakespeare audio editions, teachers now have access to unabridged texts from the gold standard Folger Editions performed by a full cast of Shakespearean actors and expertly produced by Folger Theatre.

“We know that Shakespeare’s plays were written with the human voice – an actor’s voice – in mind, which is why it is so important to encounter the Folger Editions with one’s ears as well as eyes,” says Michael Witmore, Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library. “These recordings offer ‘another way in’ to Shakespeare’s plays by offering powerful audio performances.”

The series has launched with five of Shakespeare’s most popular plays: Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth, Othello, and Romeo and Juliet.

These audio editions, available from Simon & Schuster Audio on CD or for download, can be used together with Folger Digital Texts, an online searchable resource that provides the Folger Editions text of 38 Shakespeare plays.

Check out the Folger Shakespeare Library website to learn more and to listen to excerpts.

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Justin Adams (Laertes) and Graham Michael Hamilton (Hamlet), Hamlet, directed by Joseph Haj, Folger Theatre, 2010. Photo by Carol Pratt.

Justin Adams (Laertes) and Graham Michael Hamilton (Hamlet), Hamlet, directed by Joseph Haj, Folger Theatre, 2010. Photo by Carol Pratt.

The Shakespeare’s Globe production of Hamlet is on tour–heading to every country in the world–and it’s stopping at the Folger Shakespeare Library later this month.

Therefore, we thought this would be an opportune time to revisit an invaluable teaching resource created by the Folger, the Insider’s Guide to Hamlet.

The Insider’s Guide is a multimedia experience with video clips from actors that accompany the featured lesson plans. These videos, which are based on Folger Theatre’s 2010 production of the play, highlight Hamlet‘s themes, characters, and plot–perfect for students encountering the play for the first time or those seeking a refresher course.

Here’s the video playlist for the Insider’s Guide, but visit our website to see the associated lesson plans.

What are the resources you use to teach Hamlet? Let us know in the comments.

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By Jill Burdick-Zupancic

In English 10, I chose to study Macbeth with the students this year. However, because we were also looking at how imagery supports characterization, I decided to get them back into the world of Shakespeare with a look at Gertrude’s recount of Ophelia’s drowning in Hamlet. I’ve recently been really into taking scenes from a variety of plays to support the study of a larger piece. This scene, as described by the queen, has taken root in pop culture as well; there’s even a band! But, what we did is take a look at the speech (as shown below, courtesy of Folger Digital Texts) and explored how artists interpreted the imagery to support characterization.

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