By Sara Lehn
“Stand, who is that?”
“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…)