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Friday, April 07, 2006

Hamlet: not just a cute name for a pig.

So I've been lecturing on Hamlet for the past two weeks, and as a result, I've spent quite a bit of time trying to justify analytical thinking as a potentially useful endeavor to a bunch of students who seem to have been taught in high school that Hamlet is a bit of pussy. As in: "Too much of a pussy to kill himself," according to one delicate flower in the class. (The regional accent here at U State made this a particularly pointed claim.) In fact, I spent much of the time arguing against Hamlet's various attempts to set up thought as the antithesis of action, "conscience" as the antithesis of "resolution." To do so, I had to read Speech 2B for them either as Shakespeare's purposeful display of Hamlet's flawed logic, or as a performance by Hamlet for the various eavesdroppers (thanks, Simplicius, for that one). I can't quite tell whether or not it's a deeply anti-intellectual play. All I can say is that encouraging a bunch of depressive adolescents to think carefully about a play starring a depressive adoloscent (er, 30 year old) who constantly puts down careful thinking seems a bit like a losing battle.

  • At 4/08/2006 12:58:00 AM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…

    I've never once taught Hamlet successfully.


  • At 4/09/2006 10:40:00 AM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    I heard much the same line from some of my students too, which I thought was weird because I had explicitly been arguing against the whole "Hamlet is a wuss" claptrap (students are a bit more polite here), indeed even ridiculing it. But I love the idea that if they were visited by a ghost who told them to kill their step-father the king, some would rush right out and do it. At least you know who you're potentially damned treasonous regicides are.


  • At 4/09/2006 10:24:00 PM, Blogger Inkhorn wrote…

    I find that you can't successfully teach *any* play that they may already have read in high school. In fact, I try to keep them off my syllabus for exactly that reason.


  • At 4/09/2006 10:30:00 PM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…

    Well, I don't teach RJ very often because of the high-school effect. But with Hamlet, my problem is just that I have trouble figuring out a successful throughline that will take them through the play in 3 or 4 classes. I end up with a smattering of different issues and local readings that don't quite come together the way I'd like. I know it's a cliche, but I also think it's true that there really is more in Hamlet than any other Shakespeare play.


  • At 4/10/2006 11:38:00 AM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    I too have problems with creating a consistent throughline. I'm hoping next year to teach "Titus" first, which ideally will then set up the conventions for revenge tragedies. Or I might just not teach "Hamlet' at all.


  • At 4/10/2006 05:27:00 PM, Blogger Greenwit wrote…

    All I know is, I spent the last five minutes of lecture babbling on and on about readiness, and Hamlet's lack of a revenge plot, and how the rest isn't actually silence, it's something like 150 lines of explanation capped off with the astonishing suggetion by Horatio that all the bodies be put on a platform so he can recite their stories: (i.e., at the end of Hamlet, someone suggests staging a kind of tableau version of Hamlet). I ended hurriedly and dramatically with that final point, and I actually saw a student give me a little golf clap. Could have been sarcastic, but it would take a pretty bitter student (i.e., me at age 20), to give a mocking golf clap to a professor, even if (or especially because) that professor had just delivered a rambling disjointed lecture with key points recognizable not owing to their logical positioning, but to the volume at which they were delivered. In any case, I once again realized that I could be saying "bloppity bloppity bloppity" over and over again and still make them happy as long as I say it emphatically.


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