At this point, it is now clear how a geek like me would grow up to become an English teacher. And this English teacher is about to embark on a Hamlet unit once again.
Here are a few assumptions I make about the students before I begin:
- Students struggle with the language
- Students struggle with envisioning the action of the play
- Students struggle with the context of the time the play was written
Sense a theme?
I should probably acknowledge that the very notion of struggle seems to me to be a very physical image, as if the shakespeare textbooks fly towards the faces of my young charges and threaten to suffocate them with pages and pages of endless blank verse. But, that's probably how a lot of my kids feel. And, in past classes when students read the lines aloud, that's also how it sounds.
Again, throughout this entire unit (which is supposed to last about 7 weeks- this seems like a very tight timeline to me) I'm going to try to avoid the words 'get through' or 'cover' or 'go over' because I think it reinforces the idea of Hamlet as an obstacle, instead of a play.
Here is where I'll compile a list of aspects of my Hamlet unit, but there are some things I will not do. I won't create an order for presenting information. I won't be including worksheets with my units, because I don't use them anymore, and I think the notion of 'busywork' is kind of not what I'm going for here.
Things I haven't had success with
- Getting students to memorize a soliloquy - some teachers get kids really pumped about it, and I admire that. It's just not for me.
Things I have had success with
- Asking seemingly silly questions on a student discussion forum such as
"Who would you cast as Hamlet? Include a picture!" (God bless the Kenneth Branagh version, but 1996 was a while ago.)
- Taking the time to explain to students that when words have mysterious apostrophes in the middle (ne'er, i', e'er) it's because there are letters missing for rhythmic reasons and they are not encountering some new mysterious word. I find it especially difficult to hear a student read aloud " I am too much "I" the sun". Gah! That makes no sense!
- Using different versions of filmed interpretations in class. This is a tricky one, because it's so easy to just let the movie run and run and tell yourself that students are 'getting it' because it's on screen. Still, when I teach Macbeth I've always made a point of showing as many different versions of the banquet scene as I can find so the students can discuss staging and director's interpretation.
Things I haven't tried yet but will get back to you about
- This year I am going to include parts of the David Tennant film, but it will be difficult to practice equanimity due to my Dr. Who fangirl-dom. Still, from the limited previews I've seen this looks like an extremely attractive film that highlights how the play actually works as a play. (I was always more impressed with K. Branagh's sets than his soliloquies.)
Work in Progress!