Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the tag “Hamlet”

Bard Bits: Overcoming Shakespism


Up until teaching Shakespeare to my high school English students, my exposure and awareness of Stratford Upon Avon’s poet/playwright had been limited to the usual reference of Romeo and Juliet being a play about two teenagers who have a tragic romance. I saw it as a film in junior high. It was rated “M” for mature audiences (being a 13 year old counted as mature then). Certain scenes were embarrassing and I doubt we were mature enough to handle the morning after flesh flash of Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey. Plus, I had a really difficult time understanding what they were saying—were they speaking English?

That was then and this is now. At present I’m the resident Bardinator at school, being the advisor of the Students for Shakespeare Club and being known for my Shakespeare zeal. We’ve brought Shakesperience to the high school several times, I’ve helped with our own drama club’s version of Romeo and Juliet, designing sets and watching my son contribute his thespian skills, and I do my best to engage and interest students to embrace Shakespeare, nudging past groans when studying his works. My appreciation for Shakespeare has nudged me to leave my usual homebody mode to travel cross country to Washington DC to attend Folger’s week long Hamlet academy. I’ve gone beyond the usual Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar school curriculum offerings and have introduced students to Othello, Taming of the Shrew, Much Ado About Nothing, Merchant of Venice, Twelfth Night, and provided background Bard Bits.

How and why did I go from a Shakespeare illiterate to Shakespeare informed?

First of all, I had to overcome the language barrier. Reading Shakespeare wasn’t working so well. Watching well-produced film adaptations, such as Kenneth Branagh’s Henry IV helped tremendously. Shakespeare is meant to be performed, not read.

Secondly, the more I taught Shakespeare (teaching the same material year after year does have an upside), the more I understood what I was teaching. And if I understand what I’m teaching I can teach the material better to my students.

Beyond teaching the plays, I began reading about the man who wrote them. Since there is so little solid biographical information about Shakespeare, I began researching and became more and more intrigued. Who was this guy and did he really write all these plays and what was theatre like in Renaissance England led to other aspects such as learning more about Queen Elizabeth I and other aspects of that time period.

And I branched out to other plays, learning all about one play before committing to another. The benefit being that Shakespeare’s language was no longer puzzling to my ear, it had become a melody of written expression.

My dream curriculum is to teach a course that is all Shakespeare. We would of course study selected plays and sonnets, but also play Bard Bingo (it’s fun, really), create Flash Mob scenes for the community (field trip!), stage fight (sword fights and Hamlet are a natural), and put on a Shakespeare night for the school—best scenes talent show. I think I would call the course, “Shakespeare Then and Now” or maybe “Shakespeare—the Undiscovered Country.” At least a dozen students would need to sign up to make it a go, then again it could become so popular two sections (or more) would be required as Shakespism transforms into Shakesthusiasm.

I can hope.

Do you suffer from Shakespism or are you a Bardinator or maybe somewhere in between.

Bard Bits: Hamlet/Hamnet


I have my reserve in for the new Hamnet. I am anticipating and checking my library notifications frequently. If you are unaware—

This is a fictional account of a playwright (who is supposedly not named in the story) and his 11 year old son, his only son, who dies, perhaps of the bubonic plague. Of course it got my attention. If it looks like Shakespeare, talks about Shakespeare, might shed more light about Shakespeare—gotta read it. Being a Bardinator sets one up for mandatory reading at times.

A new view of Shakespeare, perhaps?

Since I have yet to read the novel, I thought this installment of Bard Bits would focus on what others have said of the play, which is supposedly a reference to Hamnet, Shakespeare’s son, whose name is thought to have alternately been spelled Hamlet. There is ongoing academic conversation about that connection.

So-no thoughts yet on Hamnet. However, here are what some think about the titular character of the play:

A rich kid from Denmark.

—Diane Sawyer

A sad, screwed-up type of guy.

—Holden Caulfield

A half a dozen characters rolled into one.

—George Bernard Shaw

An Anglo-Saxon bore who talked too much.

—Henry Miller

What Hamlet is, before he is anything…is an authentic tragic hero who is himself a man of genius.

—Orson WellesHamlet

Hamlet doesn’t care if he bites the dust. He’s dangerous. He’s a human time bomb.

—Mel Gibson

Indeed. Hamlet is a bit of all these impressions. But beyond his perceived personality is the remaining core of who Hamlet is and the engine of the play: he is a son who has lost a father. What is notable, is the play is written by a man who lost a son. The play is about how a father and a son are both lost. Sometimes it’s a fine line between life imitating art and art reflecting life.

All quotes are from the fun and fabulous The Friendly Shakespeare by Norrie Epstein. It is a treasure of a Bardinator resource.

What are your thoughts on Hamnet? No spoilers, please.

Feel free to add your two cents to thoughts on Hamlet. Having watched too many adaptations I have to push aside Mel, David, Jude and cohort before deciding on my own ideas. Above all else, I think Hamlet is a grieving young man who truly missed his father. I think Shakespeare did indeed reflect how grief wears heavy on a person in his play about how a person grapples with significant loss and how loss is absolutely a very personal experience.

Bard Bits: May


I managed to go to school without any experience with Shakespeare (yeah, how did that happen?) I can easily relate to my student’s bewilderment when we begin our drama unit. Freshmen study Romeo and Juliet, sophomores experience Julius Caesar, juniors skip Shakespeare to study American Literature (The Crucible), and depending on the teacher, students have a range of selection from an overview of the comedies to a dive into tragedy with Merchant of Venice, Hamlet, or Macbeth.

I am usually prepared for groans from my sophomores when I announce we are studying Shakespeare. “Not again!” “We did him last year.” “Shakespeare is so boring.” Instead of coming up with excuses and defending our Wily Bard of Stratford, I agree with them. This gets me some interesting looks–most def.

I do agree with my students. Shakespeare can be boring, or at least his plays were until I got the hang of them. Watching, let alone reading the plays, was painful to endure, and I felt I could never get anywhere, no matter how hard I tried. Then again, learning how to ski was painful, and I wondered if I would ever get down the mountain without a initiating a yard sale. Hmm, I should use this analogy with my students since they have grown up with a mountain in their backyard.

Here are two thoughts on Shakespeare:

“I am more easily bored with Shakespeare, and have suffered more ghastly evenings with him, than with any dramatist I know.” Peter Brook, English theatre director

“We find Shakespeare boring because we’re lazy. We’re not willing to get through the language. That’s the only barrier. If a play is performed right by those who are properly trained, after about twenty minutes you won’t be aware of the language because the human story is so strong.” –David Suchet, actor

What are your experiences with Shakespeare? Bored, frustrated, from having to endure year after year of his plays in school? Perhaps initially bored, but then the story unfolds and the words are no longer a barrier and serve as a contribution to the experience? Or maybe you grew to appreciate him with time and experience?

One of my standout memories of teaching my favorite play, Hamlet–sorry, I do mention that often, don’t I?–is after we wrapped up the unit, one student, from my regular, not AP class, stayed behind. “You know I’m going to miss discussing Hamlet, I really got to like this play.” He grew thoughtful. “I can’t discuss Shakespeare with my father.”

I never discussed Shakespeare with my father either. But I sure discuss him with my own children when I get the chance. Shakespeare boring? Not for long. Hang in there, dig in your poles, don’t cross your ski tips, and you will enjoy the thrill of going from snowplow to slalom. That applies to skiing as well.

Bard Bits: April


Honestly, you don’t look a day over 415, Bill!
1564-1616
April 23

Yup, it’s birthday time for William. He had a much bigger party six years ago when he hit the big 450. All over the world people celebrated the genius of the man from Stratford-Upon-Avon.

How does a person offer birthday congrats to someone who has given so much to the world in terms of literature and themed studies of human nature? Royalties, maybe. Wouldn’t that be a welcome stimulus check in the mailbox? Films, books, plays, mugs, t-shirts, buttons, toys, business names, and so much more are derived from Shakespeare. From what I have researched about his personality, I’m sure he would be amused at the adulation. He would probably discount it towards misshapen apparitions of misguided judgement.

I must offer some sort of tribute to Bill on his birthday. Hmm, how about something acknowledging my appreciation for one of his most amazing works: Hamlet. Yes, Hamlet once again. The Muppets had their say last month, now it is time for Veggie Tales to lend their muse to this timeless play of the troubled Prince of Danes or is that Danish?

https://vimeo.com/247649481?ref=em-share

Maybe you have your own ideas for a birthday tribute. I would surely appreciate hearing how you appreciate Shakespeare. Stop in the comments and have a piece of cake.

Image result for shakespeare birthday cake
Yes, you can have cake and eatheth, too.

Bard Bits: March


One month to go until we celebrate William Shakespeare’s birthday or reflect upon his death. Tough call since Shakespeare was born/died on the same day–supposedly April 23. Which way to acknowledge that auspicious day? Rejoice in his birth? Remorse of his death?

“Shakespeare. When will there come another?”
Thank Antony for the paraphrase

Shakespeare shares this notable event known as the “birthday effect” with other famous folk such as the painter Raphael (April 6), Ingrid Bergman (August 29), Grant Wood (February 13), known for the painting, American Gothic, and Corrie Ten Boom (April 15).

Image result for Shakespeare's Birthplace
Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-Upon-Avon
Don’t mess with the Bard’s bones

Born/died in 1616, the year marks of 2020 marks the 404 for William. It is appropriate that April is designated National Poetry Month, since Shakespeare perfected the sonnet, churning out some 154 of the iambic pentameter driven contributions to poetry and reflective muse.

While most Shakespeare aficionados and fans are content with being titled as Bardolators, I have chosen Bardinator since the difference is being a bit more determined to keep returning to understand his work–yeah, it is similar to a certain movie icon who keeps up with that line of “I’ll be back.” I teach Shakespeare, I relish his genius with words, yet I don’t like all his works (especially those with pies). I do want to keep returning to understand his wit and expertise with turning a phrase. After ten plus years of teaching Hamlet to high school students I am still discovering aspects of the play that just absolutely make me jump up and down with excitement. And yes, my students do wonder how I get so involved with Shakespeare. Even the Muppets appreciate Shakespeare.

Stay tuned for more Bard Bits as his birthday approaches…

Celebrating Shakespeare


There are many aspects to April to celebrate: daffodils, warmer weather, rain instead of snow (finding the positive), poetry, and Shakespeare. No matter your feelings about Shakespeare, it is pretty cool that he died on the same day he was born: April 23.

As a way to celebrate Shakespeare’s coolness, the month of April will be dedicated to all things Shakespeare. Get ready for a range of celebratory stuff. Here’s a starter:

 

 

Yup, “To Be or Not To Be” in Klingon. Now, that’s what I call awesome.

Why We Say: Old Words, New Meaning


Immersed in the study of Hamlet, I currently have to pause in our scrutiny of the emo Dane to explain an old word that Shakespeare uses that now has new context. Elizabethan slang is a study in itself. “Get thee to a nunnery” and “You are a fishmonger” as well as “Are you honest?” have a subtext if their own.

Moving to the present–

There are some words that used to mean one thing, however, due to current usage have evolved differently in connotation and denotation. These are standouts from an article by the Mirror:

ADDICT

In Roman times addicts were broke folk given as slaves to the people they owed money to. 

It comes from the Latin addictus, which meant “a debtor awarded as a slave to his creditor”.

In the 1600s it was used in the sense of giving yourself to someone or some practice.

AWFUL

In the 1300s it originally meant “inspiring wonder” and was a short version of “full of awe”. But now the word has purely negative connotations.

BROADCAST

It may now be the way the BBC spreads the news, but in 1767 “broadcast” meant sowing seeds with a sweeping movement of the hand or a “broad cast”. Its media use began with radio in 1922.

CUTE

Cute was a shortened form of acute, meaning “keenly perceptive and shrewd” in the 1730s. 

But by the 1830s it was part of American student slang, meaning “pretty, charming and dainty”. 

And, bizarrely, the original sense of “dainty” was “worthy and substantial”.

FANTASTIC

If you’re thinking of telling your beloved how fantastic they look today, think again.

Unless, that is, they look like a Hobbit or an Avatar (whatever floats your boat).

The 14th century meaning is “existing only in imagination”, from the old French term “fantastique”.

It was not until 1938 that the word was first used to mean “wonderful or marvelous”.

MATRIX

You may be thinking of Keanu Reeves in his 1999 hit sci-fi movie. But in reality “matrix” comes from the 14th century French word meaning “pregnant animal”.

It went on to mean “womb or source”. Eventually in 1555 it was adapted to mean “a place where something is developed”.

NERVOUS

In the 1400s a nervous person was actually “sinewy and vigorous” – as the Latin word nervus applied to both sinews and nerves.

By 1665 nerves were better understood and by 1734 the term meant “suffering a disorder of the nervous system”.

By 1740 it meant “restless, agitated, lacking nerve” and it then became a widespread euphemism for mental illness – forcing the medical community to coin “neurological” to replace it in the older sense.

“Nervous wreck” was first used in 1899.

NICE

Derived from the Latin nescius meaning “ignorant”, the word began life in the 14th century as a term for “foolish” or “silly”.

It soon embraced bad qualities, such as wantonness, extravagance, cowardice and sloth.

In the Middle Ages it took on the more neutral attributes of shyness and reserve.

Society’s admiration of such qualities in the 18th century brought on the more positively charged meanings of “nice” we know today.

I won’t even address how “literally” is so wrongly used today. Some pet peeves are best kept quiet.

“Dead for a Ducat!”


Valentine’s Day and a Shakespeare sonnet–right?  How about Shakespeare and the play I love to teach? 

You’re  probably wondering why I chose such an unlovely line for my Valentine’s Day post. Not the most romantic, I know, or even the most notable line of Hamlet–yet it does have a purpose. When Hamlet exults at his stabbing of the “rat” behind the curtain, the play changes. Hamlet changes. There is no turning back. 

By the time you read this post I will be well immersed in teaching Hamlet to my APsters and they will either be all in happily sailing with understanding and enthusiasm or they will have abandoned ship and rowed to shore. I have found either my students love, love, love the Danish doings of the undecided prince or are ready to move on and far away from Shakespeare. I have to remember my enthusiasm for Shakespeare isn’t always as contagious as I hope it to be.

I think I over prepare in hopes of dazzling my students with background facts, nuances, allusions, critical thinker questions, clips, trivia–oh my, I probably absolutely overwhelm them. I got lost on YouTube finding a clip for my class. It was a fun little side trip. Shakespeare hits the late night talk shows easily. It’s true what Ben J. said–Shakespeare is for all time. Especially late at night time. Take a look:

So happy Valentine’s Day and I hope that lovely sonnet pops up on someone else’s post.

Review Round Up: January


I began a new Goodreads Reading Challenge for 2017 in January. I made my goal of 101 books (with a couple to spare) for 2016, so I thought “why not?” let’s see if I can achieve it again–maybe I’m pushing it. After all, to hit my goal I need to read at least eight books a month. So far so good. Of the eight books read in January here are my top picks:

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

Goodreads image

The main problem with patterning a storyline after Hamlet is the knowledge there will be no happy ending. This is especially true when the main idea is about a boy and his dog–Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows–case in point.
However, I plunged ahead because I am always open to a Shakespeare retelling, especially if it’s Hamlet.
As a debut novel, it’s ambitious, to say the least. First of all, it takes on Hamlet. Secondly, it weaves the story around the complicated business of dog breeding. Then there is the unique physical attribute that Edgar (the story’s Hamlet) was born without a voice. What he saw he could not easily tell. Pun or a deep metaphor? I haven’t decided.
The story also provides unusual omniscient point of view chapters. We even hear what the dogs are thinking.
It works. (four stars)

 

Rory's Promise

Goodreads image

A fascinating insight into another historical aspect of the Orphan Train. The Foundling Society of New York administered by Catholic sisters provided a clean, safe environment for orphans, a much different perspective than the more widely known Children’s Aid Society who ran the Orphan Trains that went out West.

The protagonist, Rory, refuses to be separated from her sister and risks her life to keep her promise that she would watch over her.

Based on historical fact, and the meticulous research is evident in the story. (four star)

 

 

24611732

 

A throwback to the days of Greyhound travels and 1950s culture and values, Last Bus to Wisdom is a coming of age novel busting with wry mirth. Seemingly a combination of Little Britches and Mark Twain adventuring, Ivan Doig’s last novel truly is a wise choice of reading. (four star)

 

These three novels got me through the bleak days of January’s wintry blah days of icy cold and snow. A good book (three–score!), a cup of cocoa, and a crackling fire. Hmm, that’s what I call Book Booster happiness.

Fore Warned in My Musings…


Or this could be named: “Cricket Takes a Holiday”

(this is actually my second attempt at posting since the resort wifi is a bit tricky)

I will admit May is tough on teachers. Sure we get our free lunches, cards, and goody sacks on Teacher Appreciation day, but the rest of the year could use some boost and cheer as well. We are all a bit weary and the finish line is closer, yet not quite close enough.

If you are traisping over from my last post you understand I May *grin* be suffering from burnout. This is why I am on holiday. I took two of my hoarded personal holidays (we get three during the school year) and signed myself out for a four day weekend. Never mind it takes about three days to set up two days worth of lesson plans and I hope a sub can be found. I needed to get awaaaay. Yes, that is the sound of a teacher jubilating a happy sound as she pulls out from the parking lot Friday afternoon. And yes, there is a knapsack of ungraded papers I must deal with before I return to work on Wednesday.

The first two days of my retreat–wait, I need to digress…

Why call it a retreat, indicating I am running away from something when I am actually running toward what I embrace willingly without shame? There is honor is working in the trenches classroom. And maybe I am suffering from PTFSD (positively tired from student disconduct). 

Back…

The first two days were spent soaking up time with the hubs, who forbade any talk about school (good man), and soaking up the view, reading, sunning, and watching the swallows.

Our condo faces the fairway (have I got a story about nearly getting hit by a golfball–and I did have a forewarning, but not the yelled out kind) and is the flight path of the resident swallows. In fact, we share the roofline and they often sit near the rail, twittering and preening like tuxeodoed Woolworth parakeets. I love ’em. I left the robins home in the backyard. This is swallow country.

 

The third day finds me all by my lonesome. The hubs has returned home and I am told to “WRITE.” I have not been writing at home, being too (am)bushed from grading essays and creating lesson plans. This long weekend is meant to rejuvenate me enough to finish out the year and to get Something accomplished.

I have pulled up my Hamlet Choose Your Own Adventure manuscript. Not too much dust resting on it. I diligently worked on it all morning. I now have hit the wall. When that clock reads “1 PM” I have hit my creative capacity. I am not much good after sitting down four or five hours. I’m hungering for a walk. Either that or some chocolate. I better put on my shoes.

*update: I did both by stopping at the front desk to buy M&Ms to eat while I walked. Multitasking at its best.

 

 

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