To Sleep, Perchance to Dream…

I’m starting Hamlet with my literature class on Tuesday.

I run my lit. class thematically. Rather than going through the basics – the elements of fiction and the structure and characteristics of different genres; all stuff they should have covered ad nauseum in high school – I decided to set up the class around a few major themes. I started out with identity, social expectations, and overcoming adversity, for which we read Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and a variety of Holocaust literature. We then moved through to nature, responsibility, and what makes us human – Frankenstein covers all that and much more. Now, we’re headed into ethics, family, and decision-making with Hamlet.


I’ve decided, though, since we’re running short on time, that we’re not going to read Shakespeare’s longest play from cover to cover – I still want to get to Dickens and A Christmas Carol. I’m planning to show the class the Franco Zeffirelli / Mel Gibson version of Hamlet (which I have because I bought it long before Gibson outed himself as a religious nutjob / antisemitic asshole; I likely won’t give him any more of my money from now on) and we’ll read excerpts from the play as we go along. I did my Master’s research on using film as literature in the classroom, and I have enough experience with the play to be able to guide the students through the “Hollywood” version with a fair degree of confidence.

I’m going to make sure that the kids read the world’s most famous siloloquy and we’ll likely take a good long look at the closet scene both in film and on paper. Zeffirelli took some liberties with the order of things in the play, too, and we’ll do some investigation of why he may have chosen to move things around the way he did. I’m considering a couple of essay questions for the class, too – there has to be some writing, after all – and I am kicking around the idea of a multi-media project, as well.

A quick check of my bookshelf tells me that I have Hamlet in four different texts (five, if you count the anthology we’re using in class). I love the play, I have to admit to loving the movie, and I’m really looking forward to working through it with what I’ve got left of this group.

photo credit



Filed under film as literature, great writing, Literature

12 responses to “To Sleep, Perchance to Dream…

  1. wordlily

    I’m a big fan of Hamlet (the play and the movie) as well.

  2. I really liked the movie, but I’ve heard that its horribly horribly inaccurate. I am not a Shakespearean scholar, so I can’t judge, but I will say it’s pretty cool that you will be investigating the why and how of the movie compared to the text. Comparative literature at its finest.

  3. paisleyandplaid

    The Kenneth Branaugh version is the best, but it’s 4 hours long. I did it in small bites to reinforce scenes as we went along. Branaugh insisted on using the full text of the play, whereas the Gibson film cuts nearly half and changes the order. It’s quite entertaining however. Good luck.

  4. I can’t WAIT to teach Hamlet to a very talented group of 10 juniors in my world literature class this year. Our text has The Tempest, but I’ve never been a fan of that particular play, so I always challenge my kids with the Prince of Denmark, instead. And then I reward them with Mel Gibson’s movie, which, as paisleyandplaid stated, is not the most accurate, but it certainly keeps the students’ attention, especially with the whole Oedipus thing (which my group just finished reading) played to the hilt.

    Wow, now I’m all worked up for your sake and mine!

  5. We’re studying Romeo and Juliet. It’s going to be a long four weeks. I certainly miss having the honors kids.

  6. I never read Hamlet; in school, I was tantalized by King Lear and Othello, as well as the standard Romeo and Juliette. By far, King Lear was my fave.

  7. Tense, say it ain’t so! Tempest, being so much farther along in Shakespeare’s writing life, is far more challenging and delightful than the manipulative and petulant Hamlet.

    I really wish that everyone would forget they’d ever seen the Gibson version. Not for the mixed up text (though that bites) but for the poor performances.

    I think the ideal film as literature crossover with Shakespeare would be to read Shakespeare and watch Stoppard’s Shakespeare in Love. Stoppard never leaves a loose end and he weaves in so much of Shakespeare’s text with a cast that gives largely fabulous performances of both the modern and the Shakespearean text. I mean, yeah, there are like 40 people in the world who think the joke with the bloodthirsty kid is funny but still, doesn’t that just prove there’s something for everyone?

  8. King of Texas (made for TV) was an adaptation of King Lear, reset in the Texas ranch country, starring Patrick Stewart. It was very good.

  9. nhfalcon

    I have to admit I’m a bit ignorant as to the source of your displeasure with Mel Gibson. According to the admittedly notoriously unreliable (yet incredibly convenient), Gibson’s father is an anti-Semite, which obviously would’ve influenced Mel’s attitudes growing up. I don’t think that’s an excuse (any self-respecting adult should learn to develop his or her own opinions as he or she matures), but it certainly started him off behind the 8-ball.

    In response to whether or not “The Passion of the Christ” would upset Jews Gibson said “It’s not meant to.” He even left a scene out of the movie for fear of the reaction of the Jewish community.

    As far as the DUI incident goes, he WAS drunk when he said what he did. Now, that could mean either one of two things: 1) he was drunk, so his defenses were down and the real him came out, or 2) he was drunk and just didn’t know what he was saying.

    How many times has option #2 happened to any of us out there, hmm?

    Either way, he apologized for his actions, and those apologies were accepted by many of those who his words were directed at. He’s also a notable philanthropist, so he can’t be all bad, can he?

    I’m not necessarily defending the guy, I’m just uncertain about the quantity and significance of his transgressions, and therefore uncertain as to why you’ve now decided he’s unworthy of any of your attention.

  10. Falcon, I appreciate all you have to say here, but Mel was turning me away from himself long before the antisemitic stuff came out – that was just the icing on the cake.

    I saw an interview with him once – I think it was Diane Sawyer or some such – and he came off as a lunatic religious nutjob. He actually said, in just these terms, that he is going to miss his wife when he was in heaven because she, being an Episcopalian and not believing the same things he does, is going to hell.

    Even beyond that, though? He’s not been making movies lately that appeal to me. I LOVED the Lethal Weapon set, you already know how I feel about Braveheart, and I even thought that What Women Want was entertaining. Nothing he’s done since, say, Signs (which sucked, by the way) has even remotely interested me. If he makes a movie that piques my curiosity, I might be convinced to give him another ten of my hard-earned entertainment dollars…

  11. I know that Mel’s considered Tom-Cruise crazy nowadays, but I still have to say that he’s uber-hot in that Hamlet. And can I also have some of Tim Roth’s Guildenstern?!

  12. Anonymous

    Super, Hamlet forever

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s