Random Ravings

• First of all, for all that I LOVE Amazon, I hate them a little bit, too. I think I must have bad delivery karma: I ordered Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet last week and (GASP!) paid for the shipping to get it here by Saturday so that I could start showing it to my lit. girls on Monday. Well, Saturday came and went, my friends, and I am still Dane-less, dammit! It wouldn’t be SUCH a big deal except that I am fast losing my voice (yes; despite the hex signs I’ve been throwing and the incantations I’ve been chanting, I’ve caught something and it’s lodged itself firmly in my voice) and I’m thinking that popping a movie in for a class might not be such a bad idea, especially given that I HAVE to give my composition kids a lecture about essay organization and MLA citation procedure tomorrow. I may have to put together a “comparative literature” unit for the ladies and have them negotiate through the text, the Zefirelli Hamlet and the Branagh Hamlet (which, I’m sure, will be snugly in my mailbox tomorrow when I come home from work) as their mid-term. Grrrr.

• Mr. Chili and I were watching Band of Brothers on the History Channel last night, and the network put up a little advertisement that they’re selling the DVD set for 25% off, so I went online to check out whether or not the prices were competitive with other places I’ve seen the series for sale. In the course of my investigation, I found these, and I’ve decided that I really, REALLY want them. I can’t justify the expense at the moment, but it’s going on my wish list for sure.

• OH! RIGHT! I’ve been wanting to tell you all about this since it happened last Wednesday, but I keep forgetting:

So, the lit. ladies and I are sitting around our table, reading the bits and pieces of Hamlet that they had trouble with on their own, when we get to the part where King Hamlet’s ghost first appears to his son. I read this part aloud to the girls…

I am thy father’s spirit,
Doom’d for a certain term to walk the night,
And for the day confined to fast in fires,
Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purged away. But that I am forbid
To tell the secrets of my prison-house,
I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,
Thy knotted and combined locks to part
And each particular hair to stand on end,
Like quills upon the fretful porpentine:
But this eternal blazon must not be
To ears of flesh and blood. List, list, O, list!
If thou didst ever thy dear father love–

… when one of my students – a VERY bright young lady who took the class with me last year (she failed because her life fell apart at the end of the semester and she just stopped coming) – stopped me. “WAIT a minute!” she said, “this sounds familiar! Didn’t Jacob Marley say something just like this to Scrooge?”

Well, my dear, as a matter of fact, he DID!!

“It is required of every man,” the Ghost returned, “that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellowmen, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world — oh, woe is me! — and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!…Nor can I tell you what I would. A very little more, is all permitted to me. I cannot rest, I cannot stay, I cannot linger anywhere. “

I was positively DELIGHTED that she noticed both ghosts’ inability to rest, and that neither was at liberty to fully divulge the nature of their current existence to others. I’m also thrilled by how many things the girls are recognizing in the reading, particularly “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” and Polonius’ rants about “neither a borrower nor a lender be” and his bit about the clothes making the man. I don’t think they ever fully appreciated how much influence Shakespeare has had on our common vocabulary, and it’s exiting for me to see them get excited when they recognize something from the text that they’ve seen (or said) out in the “real world.” THAT’S why literature class is important.

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9 Comments

Filed under composition, concerns, film as literature, frustrations, great writing, Literature, little bits of nothingness, out in the real world, Poetry, popular culture, reading, self-analysis, success!, Teaching, the good ones

9 responses to “Random Ravings

  1. Branagh was WAY too old to play Hamlet so the movie is absurd on that level. Overlong, as well. MUCH BETTER is his adaptation of “Henry V”, which rivals Olivier’s. I don’t think there’s been a definitive screen treatment of “Hamlet”, which is a shame. They need a young actor with chops, around 21 years old, Royal Shakespeare trained, intense, charismatic. A cast of unknowns and a great director, a la Polanski’s “Macbeth”, which is quite amazing…

  2. Cliff, I’m betting I’m going to agree with your assessment of the Branagh film, but the failure of Hollywood (or anyone else, for that matter) to produce a film version of Hamlet that everyone can agree on is problematic for those of use whose literature anthologies include ONLY that play. I’m making do as best that I can, and I think that teaching students to be critical consumers of entertainment is a valuable use of my instructional time. I’m hoping that, by looking at three different “versions” of the play (with one being, of course, the original), I can give my kids a pretty wide-angle view of the work, and get them thinking about it in ways that they wouldn’t have if they’d only read the play or only saw one movie…

  3. Good luck with presenting the play to your students–I always thought it was the most relevant of all Shakespeare’s plays, in terms of a young audience. Hamlet basically comes from a broken home, he has to adapt to a new step-father who has usurped the love of his mother and meanwhile he still feels great loyalty to his real father. How many kids can relate to a situation like that…

  4. MOST of them can, and it’s interesting to me to see them work out Claudius and Gertrude. Last term, I had a student do a character study of Claudius to try to get to the bottom of what motivated him. She decided that he was always secondary to Hamlet, and that his lack of self-esteem drove him to murder. I’m not sure I buy it, but it’s as plausible an explanation as any.

    Most of my fun comes from investigating Gertrude. I still haven’t worked out whether she knew what Claudius did – I’ve seen it acted several ways – and no matter how many times I read her, I come up with something new. For example, we were trying to figure out why Gertrude didn’t want Hamlet to return to school after his father’s death. One of my lit ladies hypothesized that she was feeling insecure; that she’d just lost her husband (though she immediately took another) and was afraid of losing her son, too. THAT got me to thinking that maybe she didn’t want Hamlet to go because she was afraid of being alone with Claudius….

    One of the fun (and inFURIATING) things about Shakespeare is that he never spells any of this stuff out for us – your guess is as good as mine…

  5. Shakespeare was exactly right not to spell out “this stuff” for us! Part of the richness of reading Shakespeare, or any worthwhile piece of literature, is that the experience evokes associations in us that are peculiar to us alone and yet, in some mysterious way

    …stitch the lot of us
    into an uncommon humanity
    of lovers for whom books are love letters
    posted to every man, woman, and child,
    but penned specifically to each of us.

    –“Reading for Pleasure” by Julia Alvarez

  6. I read somewhere that Hamlet is the most often produced Shakespeare play (while being the longest so wow, do people just want to shoot themselves in the feet?). It’s never fascinated me overmuch but there’s a ton of material in it. Perhaps as I come to the right age to play Gertrude it’ll mean more for me.

    Again I’ll plug the Jacobi version you were talking about. I’ll bet it’s fabulous and probably the Olivier isn’t half bad. He did know a thing or two about acting. Each version must have something redeeming in it and I suppose over years of teaching and watching these things one could cull the best bits from each and show them throughout the unit.

    For those of us that already know the play I highly recommend the first season of a show called Slings & Arrows. It’s Canadian made (only 8 eps) and very funny while also being moving and it follows the employees of a large theatre in Canada. In the first season the real life parts mirror the play that they’re producing on the mainstage and that play is Hamlet. It’s brilliant in the writing, in the discussion of the play, in the way they approach Shakespeare and, when they finally get to it, in the acting of the actual Shakespearean text.

    Chili, did you buy Band of Bros? If you’re considering it I’d like to second that emotion. It’s wonderful and the History Channel does a lot of editing to make their TV rating. Look for your hot people post soon.

  7. Kizz, I love your idea of piecing together bits from different productions; I think that may be my ultimate goal.

    I haven’t seen the BBC production, but I’m looking into buying it and no, I haven’t bought Band of Brothers… yet. If I don’t get it in the next gift-giving season (it’s on my Amazon wish list but, at almost 60 bucks, it’s not one most people would choose), I’ll spring for it myself.

    I’m looking forward to the Hot People…

  8. hooray for making connections! i love when students have those “a ha!” moments. 🙂

  9. Pingback: I Take It Back… « A Teacher’s Education

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