Robert M. Schwartz
What might students think of “@Horatio” – might they be more interested in studying the role of the famous friend by his Twitter username? If Claudius’s “O, my offense is rank” speech were electronic, would he have shared it with anyone by Direct Message? What if the famous “To be or not to be” speech were separated into tweets – to whom would it be tweeted? What hashtags would be included – #ToBeOrNotToBe or #OutrageousFortune? If Ophelia wanted to blog about her zany lyrical meanderings, would anyone tweet a link to it? Why?
These are just a few problems with which to engage students in the learning of
through use of Twitter, which we will explore in depth in this curricular unit. Furthermore, the duality of public vs. private sentiment is rife within the play, and just as much on modern social media. This curricular unit will highlight an opportunity for educators to juxtapose what Hamlet may have wanted to keep private, or announce publicly, with a meditation on what would, and should, be kept private in modern day as opposed to shared over social media. Students invariably find themselves a part of many dramatic situations – whether it be poverty or loss, or even adverse relationships or woes with friends, and they tweet about it all. They blog or use Instagram to document experiences both light and dramatic, and they are constantly text-messaging and checking each other’s tweets and Instagram feeds and Facebook pages. This curricular unit has involved a test-audience of 12
graders in an urban, arts and humanities-focused magnet school, but is meant for anyone teaching
to teenagers. As many teens throughout history have done, they seethe with drama – seek it out, thrive on it. This proclivity toward “drama” has been regarded negatively by adults and peers, but they are simply exploring their identity with experience, interactions and relationships – the more dramatic the richer, the more meaningful to them. So when teens are looked down upon as being “dramatic” or “dark,” perhaps a better approach is to see this dramatic tendency as a portal – and seize it as an opportunity to allow them to learn a bit of literature on the way. To that end, bringing the Prince of Denmark to them at this emotionally rocky time in their lives can be informative as well as transformative. However, they may need some talking into it.
That is a good place for social media to come in.
is full of loaded lines, barbs to catch and pins to prick and daggers to pierce into the very soul, using at times just a few simple words. Hamlet makes an entire speech about him, but all we need are two words to know that Yorick was a man of “infinite jest.” Currently, at the time of the writing of this unit, #InfiniteJest is used in 9,205 posts on Instagram (which tallies hashtag usage right in its own app). Many of these can be attributed to the modern novel by David Foster Wallace; however if we search #ToBeOrNotToBe, we find at the time of this unit’s writing 43,831 posts on Instagram. Many of these posts reference the line from
specifically in this hashtag but are applied to anything but – tattoo photos, workout routines, etc. These banal activities, and even trendy modern novels utilizing Shakespearean language, are part of the very crux of how relating Shakespeare to teens through these modern forms of communication can catch. It’s all already out there – all an educator need do is make the connection.