Robert M. Schwartz
If Hamlet had a Twitter account, might that have saved anyone?
This unit will explore how deeply we can be affected by a simple phrase or even word – if it comes from the wrong person under the wrong circumstances - and the prevalence of this phenomenon in
. In order to do that, we will explore the modern trend of brevity – headlines, Tweets, Instagram posts, status updates, blogs and lists – where once we relied on articles and text. We will explore lines in
that bear incredible impact in relation to their brevity, and we will transform those into modern tweets, texts, posts and headlines that have similar, wide-spread effect despite, perhaps even because of, their diminutive nature.
Students will be able to distinguish what aspects of Hamlet’s personality make him who he is by focusing on short quips and succinct lines that carry great impact. They will also look at his relationship with other characters, and the motivations of all by way of these short, “tweet-sized” lines. In order to do this, students will analyze the big impact of a small number of words. By utilizing the modern medium of Twitter (as well as, at times, other social and communication media), they will simultaneously discover the proclivity of people toward sharp, heavy verbal barbs that carry heavy affect or consequence, both emotionally and in the physical world. In essence, this will be a study in human communication; in detail, this will be a thorough look at brief moments in
, and indeed in life, which takes us to places of wide scope with only a few words.
For instance, to study the graveyard scene and Hamlet’s speech about Yorick (and, in effect, life and death; Hamlet’s relationship to his parents), students might create the hashtag #InfiniteJest. What would Hamlet tweet to @Horatio in order to explain his feelings? We would have to take a look at Hamlet’s meaning. Was Yorick more of a parent to him than Gertrude or King Hamlet ever were? And, by discovering how easily one of the only people who truly loved him or he truly loved can slip away into nothing, does this complete his conversion in Act V from vengeance to stoic fortitude? These are big themes of the play that can be opened up with such succinct phrasing. Choosing the right line to tweet or phrase to hashtag can engage students and be the basis for tremendous discussion. Have students analyze what the meaning is of “infinite jest.” Let them tell you why it would make a good hashtag. Continue by picking a line from this speech to tweet, perhaps “He hath borne me on his back a thousand times. And now how abhorred in my imagination it is!” [V.i.187-189] Have students respond to and analyze the tweet, see what conclusions they come to and if they match the themes you want to analyze. Then, it’s time for students to come up with what to tweet, what hashtags to use, who would send which tweet to whom, or whether to use a blog or Direct Message to explore the intricacies and big themes alike of
It will also be important for students to explore the nature of private sentiment vs. public. Students will be able to analyze which lines Hamlet meant to keep to himself, and which were meant for others’ benefit. To do this, they will discern whether it would in effect be a “tweet” or kept as a personal blog. Would the tweets be public or private, or would he have used a Direct Message to another character?
More such examples will be explored, and in more detail, in this curricular unit.