Robert M. Schwartz
Warm-ups and Journal Entries
This will be a necessity at the beginning of the unit, and presents an opportunity for students to get into the proper mindset while activating some prior knowledge. Through warm-ups and/or journal entries, students can be led seamlessly into the simultaneous modern world of comm-tech and the classical world of Shakespeare. A good introductory warm-up question is: What are some examples of times that brief words have affected you? A hurtful phrase or comment from a friend, perhaps?
This can be parlayed into any number of journal entries. Further examples of damaging or uplifting words can be written about in a more expanded way – were these words uttered by a family member? A friend? Teacher? Bully? The media? And ultimately, a very important question to ask of students is – why do you think such small words can affect us so deeply?
The Significance of Twitter and other Social Media
It is important to explore the phenomenon of modern technology and social media. Students can continue with a popular Tweet and talk about the significance of it – then imagine Hamlet was a Tweeter. A second (or next) lesson warm-up might be: What would Hamlet’s first Tweet be were he new to Twitter? Students can be compelled to search the text for the answer. This can lead to a discussion and analysis of the deeper meaning of this Tweet, and the assignment can be expanded into the students diving into the play and finding their own favorite lines or lines they simply find significant (if personal connection like a “favorite” is too much to ask).
The Public Vs. Private Sentiment
So much of Hamlet’s dialogue seems to be to himself. Using Twitter – what he would “Tweet” publicly or privately, what he would choose to Direct Message, or what he might simply keep strictly to himself (is there
so private, these days?) – is a wonderful device for exploring with modern modes of communication which dialogue would serve what mode. Analyzing lines with students in this way can be powerful – an educator could experiment with which lines in this curricular unit work well for this practice, or continue to explore for him or herself which lines and/or scenes are most apt.
To consistently check for understanding, expand upon lessons and examples, and for practice or homework, consider the following formative activities:
Researching impactful Tweets. Here, it is a bad idea to use their own examples, which may be too personal or involve someone else in the class or school.
Student-generated Tweets from characters in
– they can even create mock Twitter accounts to do this.
Instagram posts using a picture they’ve created or found online. This can be done in pairs. I am a big advocate of allowing students to choose whether they’d like to work alone, in pairs, or groups when possible and relevant. I find they often go much deeper when the onus is not solely on them to perform, and when they can share both talents and responsibilities. Of course there are times when there is “collateral damage” as it were from this method, and some students will inevitably waste time or allow others to carry the load, but for the most part it does more good than harm. Hamlet, I think, if he were a student, would opt predominantly to work alone.
There is, of course, the very general (and perhaps at this point overly-used) activity of developing a Facebook page for each character in
. Or any book. For any lesson. This is certainly a strong route to take for relating character to modern students. However, it has become boring. Many teenagers – at the time of this curricular unit’s writing – no longer consider Facebook the preeminent social media vehicle. Now, in 2016, the more popular are the aforementioned Twitter, as well as Tumblr, Snapchat and Instagram.
Utilizing these avenues of instruction can be problematic in at least two ways: for one, it requires the educator to be savvy himself with such media. Also, in an ever-evolving media landscape it is easy for anything written here to become outdated. However the hope is that, in 10 years when Twitter and Instagram are virtual reality applications and the as-of-yet uninvented Videoblastogram (or whatever it may be named) takes over as most popular social media app, that these strategies and activities will be applicable to any such application. One thing I don’t foresee changing anytime soon, however, are text messages.
As previously stated, any teacher could have students create or steward an actual Facebook page, another option being a “Fakebook page” or an offline designed mockup of an actual profile. This activity could match any other format – Twitter, Instagram, etc. After students explore Hamlet’s personality and interactions with other characters it may be useful to have them design an Instagram or Twitter post about something significant from his early experiences – perhaps his first encounter with the ghost of the king. One might import his last words into these early moments: Has Hamlet always been thinking “the rest is silence”? The students can decide, would Hamlet tweet about his experience? The easy answer is no, as he would not want to reveal things like keeping his “antic disposition.” The same would be the case for other social media. However, if he were to
his experience to his confidantes, that might be another story. So – what would his text message to Horatio look like after he first encounters the ghost in conversation? If we are to go by Bloom’s assertion that “we are certain from the start that [the Ghost] indeed is King Hamlet’s spirit,
we need only concern ourselves with Hamlet’s reaction to it. A good example to model for students might be the text adaptation to an actual passage from the play, such as (see “Teacher Resources” for text-speak translation):
Hamlet: “Saw dad’s Ghost. Dnt tell anyone – gotta put on antic disposition”
Horatio: “K. TBH this is wondrous strange tho”
Ghost has been added to this conversation
Horatio: Kk, geez. I swear
Hamlet: K. I trust myself to you
Important scenes like this can be explored and applied in such a way. When students need to focus on certain scenes to develop understanding deeper than the general plot, in order to really begin gleaning thematic concepts, ones that have born through the centuries, it is important, with limited time, to focus on integral scenes like this one. “Everything in the play depends upon Hamlet’s response to the Ghost.”
It is argued that if he chooses to ignore the Ghost, no one comes to the grizzly end that they do. It is worth asking if students agree. This is a good place to let Tweeting raise the question why Hamlet jokes with the ghost when it is audible to his friends.
Bloom argues that the bigger roles (like Hamlet) are not just roles for actors, but are “real people.” They are “rammed with life.”
Students should pick one of the four focus characters (Hamlet, Ophelia, Gertrude or Horatio) they think has traits closest to what a “real person” would be like and write a blog from their perspective.
Mid-Unit Formative Assessment: The Bloom Blog
Bloom argued that Shakespeare, through his work, defined how we would become humanized – life imitating art instead of the other way around.
Students might wonder if this is true. Are there any examples in the tweets of this unit about how we act being
on what’s happened in Hamlet? Have students blog a response and perhaps tweet a link to said blog.
For an appropriate summative assessment that ties all the learning together, it may be advisable to continue along the path of utilizing modern comm-tech to your advantage as an educator. If Hamlet were alive today, would he protect his privacy at all costs, or would he be a blogger? He could be. He is obsessive, loquacious and articulate, and with access to a wide audience. But would he? Bloom asserts that “Elsinore’s disease is anywhere’s, anytime’s. Something is rotten in every state, and if your sensibility is like Hamlet’s, then finally you will not tolerate it.”
Comparing what is going on in Elsinore to another world problem of today, have students write a blog from Hamlet’s perspective. What parts would be Tweeted, which sent by Direct Message, and which kept completely private?
Blogging does not necessarily mean writing informally! And it certainly should not be in this case. This should be written in the format of a formal essay, and examples can be shown of blogs that are successful
their creators take the writing format seriously. A good example is The Huffington Post, which can be shown to students on an overhead or using handouts.