When Jesus Montaño stood before us and asked "What if Hamlet’s father was a cholo?" it shifted the class of educators from the early morning trying-to-show-energy-through-the-Mondays coffee chat to very-grad-student-brain serious faces and "Hmmms..." covering for the internal "What's a cholo? I hope he doesn't ask me" worries surely sprinkled throughout the room. Luckily for the afeared, there was no pop quiz, but there was an important base laid for this day's class.
Before then moving into approaches to examining masculinity in Bloodline by Joe Jiménez, Dr. Montaño gave us one of those "I've never thought of that" lit bits: the only audience not comprised of academics that reads Shakespeare is young adults; thus, Shakespeare is very much YA literature. So, when pairing a Shakespeare play with a modern YA text, that's pairing two YA pieces.
So, yeah, Hamlet certainly has a certain set of masculinity issues, but if he was a Latino teen such as Jiménez's Abram, examining those issues would require an understanding and framing of machismos and a working toward healthier masculinities, and Dr. Montaño provided us with very helpful resources on those approaches and constructions, including a discussion of rasquache/rasquachismo when using a text like Bloodline. In small groups we engaged in a very interesting activity of examining how four female characters from that novel are doing something to help Abram be a better man or to understand being a better man (or not)? My group discussed the letter Ophelia's mom writes to her that Ophelia reads aloud to Abram--how the act of writing a letter is specifically more meaningful and purposeful than, say, composing a text message; how the intimacy of letter-writing is one that Abram has never known and one that makes him very uncomfortable in Ophelia's lack of discomfort in sharing it (yet something that needs to be protected as he opens an umbrella to protect her reading of the letter from the rain). Dr. Montaño even noted how sometimes writing a letter to someone is really writing a letter to oneself.
In the afternoon, the class had its first group teaching demo from Julia, Jahna, and Jordan (alliteration surely coincidental). The bar was set high (though my group vowed to crush their memory into a fine powder to be scattered by the winds of amnesia with our upcoming demo), and as "students" we picked up some really cool approaches to teaching a text like The Steep & Thorny Way either before or after an accompanying Shakespeare play. I appreciated the activity involving asking questions of an image we had not seen before and without context, questioning our own questions and how we might then apply them to Hamlet and how we could then make our own adaption of the play based on the "movie" from which our assigned image was a still frame--definitely something I plan to apply to my classes back home.
Dr. Montaño then took us through a helpful exercise in deciding how to pair a modern YA text with a Shakespeare play (and how we shouldn't default to deciding what modern text choice should come from a chosen play--why not vice versa?). There are justifications for multiple Shakespeare plays being related to a given YA novel, and I was glad he brought up I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez, which I've taught for three years prior and had success with but had never considered in conjunction with a Shakespeare play.
"The tragedy is not Othello's," Dr. Montaño noted as we shifted to that play and its "Potential and Promise," as his presentation slide read. "It is ours." Today's class ended with not shying away from an inevitable elephant that will appear in our classrooms and how to teach issues of race. Pairing that play with readings and resources that show race through an honest lens and framing the experiences of Americans of color (often involving the violence of the state) not as "spectacle," as our classmate Rachel put it, but as ongoing patterns and realities, put a poignant cap on a very full day of learning how to better adapt Shakespeare in our classrooms.
Conventions of Beginnings & Endings
How many times have I told my student writers, “Don’t break the conventions of Standard Written English unless you have a compelling rhetorical reason”?
Lots and lots and LOTS of times.
Conventions give us clarity and understanding. They are important agreements between writers and readers. They allow written communication to be interpreted by both parties. Conventions are familiar. They make us feel safe and supported.
That’s why it was initially so difficult for me to get into the YA novel Bloodline by Joe Jimenez. My reading didn’t feel safe or supported because the story is told through the unconventional second person narration.
The second person!
Not first. Not third, but the SECOND person.
Why the second person?
Why would you do that to me?
Who are YOU
I haven’t finished reading If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler yet. I think that’s fitting. It’s a book that’s all about the beginnings and my weary, teacher brain didn’t want to begin summer break with a challenging, experimental, non-linear, second person narrative about lots of beginnings.
I finished Bloodline though. Partly because it was an assignment, partly because I got swept up in the story, and partly because of the lyrical descriptions by Abram, the main character.
“As they course by, the cheerleaders pause, their pompoms hissing. A trickle of students trudge through the halls, around you, like slow, tall birds, and some like star-ships zooming into other dimensions—everything spins, especially your heart.” (Chapter 2, Kindle location 244 of 1508)
The words felt like my descriptions. Sure, they were Joe Jimenez’s descriptions because he wrote them. Buy maybe they were my descriptions because I was Abram. Or maybe they’re your descriptions because you’re the reader.
Jesus Montaño, our guest lecturer for the day, related that reading in the second person is hard. It’s intimate and immediate. It removes the distance between “you the reader” and “you the character” in disconcerting ways so that each must fight to create space for one another. Fighting becomes a motif in the novel.
Novels in second person like Bloodline problematize the construction of storytelling and the purpose of literature. When the author, character and reader intertwine, questions emerge: Why do we read? What do we want from the experience? Why does a story end? What forces the ending?
It’s the forceful ending the makes Bloodline unforgettable. It’s where that compelling rhetorical reason for the second person is finally revealed. Then the narration style is forced to change.
The story ends but the question remains.
Could YOU experience a different ending?
“Slanders, sir; for the satirical rogue says here that old men have grey beards”
There are two significant moments in the final scenes of King Lear. The first is when Edgar, who’s been duped by his brother and chased like a criminal by his father’s men, is lamenting about his situation, encounters his blinded father out on the heath and realizes, “Worse I may be yet, the worst is not so long as we can say this is the worst.” He understands at that moment, that no matter one’s own circumstances, there is always someone worse off. Later near the end of the play, Edmund, who previously had signed the death warrant for King Lear and Cordelia, has had a change of heart as he lies dying, “Some good I mean to do…” and sends a messenger to the free the imprisoned king and his daughter, but alas, it is too late. Edmund dies off stage perhaps thinking he’s saved their lives. These are poignant moments in what is perhaps the most tragic of the tragedies. The final scene delivers the gut punch that firmly says, despite a change of heart or even an epiphany, tragedy is still a good probability. Although the Utah Shakespeare Festival delivered this message in their production, for this Shakespeare snob, it fell a bit flat.
The play is a tale that explores emotional extremes and the effects of those emotional extremes. At the start of the play, Kent and Gloucester discuss the king’s sudden plan of dividing the kingdom, not particularly by which daughter Lear favors, but which duke Lear “values” most, Cornwall or Albany. The tone is set here in these opening lines; Lear’s “retirement” comes as a surprise, which sets the stage for upheaval in what seems to have been a peaceful reign. How goes the king, so goes the realm is a mantra I learned back in my undergrad as a barometer of tragedy. If we begin in peace, which we can assume we do by the suddenness of Lear’s move, then this shakes up that serenity. The play should begin with concern and anxiety. The production in Cedar City began with laughter, a jovial king joking and all attendees seemingly in on the joke. The light tone allows the audience too to be in on the joke. The resulting emotional switch simply becomes happy to angry, but the text suggests the switch should be somewhat rational to completely irrational. The resulting irrational behavior then leaves the audience off-balance, unsure of what will come next. Angry is predictable, tolerable. Instability leads to madness which is far more terrifying than simple anger. Today’s more psychologically aware audiences do not have a firm grip on what madness had been; a few modern movies toy with the idea with modest success, but at the time of Lear madness was feared by kings on down to the stable boy, “O, let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven! Keep me in temper, I would not be mad!” (1.5. 46-47). This production fails to land that fear partially because some of the characters do not revel in the chaos.
The Gloucester plot line should mirror the Lear story emotionally. Gloucester is lied to by his bastard son Edmund, that the innocent, legitimate son, Edgar, has planned to assassinate him and divide the revenue, “If our father sleep till I waked him, you should enjoy half his revenue” reads the letter Edmund wrote, but alleges Edgar penned himself. “O, villain, villain! His very opinion in the letter!” responds Gloucester in the same level of irrationality that Lear reached in just the scene prior with Cordelia. The audience should be pushed further off-balance emotionally, but here on the Cedar City stage we are giggling along with a malicious sprite of an Edmund, rather than being awed by a diabolical master villain. Again, we get the idea of what’s supposed to happen, but it all lacks a sense of fear or a sense of chaos. We the audience should behold these actions of Lear, Gloucester, and Edmund with terror, instead it seems we are simply waiting for a joke to break the tension.
The Fool played by Aidan O’Reilly was not only a strong performance, but he also played it with an understanding of the Fool’s role not just in the play, but for Lear as his king. Strangely, the Fool appeared in the opening scene of this production. The text does not have him there and later Lear is looking for him, “Where’s my knave? My Fool? Go you and call my Fool hither.” (1.4.43). The Fool’s role in the play and in the real world was discussed by Scott in his lecture on the 14th of July. That the Fool was present adds to the confusion of tone in scene one. The Fool is responsible in the play for a lightness of tone, jokes as well as speaking truth to power, his primary role on stage. O’Reilly seems to have understood the gravity of his role. In the text, the Fool inexplicably disappears in Act Three and there have been many trees that have fallen as scholars have tried to explain the “why.” My own studies have led me to believe the Fool disappears because he can no longer speak truth to power, as the king is now powerless. Lear is mad and has, for all intents and purposes, disappeared. In this production, the Fool is simply abandoned and exits upstage center. It’s a moment that allows for creativity, but here it was a missed opportunity.
The play is about enduring the worst and knowing for certain that the “worst is not so long as we can say this is the worst.” The late scenes draw focus to a world that may not pay off as we hope. This production cut Edgar’s line, but he speaks the last lines of the play: “Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say. The oldest hath borne most; we that are young Shall never see so much, nor live so long.” These are deeply tragic words, but in this production, they fall flat because the lead up to this final moment was overlooked. We are denied the emotional heartache that is intended.
The emotional misstep early on prepares the audience for what a friend of mine would call a “Workman-like Production,” a term we use to describe a performance that tells the story, but lacks insight or creativity. If this is the only Lear you’ll ever see, you enjoyed a lovely night and good production. For a snob like me, I’m hoping to perhaps learn something new about a familiar play, or have a character portrait illuminated I hadn’t noticed before, or perhaps a theme singled out that made the play seem new and appropriate for our modern time. This play fell a little short in that aspect, but it did tell the story and perhaps someone will see another version of Lear and see something new for them and that person will then have a barometer of their own.
The black box venue suited the show in more ways than one. There were no weak points in this scaled down cast, though the bravura performance was delivered by Jasmine Bracey as Prospero. She brought such power to the role while never losing her warmth as a parent figure to both Ariel and Miranda. She was quite literally one of the best Prosperos I have ever seen, and I said as much in a social media post after the show (a post that was then liked by the actors playing Gonoril, Kent, and the Fool from King Lear—that’s my kind of multiverse, haha). The smaller venue gave Bracey the opportunity to explore all of the quieter aspects of a role that has traditionally been played for spectacle and bombast.
Even the one “problem” with the show—a blackout that caused a short five-minute delay—ultimately demonstrated the quality of this cast. The actors on stage had just lost technology—a necessary element for this show—in a scene that particularly needed it (Ariel’s appearance as a harpy). Rather than retreat backstage or break character, all of the performers remained in place, with Steven Jensen (Gonzalo) continuing his “lost in despair” movements and Sophia K. Metcalf (a delightful Ariel) maintaining a crouched pose that had my own back aching in solidarity. When it was clear that the delay would be a matter of minutes rather than seconds, the actors did re-set, but that kind of dedication in the face of technical trouble was impressive.
While attending the Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City, we were provided an opportunity to meet with Southern Utah University’s Theatre Education expert Michael Bahr. This workshop was SO enjoyable and many of my colleagues commented on how these strategies will be used in our classes.
Michael encouraged us to engage students with Shakespeare through theatre. We began by singing…yes, a group sing-along, which sold me. Paul presented us with poster boards of Mya Lixian Gosling’s lyrics for King Lear, sung to the tune of “Santa Claus is coming to town.” I appreciated this introduction to Gosling’s work, as they transform well-known song tunes to address Shakesperean themes found at Good Tickle Brain, I can see this being a big hit with my students!
One of our teaching groups adapted this activity as their lesson by having us mirror movement with a partner while saying phrases related to Desdemona and girlhood. It was a great connection to movement and themes with acting and reacting to set the tone. I really enjoyed the opportunity to see the strategies we learned with Michael in action.
He really provided many Shakespeare and general theatre resources such as improv games for educators to use in their classrooms. I know these will be a big hit with my students!
In the afternoon of July 14th, we were once again thrilled, honored, and excited to have Dr. Alexa Alice Joubin (George Washington University) Zoom into our classroom. Not only did she continue her previous topic of "Globalization of Shakespeare," but she presented us all with unique pedagogical practices that we can incorporate into daily classroom life, increasing the self-efficacy of students.
Our class began with Dr. Joubin explaining the importance of close reading/close screening of specific scene(s) while preparing lessons. When preparing a lesson, consider first doing a close reading of a specific passage of the text, such as the "To be or not to be" text found in Hamlet. After the close reading, Dr. Joubin recommended to not just watch specific adaptations of the text, but also to have students analyze the differences, cultural aspects, music behind the scenes, and the cultural conflicts of the scenes in order to facilitate conversations centered around different cultural aspects and interests.
Dr. Joubin modeled this pedagogical practice for us by having us discuss our familiarity with the "To be or not to be" text from Hamlet. After this, she showed us three different adaptations of the text. The first was the Branagh version, the second clip was taken from the online video game Mabinogi, and the third clip was from the Almeredya version of Hamlet starring Ethan Hawke. Before, and after, showing us these three different adaptations, she used Google Jamboard as an interface for us to discuss specific differences and thoughts on the three different adaptations.
One of the best modeling pieces she used was that she would often provide information about each clip, not being afraid to stop the clip to make sure we, as a class, were all on the same page. I often find myself hesitant to stop a video while showing it, but I'm happy that Dr. Joubin showed what rich conversation can come from periodically stopping a short clip to further explain detail and specific cultural references that might be foreign to us and to students. Using two to three short videos will help students stay focused on the different adaptations and not feel lost. Specific grouping strategies will also allow students to increase their familiarity with the material, but also their self-efficacy. Dr. Joubin recommended to group students and have them identify the following:
As a class, we also discussed the importance of talking about, and implementing, "Global Shakespeare" within our schools and districts. The different adaptations, found throughout the world, approach Shakespeare with curiosity, and it is not just "white canon," but an opportunity for students and educators alike to delve into the beauty and richness of such diversity, conflict, and "otherness" that creates the melting pot of everlasting dramatic pieces.
Dr. Joubin empowered me to incorporate these different pedagogical practices into my classroom and also to advocate for teaching Global Shakespeare, not just Shakespeare through one lens. Our role is not just to have students be able to remember Hamlet in twenty years, but to give them skill sets that will help them understand different global communities and the importance of how adaptations are unitive in function, helping to transcend borders and helping to highlight the versatility and transcendence of Shakespeare.
Please follow the links below to access the main websites that were discussed in this session:
MIT Collection of Shakespeare Adaptations (by play)
How to Write a Rationale to Administration & Board (You might need to create a NCTE account if you do not already have one - a great resource for defending books and plays in the current climate)
“My duty kneeling, came there a reeking post”
One question that comes up when people find out I teach English is “What’s your favorite play?” When it comes to Shakespeare’s tragedies, it’s Lear. I love the complexity of the relationships between the siblings, I love the dual plot lines, I love the ambiguity of the settings, I love the extremes of the emotions and mostly, I really love the villains. Even when I was a kid, I gravitated toward the bad guys. Growing up, I myself, was terribly afraid to get in trouble with my parents, so the bad guys were sort of my heroes, the people who weren’t afraid to break the rules. King Lear was the first play I studied academically and I instantly fell in love. I’m going to get into more depth with the play itself and my interpretations when I write about the Festival performance we saw in Cedar City in my next blog, but here I’m going to discuss Scott’s lecture from 14 July called “King Lear: Doing Shakespeare in Different Ways.”
Because I love Lear, learning about the backgrounds, both of the history of the story and the history of the text of the play is a subject I’m enthralled with and I think it’s important to know that too, especially if you’re teaching the plays. I’m of the mind where I want to be as informed as I possibly can be. I’m always afraid a student will ask a question I can’t find the answer to. I want to give them the information they want. Of course, I know they won’t always ask on their own, but if I say “King Lear was published in several forms before this one,” maybe they’ll wonder why this is the one we’re reading, or why it changed. I find when the students are genuine about the things they want to know, we can introduce much more. Yes, sometimes the lessons go off the rails, but many times it arrives at the same station, but we took a different route and that’s good too. I also find that it demystifies Shakespeare to show that other people have edited or modified the text in some way. When I give them lessons like we did in class - cutting a speech in half or more to get to the bare bones of it, showing the professionals did it too makes it a little easier to do in class. Though, watching their anxiety grow when line after line is being redacted is a delight made better by their defenses of the lines. But I digress.
Like much of the Bard’s work, there is quite a bit of borrowing from previous sources, something of a usual practice at the time. Scott’s lecture covers in great detail the history of the Lear story going back to Geoffrey of Monmouth (1095-1155), who is generally associated with King Arthur. For me, because I like the history of things anyway, it’s a slippery rabbit-hole indeed when I really like something and Lear is one of those things. The people of the time would have known some of that history not unlike the people of ancient Athens who knew some of the stories that had come before them, so when they went to see a play, they went to see how the story looked “this time around.” Not unlike how Spiderman keeps coming back around every few years.
Scott’s lecture spent some time focusing on Lear’s Fool. An important character as Fools in the plays serve an important purpose, that of speaking truth to power. Scott also cited Edwin Booth who pointed out “the Fool should be a man who has both humor and pathos and be able to sing.” The humor and singing is clear, as it tempers the tragedy and illuminates various points, but it’s the pathos which is most important; it’s through his eyes in which we see just how far Lear falls. Now this is where Scott and I diverge, though we agree on many other points. Again, however, I’ll speak more to that when I discuss the performance.
Scott makes interesting points in focusing on the Fool and how this character serves not only Lear, but us the audience. The audience would have been familiar with the role of the Fool on stage and in real life. That this wasn’t just a fictional role, it was a trade and profession, brings some gravitas to the character on stage. Scott’s research project discusses the Fool’s role as a barometer to the stability of the court. In my undergrad, I was taught we pay attention to the king - “how goes the king, so goes the kingdom” was the mantra when discussing national stability, but this focus on a lesser, seemingly minor courtesan is very interesting. That’s the thing with Shakespeare’s characters, they are all interesting if the eye is drawn to them. Consider Oswald, Goneril’s man, is he really “Goneril’s man” or is he Albany’s man and offended by Goneril’s actions with Edmund? If he’s Albany’s man, then there could be a different audience reaction by his death at the hands of Edgar.
With the Fool, Scott argues by keeping on eye on Lear, we can see the court disappearing symbolized by the shedding of the clothing, layer by layer and once it has evaporated on the heath, the Fool can no longer exist as a Fool and must disappear. Scott further suggests the “1606 audience, well versed in absolute monarchical power and the roles of fools and courts, would have likely been at least put on guard by the disappearance, preparing them for an ending that they otherwise would never have expected.” This is where Scott and I think differently. I don’t have that much faith in the 1606 audience to be as versed in courtly affairs in real life as much as they would have been in theatrical life. But, more on that to come next time.
Hamlet and The Steep and Thorny Way:
Exploring Girlhood with Ariane M. Balizet
I often ask my students to practice metacognition and intentional reflection through writing, and to them, it can seem abstract, tedious, meticulous, or simply repetitive. This is all before they go through the process. I find that challenges with reflection may stem from a simple lack of inspiration. Maybe it’s a lack of practice. Maybe it’s self-censoring as they are in the process of said reflection. This considered, and with me being very much a student in this institution, I am going to try to limit my own self-censorship and allow the ideas to appear on this page as they come – as true of a reflection as I might be able to convey.
The session with Ariane Balizet from AddRan College of Liberal Arts left me with no lack of inspiration or things to say. I felt Ariane’s lessons left our group with plenty to take into our own classroom, and her visit certainly helped my small teaching group to have success teaching our own demonstration covering The Steep and Thorny Way. So, in that way, Ariane helped provide me with new thinking, real strategies, and real immediate teaching success in the week that followed!
During our time with Ariane, I was impressed with many declarative statements that I have felt for the last few years in my own pedagogical practice but had not been able to coin, per se. Of all of what we learned from Ariane, the following two declarations stuck with me the most so I’d like to explore them a bit here:
● Declaration #1: Shakespeare belongs to young people
● Declaration #2: Adaptation allows for different kinds of student engagement and promotes the ability to measure student learning and skill development in more genuine and effective ways.
__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __
Shakespeare belongs to YOUNG people.
Ah! Finally. What a relief. Someone who has deeply studied pedagogical practices for teaching Shakespeare defines this truth and does so within a scholarly framework. To many in my local teaching community, Shakespeare is seen as a sort of unattainable, highbrow drama meant to be absorbed by white, retired fuddy-duddies who seek entertainment and false sophistication on a Saturday night. Or, people in my local community see it as an unattainable text because students “just don’t need it anymore.” More sadly, they say we can’t “do Shakespeare” because students just can’t handle – or won’t TRY to handle – the challenge anymore. Just this year, a colleague abandoned Othello because he feared our students “don’t recognize Shakespeare’s relevance anymore and won’t like it.”
I vehemently disagree with the above interpretations and about the study of Shakespeare. Shakespeare belongs to PEOPLE would have been a relief to hear Ariane say during this lesson. I would have left the class with a kind of permission to continue exploring adapted and creative renditions of his story. But what she said is more nuanced. More pointed. According to Ariane, Shakespeare belongs to the people, sure, but it might be more valuable to consider “ownership” in a different way. The following phrase left me with a lot of promise for my teaching future.
Shakespeare belongs to YOUNG people.
I think the error of those hesitant to teach Shakespeare falls within the idea that I, the instructor, must be an expert in His works, must have authority over My reading, line-by-line, and I must have such Robin-Williams-Dead-Poet-Prowess as to deliver each lesson with such perfection as to leave students wanting to create their own Shakespeare club. I don’t believe this, and I have never believed this. I also don’t think Ariane believes this. Instead, Ariane premised that WE (educators, adults, or even Shakespeare himself) should not be burdened with the idea that we must own the story. If we attack the challenge and beauty of Shakespeare with the idea that it belongs to young people, we can be relieved of these false pressures and let the story bloom in its own time in its own way in our students’ minds. Each generation seeks their own path of exploration and understanding of the world around them, and so by giving THEM the ownership of Shakespeare’s story, we can all seek a higher, more genuine, more critical understanding of what his storytelling can do. This is step one to an important and essential shift in teaching Shakespeare to high school sophomores and seniors.
Adaptation allows for different kinds of student engagement and promotes the ability to measure student learning and skill development in more genuine and effective ways.
Again, hearing Ariane say these words left me with a feeling of levity. I have been trying – and often failing – to explain how adapted works can be MORE beneficial than simply teaching the source material. If declaration #1 was permission to unpack Shakespeare in a different way, declaration #2 was permission to see this as a true, meaningful practice for modern classroom teaching practices.
As said before, Shakespeare seems to be taught by fewer and fewer teachers across my district every year. I don’t want to be another the question the merits of teaching his stories, so hearing this in the classroom meant a lot to me.
Ariane practices what she preaches, as well. I left this session with a myriad of tools and techniques I can use in my classroom on day one this coming school year, and for that I’m grateful. Her premise for adapting Shakespeare was backing by scholarly articles and real practices, and to have this nailed down will allow me to deliver my lessons more effectively and continue my own sort of scholarly meanderings within the world of this pedagogical model.
Lastly, I myself feel that too often I approach Shakespeare while leaving students disenchanted or distanced from his works. Ariane’s lesson gave me methods for how I can use Shakespeare to genuinely build inclusive lessons and address some of the gaps in his own approaches to characters, especially girlhood. I often touch upon race, class, and gender when studying literature in my class, but Ariane has given me a fishbowl in which I can approach a more intersectional approach to 400+ year or Eurocentric storytelling.
This year I will ask students to study and perform Shakespeare’s words, yes, but I will also feel more comfortable asking them to then reanimate his story in their own unique adapted project.
Our first Wednesday brought us (live and in person) a class with Ariane Balizet to discuss Hamlet and different web series related to the play. She teaches at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.
She explained why she teaches with adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays: it gives her students perspective on core ideas of literary analysis. We should remember that Shakespeare’s work itself was already adapted. Somehow, we have accepted the thinking that HIS adaptations are inherently superior. Careful, there.
We talked about common themes we see in these adaptations, and the writing of Linda Hutcheon was cited (see the document in our folder, A Theory of Adaptation). Hutcheon’s work argues that we need to think of adaptations as works in and of themselves—as lateral, not hierarchical.
Different web series relating to Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and Hamlet were reviewed and sampled. There was good class discussion about the value of teaching with adaptations. “The canon is always evolving,” Professor Balizet explained. Students want to work in a linear manner, but we must encourage them to “Move back and forth,” going between a play and a web series, for example.
Lots of slides and resources and tons of new information for us today!
My teaching group met with Mark to prepare our lesson so we participated in this lesson with Scott on the second afternoon. The stage had been set with a previous discussion and reading regarding Shakespeare and girlhood with Jenny on day one so we were ready to see media adaptations with Scott.
We began by learning about two actresses who played Hamlet as a female on stage and in films, Sarah Bernhardt in 1895 and Asta Nielsen in 1921. Scott explained that this stemmed from the nineteenth-century argument by Professor Vining declaring that Hamlet was a weak feminine character and could only be portrayed as a woman.
Scott showed us clips from Asta Nielsen's performance where a nurse convinces Gertrude to say the daughter she just birthed is a boy and raise the princess as a prince. This is a silent film, making it universally accessible without language barriers. This adaptation brought up some points about gender and sexuality. We see Hamlet going to college (as a woman playing a woman pretending to be a man) providing commentary on women beginning to attend college in the 1920s. There was also homoerotic tension with Horatio since Hamlet as a woman could love him and they could be drawn to each other as friends. As Hamlet dies in Horatio’s arms it is revealed she is a woman and Horatio wastes no time closing the blouse to preserve Hamlet’s womanly modesty. In this adaptation, there is no Ophelia with Hamlet taking on elements of both characters in their performance. I really enjoyed seeing clips of this film and analyzing these clips through our discussion about how gender and sexuality can be represented or caricatured through adaptations.
We also watched scenes from an all-female cast performing Julius Caesar from [the Donmar prison trilogy] to analyze social/economic status, race, age, and gender. The role of Caesar was played by a guard further emphasizing the commentary on power dynamics. I got goosebumps watching the final scene of the prisoners performing with one dynamic in the play and then juxtaposed with the reality of their limited power as prisoners. I really enjoyed seeing how powerful these adaptations can be and am very interested in seeing more of [Donmar trilogy].
Scott also mentioned Caleen S. Jennings’s “Elsewhere in Elsinore” as the perspective of what was happening from the perspective of the women behind the scenes of Hamlet. With all of these adaptations in mind, we were asked to look at recasting Hamlet in groups. Collectively we considered:
We had a lot of fun generating these ideas but also reflected on race, gender, and power. I could see my students loving this creative prompt and considering different possibilities for adapting the characters and the story.