I’m supposed to write something about Hamlet here, but that’s really hard. So instead, I’ve been typing various titles for this post, most of which involved puns, including the title I finally settled on which refers, of course, to the classic Denny’s sandwich, which is both disgusting and embarrassing to order. Originally, the title was a pun, but I decided in the interest of marketing my blog to the general public, and possibly picking up some totally random hits off of Google searches, I would go with the unadulterated original in all its cheesy glory.
And I have now successfully begun my post, and progressed 6 or 7 full sentences into it, without having to formulate a single thought on Hamlet. Let me try that now.
The thing that makes Hamlet so hard for me to write about it is the same thing that makes it kind of hard to read: The play is full of emotional possibilities, which are fun to read about and contemplate, but which really require the input and interpretation of a director and actors in order for them to come alive. There is so much that is unclear or indeterminate in the text of the play. For example, there are several scenes in which certain characters may or may not be eavesdropping on other characters as they soliloquize. And the soliloquists, in turn, may or may not be aware that they are being listened to. The assertion that “all the world’s a stage” certainly explains Hamlet’s attitude to life in Elsinore, but we usually rely on a director’s vision to show us when Hamlet is acting and when he’s not.
We’ve only read the first act, and half of act two, at this point, so it’s not too hard at this point to make judgements about characters and motivations on our own. But it gets more complicated: The emotional environment and specific conflict involved in each scene depends more and more on what Hamlet, Claudius, Pollonius, and Gertrude know and when they know it.
So far, really the only big judgement we’ve had to render as a class is concerning whether or not this ghost thing is real. We know that Hamlet sees something, and we know he thinks he talks to something (while no one else is around to observe…or are they?), and we know that the ghost gives him some pretty specific and testable information about the death of his father. As a class, we’re going to assume that the ghost is real, and that it really is the spirit of the dead king.
Which brings me to our response paper assignment for this week.
One of the major themes of this play has to do with this big word: Epistemology. An “epistemology” is a theory of knowledge: where does knowledge come from, what are the limits of human knowledge, etc. In this play, we can boil it down to three big questions: What do you know? How do you know what you know? And, how do you know you know it? If that looks like I’m repeating myself (blah blah blah), look again.
I have devised a writing assignment relating to Hamlet that will help us as a class to tease out the deeper issues of epistemology represented in the play. Here it is:
Response paper #2 (due Monday, Dec. 10)
What is a ghost? Write a 5-paragraph-ish persuasive essay (intro, some evidence, a conclusion) explaining what you think a ghost is. For evidence, you can draw from personal experience (or lack thereof), interviews, and other sources in books and online. Each body paragraph should focus on one piece of evidence, considering the strengths and weaknesses of that particular way of “knowing.”
Most importantly: BE HONEST. Stories about dark and stormy nights and hauntings by random killers and creeps are boring. Much more interesting are family stories where the emotional energy generated by loss and longing lead to paranormal-ish events. As with all writing, the honest-er the better.
That’s it. Next week, as a class we’ll be producing some detailed character sketches of the main players, which I hope to report on here.
Maybe I’ll stop at Denny’s for lunch…