Friday, March 18, 2016

Discovering the Sonnet

The Sonnet: a fourteen-line poem written in iambic pentameter (five feet of stressed and unstressed syllables).  
My original plan for this week was to begin Tom Stoppard's hilarious adaptation of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1966) as a way to dovetail off of our Shakespeare unit and introduce one of my favorite genres of prose: the tragicomedy (read more about this genre in Verna A. Foster's book here).

But over the weekend, I'd started reading poetry--lovely, concise, perfect poetry.  From the Greek verb poiein, meaning "to make," poetry is one of our oldest genres of literature, positioning the writer as a "maker" of rhythms, images, and verse.  In fact, many scholars surmise that poetry historically grew out of the rhythmic chanting and singing of oral traditions.  It is possible that poetry is one of our oldest modes of communication, and it is rooted in the human drive to communicate clearly, concisely, and with great feeling or meaning.

Poetry's link to oral traditions.

Yet what's really interesting about poetry is the way in which it allows the writer to use language in its most condensed form.  While it might take me 500-words to explain an idea, it might take a poet fifty or a hundred words to communicate the same thing.  Because of this compression, I have often thought that reading poetry required more work, but with greater benefit.  Poems don't always make their meaning obvious to readers, and they require a level of collaboration with the text that you don't usually see when reading a novel by Charles Dickens.

"Collaboration with the text?"

Basically, becoming involved in the creation of a poem's meaning.  By nature, reading is a passive act, but poetry doesn't allow its readers to be passive.  Readers go back, ask questions about a poem's meaning, look for repeating images, sounds, ideas, and "unpack" a text as they work their way through its short lines and intentional movements.

Here is an example of a poem our class worked with on Wednesday, "Nuns Fret Not at Their Convent's Narrow Room" by William Wordsworth:

Wednesday's poetry explication: "Nuns Fret Not at Their Convent's Narrow Room" by William Wordsworth.

I put the poem on the board as a way to show how readers shouldn't just read a poem--they have to have a relationship with it.  This relationship is especially important because Wordsworth's poem is a sonnet, a fourteen-line poem written in iambic pentameter with alternating end rhymes for each line of the work.

This particular example by Wordsworth is a Petrarchan Sonnet that is divided into two parts: an octave, or 8 lines, at the beginning, and a sestet, or six lines, at the end.  Usually, the octave will suggest a situation or an idea and the sestet will comment on that idea, offering a solution.  In the image above, our class identified the rhyme scheme (abba, abba, cddccd), the main idea at the beginning: nuns, hermits, students, maids, and bees are happy in their monotonous, "restricted" lives, and the solution or resolution at the end: the "speaker" believes that the "prison unto which we doom / Ourselves, no prison is" (lines 8-9).  This argument is a lovely way of contradicting the idea that nunneries/monasteries, cells, and citadels, just like the Sonnet form (line 11), are not places of restriction but opportunities to express meaning in a structured way.

Ultimately, Wordsworth is using the Petrarchan sonnet form to explain why he (or any poet) uses the sonnet form: its classical restrictions still offer modern poets (nineteenth century) the ability to express themselves.

Could our class have gotten to Wordsworth's argument without first annotating his poem?  Maybe, but not likely.  Like most poems, sonnets beg to be poured over and engaged.  It's one of the things I love about poetry and the reason for tonight's homework!

Homework (DUE Monday, Feb. 21st, 2016): 
Write a 14-line sonnet about a topic of your choice following the Petrarchan model: 8 lines to identify your topic and 6 lines to offer a resolution or solution.  Your sonnet can be on any topic you like, but it must be 14-lines and follow one of these alternating rhyme schemes:

line 1 - a 
line 2 - b
line 3 - b
line 4 - a
line 5 - a
line 6 - b
line 7 - b
line 8 - a

The remaining 6 lines, or sestet, can be arranged in a variety of ways:

lines 9-14: c d c d c d
lines 9-14: c d d c d clines 9-14: c d e c d elines 9-14: c d e c e dlines 9-14: c d c e d c

For example: 
...rooms (a)
...cells (b)
...citadells (b)
...loom (a)
...bloom (a)
...fells (b)
...bells (b)
...doom (a) (c)
...bound (d)
...ground (d) (c)
...liberty (c)
...found (d)

Friday, March 11, 2016

Gilbert Murray: Hamlet and Orestes (255-264)

As many of you know, there are many different versions of Hamlet; a few examples I came across while reading Gilbert Murray’s Hamlet and Orestes are: Saxo, Ambales and the Greek versions.  It is interesting to see how similar each edition is, but also how different they are. 

1) The Hero:
  • In the Northern and Greek versions, the son of the king who is killed is named the hero.  In all the editions (Saxo, Ambales, and the Greek), the hero’s mother—who is also the king’s widow—marries the king's murderer.  
  • For example, in the Greek version, there is a supernatural character which tells the hero to get revenge on the king's murderer.  
  • In Hamlet, the hero dies white getting revenge; during Ambales and Saxo, the hero duels for the kingdom and succeeds.  
  • Each version of this story has ways the hero could find out why he should take vengeance: In Saxo, there is no ghost like Shakespeare’s version, the revenge comes naturally.  Whereas, in Ambales, there is a mention of angels where the hero experiences dreams from his father.
2) “Shyness about the Mother-Murder":

  • In each edition the murder of the mother is not really talked about;
  • In Shakespeare's version, the mother is accidentally poisoned; in Ambales she is warned to leave "the Hall" that is on fire just in time; in another version, she refuses to leave "the Hall" where she burns with her husband.
3) Madness within the Hero:
  • In every version, “the hero is in some way under the shadow of madness,” but the madness in each “dramatic character” is different (256).  Everyone assumes that Hamlet is crazy, but there is some suspicion from the reader that it might just be an act or a way of coping.
  • In my own thoughts, the same type of actions happen with the hero in Ambales.

4) The Fool:
  • Hamlet plays the hero as well as the fool.  Murray writes, “It is very remarkable that Shakespeare, who did such wonders in his idealized and half-mystic treatment of the real Fool, should also have made his greatest tragic hero out of a Fool transfigure” (258).  
  • I do not believe that the fool is Hamlet, although he is a crazy man, he is not the blind one in the play.  In fact, I believe that the queen is more foolish than her son, Hamlet, because of her own blindness to what has actually happened to her kingdom.
Discussion Questions:
1) Do you believe that Hamlet is actually mad, or is just using it as a way of coping?

2) I do not believe that Hamlet is the true fool in this play; who would you say is the true fool in Shakespeare’s Hamlet?

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Hamlet Shelfies!

It's that time of year again! Time to post our newest "shelfies!"

(Note: The "Shelfies" project in my classroom allows students to show off what we/they are currently reading...sort of like if you were to take a "selfie" with your "bookshelf.")

Here are some of today's:





"None of this would have happened if...."

Today we reenacted Act 5, Scene 2 of William Shakespeare's Hamlet.  Sarah, my skull-wielding student (pictured above) pointed out something students often say the first time they read the play:

"None of this would have happened if Hamlet had killed Claudius when he had the chance!"

She's right.  None of the this would have happened if King Claudius was killed while praying in Act 3, Scene 3.  Claudius would be dead, Hamlet would be avenged, and Polonius, Ophelia, Laertes, and Queen Gertrude would all still be alive.

Point taken.

But once we mapped out all of the murders on the board, we thought differently....

In the classic tragedy cycle, every revenger is created by an act of atrocity.  The first "atrocity" to open the play Hamlet is, of course, the murder of King Hamlet.  This realization made Sarah say: 

"OK, so none of this would have happened if Claudius hadn't killed King Hamlet!"

For discussion: 
What do you think is the greatest atrocity in the play Hamlet? After reenacting Act 5, Scene 2, what event seems to have determined the ending most?

Monday, March 7, 2016

I'm pretty sure this is the right way to read Hamlet. We've been doing it wrong.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

AP Practice Test Number 2: Multiple-Choice Self Reflections

Question 18. In the poem, the sea is depicted primarily through its
1. Colors
2. Movement
3. Sounds
4. Smells
5. Tides

Answer: 3: Sounds
My Answer: 5: Tides

I thought of this poem having many of these images, so it was hard to choose, even when looking back it was hard to decipher which one was the main imagery of this poem. Now knowing the big picture is the waves, it's easier to see why that was the correct answer. While the other options relate to the waves.

Question 23. The Phrase "Land of Dreams" (line 31) serves primarily to support the notion that
1. Idealists will inevitably be disappointed
2. Hopefulness comes from having strong faith
3. Goodness in the world is an illusion
4. Optimism serves as a defense against a hostile world
5. Love blinds ones reality

Answer: 3: Goodness in the world is an illusion
My Answer: 4: Optimism serves as a defense against a hostile world

Reading this bleak passage about the land of dreams really being a place of morbid sorrow, sought me to think the writer of this poem was trying to at least put in a little bit of optimism because of the bleakness of reality, that it's really not a "Land of Dreams" I think thats what everyone wants to think. Really, the author was saying bluntly without subtle signs of some good, that the world's goodness is a illusion and shouldn't be called "Land of Dreams."

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Hakuna Matata? or To Be Or Not To Be?

It's an age old tale, and like many others, the modern film industry has taken the original and reformatted it to make a more "G-rated" for the consumption of children everywhere.

     While reading The Annotated and Chronological Screenography of Hamlet I stumbled a funny piece of information, A favorite childhood movie of mine, The Lion King, is loosely based on the story of Hamlet.  It all clicked together at that point, the uncles, the dead father, reclaiming of the throne, etc.  Hamlet was just another of the many "age old tales" that have been reformatted for children across the globe, this time with a pride of lions.
     Let's break this down, there's two royal families (one happens to be made up of African Lions), two princes, two evil uncles lusting after their brother's wives, two dead kings who appear as ghosts, two banished princes, two catchy phrases, two fights between uncle and prince, two kingdoms restored, and boom you've got not only the tale of Hamlet, but the plot of The Lion King.  To elaborate further, not only is Simba a lion version of Hamlet, but many of the other characters from the play have an animated lion alter-ego.

Nala is an exemplary version of Ophelia, she is the epitome of an innocent, angel-like girl.  However, due to the nature of the intended audience, she is plagued by much less mental instability and does not commit suicide.  When Nala goes to find Simba, she is pulled into the water and immediately jumps from the water, with a shocked expression, not drowning as Ophelia does, but still making a connection to Ophelia's death scene.  Another side not about Nala, when compared to the other lions, I noticed that she is a lighter shade, much like Ophelia's stereotypical portrayal in white.

Scar is another wonderful portrayal of their counterpart in the play.  Bitter and lusting after his brother's wife(or mate in the movie's case), both murder their brothers in cold blood, for the throne and access to the queen.  Cladius's first words are "Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother’s death / The memory be green, and that is us befitted", throughout the movie, Scar is presented in a puff of green smoke, much like the green or "green envy" that Cladius is introduced to us with.

Finally, Mufasa and King Hamlet are obvious alter-egos; the good kings.  Both Mufasa and King Hamlet speak to their sons as ghosts in times of great need, telling them to claim their thrones as kings.  Mufasa and King Hamlet are both portrayed as brave, incredible characters.

1. Do you agree that the film industry should recreate stories such as Hamlet's for children's consumption?
2. If it hadn't been made public that the movie was loosely based on Shakespeare's Hamlet, would you have noticed?

Leo Tolstoy: Shakespeare and the Drama (1908) Page 252

YO YO YO playas
My man Leo
Leo Tolstoy does not like Hamlet, Leo Tolstoy does not like any work by Shakespeare "not only did I feel no delight (While reading what is considered Shakespeare's greatest works) but I felt an irresistible repulsion and tedium" (252). Tolstoy's main issue with Hamlet is Hamlet himself. Tolstoy believes that the character Hamlet is merely a vessel for Shakespeare's voice and made no sense in the play. Instead of Hamlet making realistic decisions based on what's going on around him, "He is utterly unconcerned as to the circumstances under which these words are said, and it naturally turns out that the person expressing all these thoughts is a mere phonograph of Shakespeare, without character, whose actions do not agree" (253). Tolstoy explains that Hamlet's irrational behavior is caused by Shakespeare throwing in what ever he wants to spice up the drama in the play.

1) Do you agree with Leo Tolstoy's assessment of Hamlet (Repulsive and Tedious)?

2) Do you believe Hamlet is just a puppet with the voice of Shakespeare whose sole purpose is to add drama to the play?

Stephen Greenblatt's "Hamlet in Purgatory" Thesis (page 298)

In this response, Stephen Greenblatt speaks of hamlet's fathers ghost. While on this subject, Stephen speaks heavily about purgatory. He believes hamlets father is in purgatory, because of what he says to hamlet and how hamlet responds to him. Stephen empathizes this with evidence from the play, "I am thy father's spirit, Doomed for a certain term to walk the night, And for the day confined to fast in fires till the foul crimes done in my days of nature are burnt and purged away." [1.5.9-13] Stephen goes on to speak about hamlets reactions, the history of purgatory, and what purgatory means for hamlets father.

Stephen explains Hamlet's reactions towards his father are strange. Hamlet is obviously very anxious, knowing his father is in purgatory, he does not directly ask the ghost what after life he is in. Hamlet, before he speaks to his father, while his father is subtly telling him who he is, hamlet tells the guards "I'll take the ghost's word for a thousand pounds" [3.2.268-69] because hamlet had seemed to forget his own father.

Discussion questions

1. What could his father have done to have landed himself in purgatory?

2. How could you relate purgatory to this play?

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Edgar Allan Poe's review of William Hazlitt's "The Characters of Shakespeare's Plays" (1817) (page 251)

Guest Post by Hannah Noyes

In this response, Edgar Allan Poe acknowledges a “radical error” that is not often mentioned in the teachings of Shakespeare. This “error” is discussing Shakespeare’s characters and accounting for their actions as if they had actually existed in real life. Poe writes “we talk of Hamlet the man, instead of Hamlet the dramatic persona—of Hamlet that God, in place of Hamlet that Shakespeare, created” (251). Here, Poe objects to the tendency to treat fictional characters as real people and finds it absurd to treat Hamlet as such. 

Rather than examine the inconsistencies and actions of the characters, Poe suggests that we make the poet and his/her intentions the subject of discussion. In regards to Shakespeare's Hamlet, Poe speculates that Shakespeare knew that part of an intense "intoxication" (madness) is an impulse to imitate it to a higher level than actually exists. He believes that Shakespeare felt this, felt that it was natural to exaggerate Hamlet's insanity and "wrote of Hamlet as if Hamlet he were." 

1.) Think of Hamlet’s intentions as well as Shakespeare’s (the writer’s) intentions. How does Hamlet’s purpose in the play differ when he is considered to be a real person rather than a character? Or when he is considered as a character and not a real person? 

2.) What are your thoughts on Shakespeare “becoming” Hamlet, or, as Poe said, writing Hamlet “as Hamlet he were”? Did Shakespeare exaggerate Hamlet’s craziness by becoming slightly crazy himself? (take into account Poe’s belief that part of insanity is an irresistible impulse to raise it to a higher level) Or because he knew it would lengthen Hamlet and make it more interesting?