Monday, March 28, 2005

Launching off with Hamlet

Tomorrow I start a new unit with my British lit students. After reading Beowulf (in the Seamus Heaney version), Grendel by John Gardner, and Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, we will be studying Hamlet. I wonder what this journey will be like. There are 25 students in the class; a handful are excellent -- responsible, bright, engaged, fluent in English. Another handful are terrible -- silent, ghostly presences just occupying space. The rest fall somewhere in the middle of the bell curve -- sometimes engaged, often not, occasionally putting in the effort and surprising me (and I suspect themselves) with an insightful observation on the text under consideration.

Teaching Hamlet is also a much welcome chance to reread the play, and to check out some books I have been hoarding for a while: Stephen Greenblatt's Will in the World and Marjorie Garber's Shakespeare After All. I'm particularly interested in Garber's book, because it's based on the lectures for her venerable Harvard Core courses on Shakespeare. I have fond memories of sitting in Mem Hall with hundreds of other students listening to Garber. (For some reason the image of her standing at the podium in a cream, knee-length skirt with knee-high boots sticks in my mind, as well as a particularly memorable lecture on family romances in Shakespeare -- memorable perhaps because until then I had ascribed only one possible meaning to the word 'romance'). Unfortunately, I took her course in my senior year, which was blighted by my first debilitating bout with depression... I regret not being fully present (sometimes not present at all), and having a book of her lectures feels like I'm getting an unexpected second chance to learn from her.

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