The Great Gatsby Virtual Museum

This is a sample page I’ve created for my 12U English students to give them a general idea of layout and content type they could use for their project on The Great Gatsby.  I used Hamlet photos because my other posts are on the play – and I loved this production. I got to see it three times!

Add an image or video (or more) that illustrates an aspect of your topic. I’ve put in two photos from The American Shakespeare Center‘s 2014-2015 production of Hamlet with Patrick Earl in the title role and Ben Gorman as Claudius. I’ve chosen Hamlet photos – and they in no way connect to The Great Gatsby.

Create a blurb about your topic. I suggest about 300-500 words.

Create a Significance and Legacy question for listeners to answer from your audio file. – I haven’t done this

Insert / embed your audio file – I haven’t done this

Add links to other students’ virtual museum blog posts – try for connected topics.




Sabertooth as Laertes – Now There’s a Man of Action

In the 2000 film version of Hamlet, the title role is played by Ethan Hawke. The rest of the cast includes Julia Stiles (Ophelia), Bill Murray (Polonius), and Liev Schreiber.  The clip from the movie posted below occurs during Act II, Scene i.

Things that really work in this clip:

  1. Laertes is supposed to be less of a thinker and more of a man of action than Hamlet; here Laertes is not yet packed for his trip (even though the ship is waiting for him), so he has to rush around, showing he’s not planned, yet is quickly able to be ready. Laertes has a job to do and won’t stop to just stand around and listen to his dad.
  2. Polonius has a lot to say and feels the need to say it. He has to follow Laertes in order to deliver his lines. Polonius also cannot stand to let others do their own things – he has to get involved. Thus, he has to help Laertes pack.
  3. Polonius is able to show that behind his pompous words there is genuine caring for Laertes as he unnoticed slips some money into a jacket pocket.
  4. The hug between them shows real feeling. The tight hug Laertes give Ophelia and the taking of her hair pin as a remembrance is extra poignant for those who know what state she’ll next be in when they meet again.
Schreiber as Sabertoth

Schreiber as Sabertooth in 2009’s X-Men: Wolverine

Hamlet’s Navel Gazing – moving outside the orange

Hamlet is so caught up in his own issues, so immersed in navel gazing, that it is really easy for readers to be bound within the nutshell of his mind too. If you read the play focusing on existentialism, then Hamlet is a fascinating examination of the anguish that free will can cause. Hamlet has so much trouble deciding what to do: most of his soliloquies revolve around indecision.

Poster At any given moment you have the power

When I saw this poster on Facebook, I immediately thought of Hamlet. How would he react to it? It seems to me, he’d think about it — a lot.

If the title of the post confused you, here’s the explanation. Navel gazing is about introspection (Hamlet). A navel is also a type of orange.  If Hamlet is gazing at his navel, let’s look outside the orange for a different perspective on the play: what would a follower of utilitarianism say about the play? Utilitarianism looks at either the good or pleasurable outcomes (depending on whose model you follow) of actions.

The play asks the reader to consider the consequences of Hamlet’s actions in terms of the other characters. We feel a complex medley for Polonius: horror, satisfaction, sadness. We feel pity for Ophelia, Laertes, and Gertrude. Does Hamlet consider others before himself? Would you want him as a friend?

How do Hamlet’s actions stack up in terms of the happiness or goodness they generate?
Food for thought.

Statesman or Madman? A link through the ages.

It’s amazing how I stumble upon reading for my kobo that goes with my teaching content. I downloaded a book called Hamlet, Revenge! by Michael Innes yesterday. It was written in 1937; with its wandering phrases and obscure references, the writing style feels even more unusual than Shakespeare. The book is a murder mystery which revolves around the performance of Hamlet in a country home. There are many academic references to Hamlet – allusions to famous performances, analysis of discussions and writings about the play.

Like the 150 year old graffiti I saw on Le Pont du Gard I saw when I was 17, these discussions referencing Hamlet material from 1900, help me situate the play in history. I feel the age of the text in a way that doesn’t happen in the classroom.

During the dress rehearsal in the novel, the characters discuss the staging – how it is different from the traditional. This version, they state, revolves around the political aspects of the play. Gertrude and Ophelia’s roles are pushed to the background, and  “The meditative Hamlet was revealed as only a facet of the total man; … the play showed itself as turning predominantly from first to last on Statecraft. And it was the statesmen who were important; on the one side the dispossessed Hamlet; on the other Claudius and Polonius.” (61) This idea fascinates me. I’d love to see that performance.

This description of Hamlet makes me think that the ‘antic disposition’ is just an act, that Hamlet is in total control. As I read the play with my class and we watch some movie versions, Hamlet’s madness often seems a part of him, not an act. I find I like both ideas. Madness created out of grief and uncertainty seems very human, yet madness feigned as cover for political maneuverings reshapes the character. The politically savvy Hamlet feels like Amleth in A Royal Deceit.

The characters in Hamlet, Revenge! discuss the play so familiarly. The play acts as an object of immutability that connects all who know of it through 400 years. As Shakespeare put it, “If this be error and upon me proved, / I never writ, nor no man ever loved.” (Sonnet 116).

Hamlet, as it often does, has left me bemused, curious, yearning, and amazed.

Inside Out – Meta about Hamlet in the classroom

“What do you read, my Lord?”

“Words. Words. Words.” (II ii Polonius to Hamlet)

While driving home today, I was struck by the multiple refractions of teaching – especially 4U English. My class has been watching different versions of Hamlet, critiquing on many levels. Today’s class felt a little like I was peering through layers of lenses – each having a complete view, yet forever superimposed. I wanted to extract them.

We start with making sense of the text, so the play exists in our heads as words on a page and specifically with words on the left of the page explaining the words on the right. This is a distancing from the immediacy of a live performance – a pulling back and pulling away. Yet it must be done to have some grasp of the text. The notes in the book give context for the play in many time periods. Shakespeare and Elizabethan times are referenced; the thoughts of various actors and scholars over the ages are alluded to.  This elastic band lets us pull away and snap in again.

We put the lines into context in the plot lines of the play and talk about the characters like they are real people. Questions are asked which are not answered anywhere in the text. I can feel the frustration in the room. This desire to believe in the characters as real people pulls us into the text. Then the lack of answers snaps us out again.Branagh and Winslet

Movie versions of some scenes give answers to some of the questions – like, ‘Did Hamlet ever love Ophelia?’. Some of the versions create more questions. We sit outside the action on the screen and try to decode it. What do the actions mean for other questions we have about the play?

We think about the choices of setting, costuming, camera angles, acting choices, interpretations of lines and implications for understanding the text. What is the vision? Do we agree?

All this the students participate in. Then I think about my teaching. I view the room as if from a video camera mounted in a corner of the ceiling. I’m spying on myself, critiquing the lesson. Are the students engaged? How could I improve what’s happening? Am I  becoming Polonius? Spying. Extemporizing.

My husband read an earlier draft of this post and said, “I’m not sure I get the thrust of your post.”. In explaining it to him, I had to conclude that I hadn’t made it clear in the earlier lines. This is more of a journal entry than a true, high end blog post; however, to bring it all together, here are a few ideas.

Hamlet, the character, has a lot of important questions he’d like answered. Staging, watching, reading the play, forces us to ask and answer many of those questions. This is life. We live it, asking questions, analyzing actions and answers, wondering what unexplained things mean and how we fit in. The classroom can feel like the play, like life – it is life – questions are asked and sometimes there are answers. It is the quest – the desire to know that unifies the students with the characters with the teacher with life.

Hamlet spends a lot of time thinking. I thought it was time I did something: I put some ideas on electronic paper.

Thanks for the inspiration – MW, my students, my husband.