“Hamlet, you yourself had said that to dwell on an act too long leaves one part good, and ‘three parts cowardice;’ please, Hamlet, PLEASE learn to follow your own advice,” pleads TJ in his advice to Hamlet.
The Advanced Placement English Literature students are posting their advice to characters from Hamlet by responding to “Stop the Action!” prompts on a blog. Students “advise” Hamlet, Gertrude, Claudius, Laertes, and Ophelia in response to lines from the play. Students discuss whether the Ghost is from Heaven, Purgatory, or Hell; whether Hamlet is mad or acting mad; or choose between the soldier Fortinbras and the scholar Hamlet. Their online discussion is equitable and collaborative, and the format allows me the opportunity to assess student understanding of this play.
I organized the “Stop the Action, Hamlet” on the Google Blogger platform, an easy platform for posting comments or replies. I invited students by email to the site, and they needed only a minute or two to learn to navigate through the 10 prompts that I posted. The “comment” feature on the Blogger dashboard was helpful in assessing their time stamped responses.
The advice my students gave to each character in the play makes for entertaining reading, but more importantly, each student was able to share his or her ideas online in an academic manner that cannot be duplicated in class. Class discussions are notoriously short, limited in scope, or marginalize quiet students, unless they are moderated. The class period is limited in time, whereas online discussions can continue for weeks, 24/7 with students posting when they have time to focus. When my students blog online, they respond to each other thoughtfully, post citations to support their positions, and choose their words carefully. The blogging platform elvated the class discussion.
For example, Colleen’s first entry was on whether the Ghost is from Purgatory or from Hell:
“If the ghost was from heaven, I feel as if he would not ask Hamlet to commit such a foul crime. It is through hell that the Ghost is speaking like this. As the play continues on, the Ghost does not seem to leave his demon thoughts but rather continues to carry them out. It is clear that through these actions, the Ghost is from hell.”
Devin later responded to this post,
” I was re-reading the conversation that Hamlet had with the spirit, and another line I found interesting was when the Ghost says to Hamlet, ‘taint not thy mind.’ I think this is interesting because it suggests to the audience that the Ghost cares about Hamlet. If the Ghost was from Hell this wouldn’t make sense and if the Ghost was from Heaven he wouldn’t be there in the first place. The only compromise to this situation is if the Ghost was from Purgatory, then he could care about himself and Hamlet at the same time.”
Annie’s post followed this argument when she posted a question for Shakespeare:
“Why if the controversy for the ghost is so divided between heaven and hell not bring up any religion? There are very few if any religious references except this whole ghost thing. ..I do think your choice to ignore religion is a reason for your timelessness. By discussing certain religious topics, you may only appeal to one audience. You doesn’t even hint as to what your own opinions are. Choosing not to discuss such controversial topics was a smart decision on your part, and is perhaps why you are so popular even today.”
Colette had advice for Gertrude and Claudius. To Gertrude, she posted, “Your son is clearly in pain and instead of stopping and trying to communicate personally with Hamlet, you’re taking Claudius’ advice to hire spies to keep ‘watch’ over Hamlet when in fact, that’s a mother’s duty. Your maternal switch is definitely shut off.” Her advice to Claudius was equally blunt, “Murder cannot simply be ‘washed’ away. Much like in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, you [Claudius] are searching for a way to wash the blood red off of your hands. However, they are forever stained. No matter how much you clean your hands, they will forever be tarnished and filthy.”
TJ humorously advised Polonius indicting him on the line, “Beware/ Of entrance to a quarrel; but being in, /Bear’t that the opposed may beware of thee” (I.iii.69-71). “Hey, Polonius,” TJ writes, “remember when you were hiding behind that curtain? Remember when Hamlet pulled out a knife on you and you screamed for help instead of present yourself so that ‘the opposed may beware of thee?'”
Kelsey begged Laertes to walk away from Claudius, She recalled his line, “And yet ’tis almost ‘gainst my conscience,” and argued:
“What I want you to do right now, Laertes, is just stop and think. Why would Claudius actually want to help you? He is a manipulative man that just wants power…. Some advice- stop and let Claudius fall to his own fate! He already basically showed that he knew the cup was poisoned by calling out. He is guilty to everyone in the room. Let him take the downfall and WALK AWAY MAN! Gah! Your pride is not worth your life!….you will realize your mistake in about 30 lines in the play….just thought I would let you know…”
Finally, Sara posed a question for Shakespeare:
“As we continue reading through the play, we notice how Hamlet is struggling with avenging his father – yet, he knows he must complete the task of murdering his uncle, as his father had ordered. I leave you with this question – do you [Shakespeare] believe we were all born to complete a task? Does this apply to other plays ? Romeo and Juliet? Macbeth? King Lear?”
In addition, the Hamlet blogs are a means for me to directly address educational technology standards that have been developed by different educational organizations.
Using the standards for the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, these blogs allow the students to:
- Articulate thoughts and ideas clearly and effectively through writing
- Be open and responsive to new and diverse perspectives
Using the standards for NCREL(North Central Regional Educational Laboratory)/engage, the blogs promote:
- Teaming and collaboration to create to solve problems and master content
- Willingness to make mistakes, advocate unconventional positions, or take on challenging problems to enhance growth.
Finally, using ISTE ( International Society for Technology in Education) standards, the blogs provide an opportunity for students to:
- Interact, collaborate and publish with peers, experts and others employing a variety of digital tools and media
- Communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences
- Apply existing knowledge to generate new ideas, products, or processes and diverse perspectives to explore alternate solutions.
More importantly, the “Stop the Action” blogs have allowed my students to function much like Horatio in the play whose advice to Hamlet, “If your mind dislike any thing, obey it…” goes unheeded. The characters also do not heed the advice of my students, but my students have become proficient in their ability to “tell my story” of Hamlet.