By Jane Wendorff-Craps, English Faculty.
Real experiences for the real world. Such is the focus of experiential teaching and applied degrees. That seems logical and certainly applicable in business and computer fields, and even quite necessary in the medical field. Yet, “true to life fiction,” isn’t that something like “military intelligence”?
Hamlet is a staple. It is a foundational piece taught in high schools and universities worldwide. Even so, as an instructor I find myself giving the same sales pitch each time I assign it as required reading. “Why do we have to read such antiquated literature?” “Ugh, Shakespeare.” “People don’t act that way anymore; what a waste of my time.” These are the G-rated comments offered by students.
If only I heard, “Hooray, Shakespearean drama! I could sure learn a lot about human behavior when reading that!”
Fast forward a few days after reading Act 4 of Hamlet. Picture a group of athletes standing around a vending machine discussing that “rank dude” at the party last night.
“Yeah, no one would believe you if you told that story about him; everyone likes him and thinks he’s the bomb.” “He’s such a fake.”
“Well, what if we have Gary talk to him and get him to say it out loud, and we could be standing behind some lockers and have all the other guys hear what a jerk he is. Then they’d believe us.”
“Aw heck yeah, let’s bring him down.”
Fast forward back in class the next day. We are discussing the next act in Hamlet where everyone dies (“Aw man, that is totally cool. Why didn’t you tell us there would be a fight to the death, prof?”).
So class, what happens before everyone dies? “Well, the king is exposed as a liar and murderer. Hamlet gets his honor back. And Laertes forgives Hamlet because he realizes he was just a victim of circumstance.” Great class, it looks like you’re ready for the quiz. “Arg.”
However, let us look at this a little closer. Say you have some fellow students in class with you. And say one of them wants to set up another classmate to hurt him in some way. All the while, other classmates are “hiding behind the arras” watching it all unfold. Does this remind you of anything?
“Aw dude, that’s so cold. It’s like the king and Polonius setting up Hamlet.”
“Yeah, and later when the king and Laertes set him up again in hopes to knock him off.”
That’s right class. Why would a person do something like that?
“Power trip.” “Mean spirited.” “Revenge.” “Make yourself look better than the other person.”
Sure, all those seem reasonable. Do people do things like that these days, or is that just a Shakespearean thing?
Silence. Exchanged glances. Lowered heads. Student, thy name is Laertes.