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Who Is Hamlet?

This course is expected to run but has not yet been scheduled.

Course Description

For over 400 years, Shakespeare's Hamlet has captivated audiences and readers, but people rarely agree on just what type of hero the title character is -- or if he's a hero at all. Is he an ingenious avenger or an insane rebel? A devoted son or a spoiled smart-aleck? A sensitive dreamer or a horrible boyfriend? By closely reading the play, comparing movie adaptations, and acting out key scenes, this course seeks to enrich students' understanding of the character's often enigmatic speeches, behaviors and motivations.

During this 2-week course, students will interpret the play and its performances using a variety of approaches. While the emphasis will be on close reading and oral interpretation, we will consider how understanding the play's historical contexts influence our analyses. We will also consider how contemporary interpretations of the play's titular character enrich, complicate, and, in some cases, contradict historicized interpretations. For example, would a Renaissance audience have been more or less likely than contemporary audiences to see Hamlet's madness as an act? Would they have interpreted Hamlet's conversation with his dead father as ghostly fun or demonic visitation? Do modern directors' interpretations of Hamlet's relationship with his ill-fated girlfriend, Ophelia, reflect Renaissance attitudes towards women, and does it matter if they do?

By considering the complicated relationship between text, history, and performance, students will recognize both the possibilities and limits of the play's interpretive flexibility. These practices of exploring textual ambiguities through close analyses and situating these analyses within historical and cultural contexts will prepare students for college-level literary study, both of Shakespeare and beyond.

Students will leave this course with the historical contexts and close reading skills necessary to approach Shakespearean drama competently and confidently. More broadly, the course's emphasis on close textual analysis will increase reading proficiency and comprehension across academic subjects, its film component will develop foundational proficiency in visual analysis, and its performance component will develop students; abilities to work collaboratively and speak comfortably before audiences of instructors and peers.

Students must be able to proficiently read, write, and articulate ideas in English. An interest in theater and/or film is a plus but not a requirement.