- Approaches to Teaching Shakespeare's "Hamlet."
Bernice Kliman has a solid reputation as a Shakespeare scholar and film critic; this new book of essays directed toward teaching Shakespeare's Hamlet reflects that deserved reputation. Kliman has gathered a group of the most noted scholars on Shakespeare pedagogy and has organized their contributions into an easily accessible and highly practical tool for instructors. Although some of the strategies could certainly be adapted for high school use, the apparent audience for the collection is college and university teachers who introduce Shakespeare's dramaturgy to undergraduates or who are looking for a unique way to delve more deeply into the play with graduate students. Unlike the earlier volume, Approaches to Teaching Shakespeare's "King Lear" (edited by Robert H. Ray, who also has an essay in Kliman's collection), this new contribution to the Modern Language Association's "Approaches to Teaching World Literature" series provides both full-length essays and what Kliman calls "short takes," or brief accounts of methods that have been tested and found satisfactory. This combination enables her to include many more ideas than otherwise would have been the case, giving her readers a wealth of approaches unmatched by any other volume specifically addressed to this subject.
Kliman divides the essays in the collection into two sections, the first devoted to "Materials" and the second to "Approaches." The first of these surveys the editions currently available for classroom use, the resources available to scholars, teaching "aids" (all described by Kliman), and an extensive "screenography" compiled by Kenneth S. Rothwell, one of Shakespeare films' most astute critics. The second, on "Approaches," includes sections on verse and meter, the multiple texts of Hamlet, performance strategies, standard [End Page 158] literary analysis, comparative approaches, modern and postmodern approaches, scene work, online work, and the previously mentioned "short takes." An epilogue by Maria M. Scott on Hamlet's endurance puts a nice finish to the fifty-five diverse methods. Also included in the book are about fifty pages of bibliography, additional materials, and indexes of scholars' names, of scene references, and of characters. Kliman's provision of these final tools makes access to information quick and practical for those seeking very specific teaching ideas.
The quality of the contributions is high and reflects a wide range of emphasis, from traditional Formalist approaches to performance techniques, postmodern criticism, and Internet activities. A few examples will serve to illustrate this range. Arthur F. Kinney recommends leading students into Hamlet through the study of narratives. He points out that the play relies heavily upon accounts of off-stage action, memories, reports, and other instances of storytelling that culminate in Hamlet's plea to Horatio to tell his own tale "aright." Raising questions with students about the nature of the narratives in Hamlet, their dramatic, political, and personal functions, and the mystery of Hamlet's charge to Horatio (which remains hanging; what will he tell?) offers each student the opportunity to find a way to interpret the play while not being confined to a single authoritative meaning. So while the approach recalls New Criticism in its focus upon a motif, it does not insist upon "Shakespeare's intent," but rather upon the reader's/audience's response to narrative.
By focusing upon questions of gender relations and identity in the nunnery and play scenes, Mary Judith Dunbar encourages her students to consider ways in which actors portraying Gertrude and particularly Ophelia might respond to Hamlet's aggressiveness towards them. Such a focus requires students to engage in critical questioning and research in order to understand some of the implications possibly conveyed through the dialogue. Moreover, by examining filmed versions of the scenes, students become aware of the multiple "languages" (as Edward Rocklin suggests in his essay) of performance.
In a truly innovative approach, Mary S. Comfort describes her use of Hamlet as a context for studying Toni Cade Bambara's short story "The Lesson." In this approach Comfort urges students to [End Page 159] regard the toys...