This Week in AP: Feb. 25 to March 1

Subtitled: Mr. McAteer finally acknowledges that it’s second semester

I hope you all had lovely and fulfilling vacations. As for me, I got a great deal on t-shirts at Target and was able to return my daughter’s three-months-overdue library books, so you know I’m feeling pretty fab.

If you haven’t noticed by now, what distinguishes “literature” from ordinary fiction is the author’s fascination with death. You might have a great idea for a novel, but if your main character isn’t obsessed with his or her own death, his eternal (or not) legacy or with killing someone else, then there’s no frackin’ way that your tale will last more than a generation or two.

Given that greatness requires a confrontation with mortality, we now get to confront the greatest piece of literature of all time, Hamlet. How do we know it’s the greatest? Because Hamlet is not only obsessed with his own death, but he’s also obsessed with killing his stepfather, who, it turns out, murdered his father. It’s sort of like Fight Club for the Renaissance set, but you have to be a relative to be a member.

I'm not saying this would have helped Hamlet, but it certainly might have made him feel less stressed.

I’m not saying this would have helped Hamlet, but it certainly might have made him feel less stressed.

But seriously, folks, Hamlet takes the question of “Why bother?” and deals with it through the kind of commingling of religion, philosophy and psychology that prompted the popular critic Harold Bloom to title his compendium of Shakespearean literary analysis, The Invention of the Human. At the same time, if you’re not into that stuff, it’s a great story of intrigue and twisted family dynamics, or thwarted romance and enduring friendship. Oops, I’m starting to sound like the marketing guy; use the movie-trailer-guy voice to read the previous sentence.

As you know, a play should be seen, not just read, and as you get more comfortable with the rhythms of that crazy 17th century speech, you’ll be itchin’ to perform it your own self. And I shall, of course, acquiesce. We will watch different versions of the play, both abridged and full-text, so you can witness the way directors take an enduring text and apply it to their times.

What I have to do (and what you have to help me do by asking questions and responding to the ones I ask you) is resist the compulsion to stop and point out all the little things that get me so fired up about Hamlet, and about Shakespeare in general. I will be emphasizing use of the forum during class time so I can be responsive to questions/observations about the story without interrupting too frequently.

I can’t really give you the day by day blow by blow because I haven’t calculated my planned decrease in interruptions, but my plan is to get through Act 2, scene 1 before CAPT.

Our plan will be to watch this, the Mel Gibson, Glenn Close, Bellatrix LeStrange version, and the Kenneth Branagh/Kate Winslet version I have on DVD, and to read a little bit of Stephen Greenblatt, because he is the man when it comes to Shakespeare these days.

Here is that little bit of Greenblatt: From Will in the World by Greenblatt


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