This morning, I climbed onto one of those big yellow school buses with 50 students to see the play Hamlet.
I appreciate Shakespeare: his cunning characters, his memorable phrases, his tragedy paired with comedic relief. However, this past year, I learned from an eminent essayist that while reading Montaigne, he discovered the exact speech found in a Shakespeare play. Since Montaigne beat Shakespeare to the planet, we can assume that Montaigne penned the famous words first...which makes, yes, it does, Shakespeare a plagiarizer.
While reading Henry V with seniors, there was one scene I cared not to read out loud in the classroom. It was ribald, raunchy, and crude. We could have glossed over it and maybe the students would have missed it, but if we were going to read and study Shakespeare, I wanted their eyes wide open. So I did the one thing that guarantees students will read: I banned the scene from class. If students wanted to know the content, they'd have to read it on their own.
When the play started, I sighed. I'd read and seen Hamlet too many times. But the actors were superb, the audience attentive, and the play had been shortened--I endured. Hamlet still acted mad; Ophelia was still pathetic; Polonius suffered a stab wound--again. And in the end? Almost every character lay mortally wounded on the stage.
Ah...the end of the play, turned out to be my favorite part. The actors came out, sat on the edge of the stage and took questions from the audience. Our seniors were the oldest students. The majority of students in the audience were middle school and older elementary age--and their questions were adorable-- spoken and acted out almost as well as our professionals.
A youngster asked, "Was Hamlet really mad?" The woman who played Hamlet asked the audience to vote. Like any election, it was divided. Another youngster raised his hand to comment. "I've had a lot of experiences with my siblings and I know when someone is really crazy!"
It seemed every middle school student had his or her hand raised. So eager they were. How they made me laugh; I remembered they had also been the entertainment during the play.
When Hamlet asked in a soliloquy, "Am I a coward?" Several little people held their breath but could no longer resist and answered, "No!"
When Hamlet paused too long after, "To be or..." someone couldn't hold back, "or not to be" burst from the audience.
The Shakespeare players, funded by an Arts Foundation grant, had performed Hamlet for 71 school audiences. So when a youngster asked, "How did the man who played the king lose his arm?" The actor sitting on the stage, indeed with one arm, answered, "When I was a kid, I didn't eat my vegetables or help my mother carry in the vegetables."
Professionals, through and through.