The Value of Asking Students to Re-Write Hamlet’s Soliloquy
This year, when teaching Hamlet, I offered a choice for students: they could write a traditional homework exploration, or they could rewrite the To Be or Not to soliloquy in III.i and also write a reflection about the process of writing it.
This came about because last year, a student included her own version in her final synthesis paper:
For the reader’s pleasure: Un Soliloque en Pointe
To dance or not to dance—that is the question:
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The pain and aching of outrageous footwear,
Or to take arms against ballet tradition
And, by opposing, end it. To spring, to bend—
No more—and by a satin shoe to end
The bunions and the thousand shocks
A dancer’s foot is heir to—’tis an effectuation
Devoutly to be wished. To jump, to point—
To point, perchance with ease. Ay, there’s the rub,
For in shoes soft and dead what blisters come,
When we have shuffled off this marked sprung floor,
Must give us pause. There’s the misalignment
That makes arthritis of so long life.
The results this year were impressive, and based on reflections, I will be requiring it for students next year.Here’s why:
1. Students had to choose a decision they were thinking about and write about it, thereby putting themselves in Hamlet’s mindset. Now, there were a number of silly versions, but even in those, students had to consider both sides of the argument. Some wrote about the decision to go away to college, some wrote about taking a nap.
2. Rewriting it helped students really understand what Hamlet was saying–better than just reading and taking notes on it. Here’s one student’s thoughts: “Writing this version of Hamlet’s soliloquy gave me a better insight into what he was really saying. It’s easy to glance over something once and not understand it, but going through line by line to see what fit while making my own version really helped comprehension. I noticed while reading over it when I was finished that Shakespeare really did write in a way allowing natural breathing techniques for those delivering his lines, which made it easy to replace the words and still have it make sense.”
3. They were fun to read and also gave me insight into how much students understood about how the passage was composed as well as what they were currently struggling with in their own lives.
I also think this activity––having students rewrite a soliloquy from Shakespeare–could be transferable to other plays like Macbeth or Julius Caesar, or really any instance where a character has a solo where they’re trying to make a decision. Although only about half of my students chose to do this option this year, I’ll be having all of them doing it (with more guidance and deliberate teaching from me) next year.