Backgrounds to Hamlet Projects: 

Choose a partner and develop a presentation on one of the following topics. We will begin presenting at the end of next week and continue as we read Hamlet.

  • Group 1: Tell Hamlet's story as Shakespeare found it in his sources. See Arden pp. 59-74. Discuss Saxo Grammaticus, Belleforest, and the 'Ur-Hamlet'. Describe a revenge tragedy, the kind of gory spectacle popular early in Shakespeare's playwrighting career. Outline the plot of Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy. What other revenge tragedies were popular in the late 1590's? 
  • Group 2:  What was the political mood in London during the last years of Elizabeth's reign? Read Shapiro, 1599: A Year in Shakespeare's Life Chapt. 2,  "A Great Blow in Ireland" (pp. 43-57); Chapt. 9, "The Invisible Armada" ) pp.173-187. What advice would Machiavelli offer? Machiavelli, from The Prince Intro, chapters 14-19, 26 Consult Somerville, Divine Right, Patriarchalism, Common Law and Constitutionalism:  The Divine Right of Kings - I; The Divine Right of Kings - II
  • Group 3:  Describe the early 16th century's understanding of ghosts and the afterlife. Discuss also the contrast between Catholic and Protestant beliefs about ghosts and magic. See Chapter 19 "Ghosts and Fairies" pp. 701-24 from Religion and the Decline of Magic (1976) See also my notes from Keith Thomas,  Chapter One, The Environment; Chapter Two, The Magic of the Medieval Church; Chapter Three, The Impact of the Reformation; Watch A History Of Britain by Simon Schama S01 E06 Burning Convictions "Whatever Happened to Catholic England?" See also Somerville, Popular Culture: Providence and Prophecy Magic and Medicine; Ghosts, fairies and omens; Astrology; see also "Enter Ghost" from Hamlet Conundrums (USC) Finally, check out 'Ghosts' have appeared on stage in Hamlet over the years. 
  • Group 4 :  Describe the birth and development of commercial theatre in London in the 1590's. Read Stephen Greenblatt, Will in the World  (2004) Chapter 6 "Life in the Suburbs" (pp.175-198)  See also Shakespeare in London, my notes on Greenblatt.. Describe the entertainments which were popular in the city of London, particularly in the 'suburbs', during Shakespeare's time living and working there (1588-1614). Describe the development of the first 'for profit' theatres in London. Describe the physical conditions of these theatres Why couldn't the Puritan city fathers close them down? What was the life of an actor like in London? Why did the acting companies have to put on a different show every night? What influence did the plays of Christopher Marlowe have on Shakespeare's  playwriting? What sort of plays had been written in London before Hamlet Shakespeare's contemporaries? How did Richard Field help Shakespeare get started as a playwright? How does Greenblatt surmise that Shakespeare came to write the Henry VI plays? what made these 'history lays' so successful? How were these plays different from Marlowe's?   
  • Group 5:  Describe how Shakespeare learned from and then moved beyond the magnificent first generation of English playwrights. Read Stephen Greenblatt, Will in the World  (2004) Chapter 7 "Shakescene" (pp. 199-225) (pdf) See also Shakespeare in London, late 1580’s: (my notes on Greenblatt.) What accounts for the confluence of great playwrights who emerged in the 1590's? Describe some of the university wits who helped Marlowe create Elizabethan theatre: Thomas Kyd, Thomas Watson, Thomas Nashe, Thomas Lodge, George Peele. How were Shakespeare and Thomas Kyd different from these writers? How were they treated by them?  Describe Robert Greene's notorious career as a London 'character'. What influence did this circle have on Shakespeare? What life lessons did they teach him? What were the sad fates of almost all of Shakespeare's playwright freinds during the 1590's? What did Shakespeare accomplish instead? Describe how Shakespeare transformed Greene into Falstaff, his greatest comic creation.  
  • Group 6: At what stage in Shakespeare's theatrical career was Hamlet written? Comment upon the situation of his company, The Lord Chamberlain's Men, and describe the challenges Shakespeare faced not only financially, but artistically, even after a decade of enormous success as a playwright. What struggles did his company face getting the structure of the Globe completed? See Shapiro, 1599: A Year in Shakespeare's Life on the building of the Globe Theatre:  Preface, pp. "Prologue", pp. 1-20, and Chapter 6, "The Globe Rises" pp. 107-117 (for images see Backgrounds to Shakespeare  (ppt.); 
  • Group 7: Review for the class the Ancient Greek understanding of tragedy. Read Sewall Introduction. See: The Origins of Tragedy (Spragins) and  Dionysus and the Origins of Tragedy: (Crete, Mycenae, Greece ppt.); Check out Ovid's   Dionysus Cadmus and Europa; The Sphinx  from Metamorphoses, Books 3 and 4: The do the stories of the  House of Cadmus comment on the Problem of Undeserved Suffering (Acteon, Semele, Tiresias, Narcissus and Echo, Pentheus,  Athamas and Ino).    
  • Group 8: Describe the complex textual history of Hamlet: see the Arden introduction, pp.74-94; see Shapiro, 1599: A Year in the Life of Shakespeare, Chapt. 14: "Essays and Soliloquies" pp. 284-302; Chapt 15: "Second Thoughts" pp. 303- 320; Hamlet - Shakespeare in quarto (British Library)
  • Group 9: Organize an 40-minute Acting Warm-up to get us off of our feet.  "Warming Up Our Voices": Using Shakespeare's Blank Verse (Giles Block) and Iambic Pentameter Exercises (Yolanda Vazquez);  Shakespeare Set Free Workshop (Folger) (Folger);  Marlowe’s Mighty Line from Tamburlaine (1587); Hamlet's Advice to the Players (Hamlet, Act III scene ii) ; Taking Apart Sonnet #12: ‘When I do count the clock that tells the time’ (Analysis See also: from Anonymous (2011) St. Crispin's Day Speech; from Anonymous (2011), Chorus from Henry V: "O for a Muse of Fire..." (Go in 1:04)