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Holding a Mirror up to Hamlet

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It was the worst of plays; it was the best of plays Hamlet is either the best play ever written or the worst, depending on your perspective. I have, at different times, held both opinions. T.S. Eliot was very critical of the play and of critics of the play. Ultimately he was categorical that “the play is most certainly an artistic failure” (Hamlet and His Problems. T.S. Eliot. 1921. The Sacred Wood; Essays on Poetry and Criticism).
The problem of many Hamlets Eliot reminds us that Shakespeare’s Hamlet was a “revised” version of earlier Hamlets, most notably one by Kyd—and Eliot seems convinced that the play is inferior for this among other reasons. Eliot also points out the tendency of “creative critics” (he mentions Coleridge and Goethe) to imagine a Hamlet character rather than the one actually in the play. Hamlet is so vague and inscrutable that the character invites speculation, confabulation and imaginative interpretations of his “true” nature.  Hamlet is a young man's play--…

Test Question: How Did Romeo Respond When He Was Told He Will Be Having Sex with Juliet?

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The Plan for Romeo and Juliet to consummate their marriageWhen the Nurse explained the plan—a rope ladder, “the cords,” would be placed from Juliet’s bedroom, “the highway to her bed,” so that Romeo and Juliet could have sex and thereby consummate their marriage—Romeo responded by saying “bid my sweet prepare to chide.”
What does "to chide" mean?I’ve never been fully confident that I understood this line.  What does “to chide” mean in this context?  Why should Juliet “prepare to chide”?
I’ve never seen the line analyzed or glossed, but it is the pivotal moment in the drama. Up to this point, alternatives are possible.  The marriage has not been consummated and can be easily annulled.  Juliet still could marry Paris, and Romeo find another Rosalind or Juliet. Or Romeo and Juliet could announce that they have married and accept the ire of their families and banishment.  Their marriage might, as Friar Lawrence planned all along, put an end to the enmity between their families and…

Why Did Shakespeare Make Juliet Thirteen Years Old?

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Why did Shakespeare make Juliet thirteen years old?Whenever I lectured on Romeo and Juliet, I always started by asking “Why did Shakespeare make Juliet thirteen years old?”  As I fielded answers from students they generally fell into two broad categories.
In Shakespeare's time, people married young.  Not really.Category 1: “People in Shakespeare’s time married young.”  Actually, they didn’t.  Shakespeare himself was 18 when he married Anne Hathaway who was 26 and pregnant with their first child, Susanna, but Shakespeare needed permission from his father to marry at such a young age.  Shakespeare’s own daughters, Susanna and Judith, were married at 24 and 31 respectively.  
Our ideas of English girls’ marrying at thirteen (or younger) being common practice was likely provoked by infamous cases of royal betrothals.  For example, Mary Queen of Scots was sent to France to marry Francis, the Dauphin, when she was six.  She married him when she was sixteen and he was fourteen—he died thre…

Do No Harm

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"Do no harm" It was always my intention and ambition as a teacher to honour the basic tenant of the Hippocratic Oath:“Do no harm.”It sounds simple enough, and I assume most teachers feel as I do, but for people with sadistic impulses the classroom must seem like a tempting playground.Since the oath was intended for doctors, much of what it proposes would not apply to teachers, but even some of its tenants like honouring gods and mentors, not using a knife on patients, and not providing abortions seem odd promises even for ancient Greek doctors.On the other hand, the proscription of having sex with patients or revealing their confidences could and should also be applied to teachers with their students.(These proscriptions, in my mind, go hand and in hand, and will be discussed in a future post.)


"Spare the rod and spoil the child" But I’ve never been able to get passed the basic “Do no harm.”It is a burden and a challenge for any teacher once you start thinking about…