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Teacher-in-role as «polonius» – students-in-role as rosenkrantz and guildenstern – as exposition

Arkiv

This is what you might want to tell your students before you leave the classroom and re-enter it in role as Polonius:

In a second or two you will meet a middle aged person, Polonius, principal secretary of state to the King of Denmark, King Claudius. I shall be Polonius, and I shall enter the ante-chamber of the reception room, where all of you will imagine that you are Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern, two close friends of prince Hamlet from boyhood. You are waiting to meet the King, and instead in comes Polonius.
 You have just arrived at Elsinore castle after a long journey. Some days ago you received a friendly letter from King Claudius and Queen Gertrude, inviting you to come to Elsinore for a visit, all expenses paid. Apparently the royal couple, that is your friend Hamlet’s mother and her new husband, Hamlet’s uncle, seemed worried about Hamlet’s desperate and anguished mood. They wished R & G to come and visit and to find out what is on Hamlet’s mind, and to report to them. They seemed extremely concerned in their letter.

(Here you – the teacher – may wish to hand out enough ‘copies’ of the handwritten royal ‘letter’ – to create authenticity! In pairs the students can study the letter while you go outside and prepare yourself for being Polonius.

Good morning, to you, young gentlemen!
I do hope you’ve had a pleasant journey, and it’s my privilege on behalf of the King and Queen to wish you welcome to Denmark.  Allow me to introduce myself:  My name is Polonius, and I am the King’s humble servant, and Principal Secretary of State.  – And I myself am indeed happy to see you here at Elsinore Castle! 

As I’m sure you understood from the King’s letter to you, the Queen is worried about her son, young prince Hamlet, and is hoping that your visit can help him out of his grief and his melancolic state of mind.  – To make a long story short and to not be beating around the bush, let me impart to you the intention of the royal invitation to spend some time at the royal castle of Elsinore. – King Claudius and Queen Gertrude have summoned you to their court to beg of you a great favour. As you are good friends of young prince Hamlet and used to be his playmates in your childhood, they believe that he will be willing to share with you more willingly than he will with his mother – not to say with his uncle – the reasons for his grief and inactivity.  He has spoken warmly of you as his bosom friends. They ask you, therefore, to approach prince Hamlet with the careless joy of young friendship – and try to avert his thoughts from whatever trouble is on his mind. Talk to him, probe him – and find out what his problem and worry is!  They feel that he will open his heart to you, and share his innermost secrets with you.  – To get to the bottom of things, amuse him, think of some diversion that you young men can enjoy together – be it within the limits of decency! – and distract him from whatever it is that has caused this sadness and brooding in him. – Yes? Good! This is the favour the royal couple ask from you. No more and no less! And since you’ve agreed to come all the way to Denmark, I trust you will meet this wish from the King and Queen with due respect and willingness to serve.

Before I leave you to get settled in your rooms, do you have any questions? Anything else you’d like to know – about this place, about the amusements the castle might offer, about the state of affairs in Denmark, about Hamlet, – about me? Although I am in a little bit of a hurry as I’m seeing my son off to France in a few moments, I shall only be too glad to take a few moments to impart to you any information you are in need of before you will meet the King and Queen and prince Hamlet himself later on.  Yes? No? No questions?  Ah – you’ve been to Denmark before, I trust – you know our country?  Then, of course, you know about the recent death and funeral of our former King, King Hamlet? No? – Oh, so sad – a dreadful business – bless his soul!  King Hamlet died only two months ago – during his afternoon sleep. He was taking a nap in his orchard, when a serpent – a snake, you know – stung him. – He received a funeral well fit for a King, and the whole country mourned his much too early departure from this earth. – His brother, Claudius, married his widow, Queen Gertrude, and became King – their marriage was announced and celebrated soon after. – The Queen, I’m glad to say, seems to have found some comfort in her new marriage – although she loved her former husband fondly.

I have myself suffered the pangs of death – I am a widower. My wife, bless her soul, left me when our two children were quite young. My fine boy Laertes – who is about to return to France after his visit home to take part in the King Claudius’ crowning – and my sweet, innocent daughter, Ophelia, a young maid of great beauty, if I may say so. – I can see a twinkle in your eye, young man, at my mentioning a beautiful daughter; and if you like, I will introduce you to her – in all decency, of course – at tonight’s banquet. – Yes? – However, I have been told that Ophelia of late has given private time to prince Hamlet…  I don’t know if this be true, I shall have to talk to her about it…  Apparently, she’s been most free and bounteous with him.  Hm.  I wonder what is between them…  I do not like it. I do not want her to meet him or talk to him.  – For young lord Hamlet may speak promises, I’m sure – he is but a young man, with his blood burning. I do not want my daughter to think that she is the true object of his affections, because he surely will look higher for a wife. And I don’t want her to be hurt, you know. I should stop this before she involves herself too deeply.

Well – if there are no more questions, I shall most humbly take my leave of you. Enjoy your stay at Elsinore! – And don’t forget to talk to Hamlet; but be careful to use your discretion, and to not let him know that you are reporting to the King – right? Then – at your leisure you will impart to the King and Queen the reasons for his melancholic behaviour, and what kind of plans he has, will you not? Good!

I shall see you both at dinner tonight, then – and, oh yes, I’ve heard rumours that a company of players have come our way – splendid! Then we will see a play together. Do you like comedy? I myself love the theatre; in fact I took part in plays when I was a student at the university – I played Caesar, you know – I was killed in front of the Capitol – Brutus killed me – a wonderful part! I loved being stabbed – ! Really, I must go – to see my son off to France. No more questions? Well, it was indeed a joy to get to know you, young gentlemen – and it shall be my pleasure to introduce you to my daughter Ophelia tonight! Good day to you both!

 
Answers to possible questions (FAQs – ‘frequently asked questions’) – How to make this improvised roleplay into an ethical dilemma

Polonius is ‘a prattling, old fool’ according to the play. However, you might like to make him slightly more clever and dangerous – that’s up to you.
To remind you here are some facts from the play that students might ask about. And if they do not ask them, you can still ‘answer’ them, as rhetorical questions:

Why was the King’s brother and not his son Hamlet made king after King Hamlet’s accidental death?  (I can see you wanting to ask me why the Council did not give the crown to prince Hamlet, the dead King’s only son, and instead gave it to the King’s brother – am I right?)

Well – as you know Denmark was at war (with Norway), and the country needed a strong military leader, a military strategist. Prince Hamlet as you may be aware of, is far from being a soldier, not even a diplomat; he is more of a scholar, wouldn’t you agree? – and he is a young man – of your age – with no experience from the battlegrounds. And then of course it was very convenient, was it not, to at the same time provide the widow queen with a new husband! Hamlet may have been disappointed at not having been chosen by the Council to follow his father as King – at least that is what – I think – King Claudius may suspect. And he also believes – I think – that prince Hamlet (Polonius here may perhaps be looking around to see if any other person is around and listening to what he is revealing) is planning  – a coup (in a whisper?). Personally, I think Prince Hamlet most of all wishes to go back to his alma mater, the university in Wittenberg, you know, and continue his philosophical studies. King Claudius, it seems, is – maybe – afraid that he will plan a coup d’etat from abroad – and therefore wishes him to stay here, so he can keep an eye on him. You understand, don’t you, why the King wants you, Hamlet’s friends,  to – well, let’s not beat around the bush – he orders you to spy on Hamlet, and to give him reports of anything suspicious – am I clear? Good! You will be very generously paid for your services!

What is the advice you will give your son Laertes:

Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice!

Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment.

Neither a borrower, nor a lender be;
for loan oft loses both itself and friend,
and borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.

This above all:  – to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Det er ikke usannsynlig at noen av eleven vil nekte å adlyde; “Skulle vi svike vår venn Hamlet for noen lusne kongelige grunker?!” Jeg har opplevd at diskusjonen i rolle så vel som klassesamtalen etterpå kan komme til å dreie seg om vennskap/svik og om hva enkelte er villig til å gjøre for penger. Det er fantastisk når det skjer – en skikkelig autentisk krangel oppstår. Og da er det om å gjøre for læreren i rolle å ikke gjøre det enkelt for dem – ! La dem få høre hvilke konsekvenser det vil kunne få om de ikke adlyder Kong Claudius’ ønsker: – arrest, fengsel, død – ?
 
Eks. på TEKST til KORARBEID (gruåppearbeid) og ELEVENE SOM OVERSETTERE (pararbeid)
A. Shakespeares originaltekst
B. Norsk oversettelse ved Eyvind Berg

A.
 HAMLET
To be, or not to be; that is the question:
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And, by opposing, end them. To die, to sleep –
No more, and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to – ‘tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to dream. Ay, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
when we have shuffled off this mortal coil
must give us pause. There’s the respect
that makes calamity of so long life,
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th’oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of disprized love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th’unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would these fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of though,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action. 

(…)

 
B.
 HAMLET
Å være eller ikke være – det
er spørsmålet: Om det er edlere
å tåle bister skjebnes kast og piler,
enn å bevæpne seg mot hav av sorger,
så motstand ender dem: Å dø, å sove –
Nei, intet mer; og  si at søvnen ender
all hjertesorg og alle rystelser
som kroppen arver? Det er et endelikt
vel verdt å ønske seg.  Å dø, å sove.
Å sove, kanskje drømme. Det er bøygen;
for hvilke drømmer avler dødens søvn,
som når vi til sist går ut av tiden,
gjør at vi nøler. Det er vurderingen
som gir elendigheten et så langt liv.
For hvem kan tåle verdens pryl og spott,
tyranners makt og stolte menns frekkhet,
en kjærlighet som hånes, rettslig sommel,
betente embedsmenn og alle spark
som avskum langer ut mot den som tier,
når han for egen hånd kan gjøre opp for
seg med en dolk? For hvem vil bære byrden,
å slave livet ut i slit og strev,
hvis ikke angst for noe etter døden,
et ukjent land som ingen reisende
kan vende hjem fra, lamslår viljen vår,
og gjør sånn at vi velger dagens nød
og ikke flykter til det ukjente.
Så selvinnsikten gjør oss alle feige;
og dermed vil en fast og klar beslutning
lett dekkes til av tankens bleke skinn,
og virksomheter med stor kraft og mening
vil bøye av og miste kravet på
å kalles handling. (…)

ELEVENE SOM OVERSETTERE

Lærer klipper opp monologen i passende korte avsnitt og fordeler dem blant elevene, som jobber i par (A og B); A får den norske oversettelsen til Eyvind Berg, og B får utdraget fra Shakespeares originalversjon. Begge skal skrive om til dagligspråk av i dag og oversette til henholdsvis engelsk og norsk. Deretter går de sammen og sammenligner.
 Andre utdrag som kan egne seg for elevenes arbeid som ’oversettere’, er f.eks. Ofelias beretning til Polonius om da Hamlet besøkte henne i hennes private rom, eller dronning Gjertruds beretning om hvordan Ofelia druknet. De samme kan være poetiske utgangspunkt for Korarbeid; det kan for så vidt utdrag fra hvilke som helst av utdragene bak i heftet. La gjerne elevene lage gruppedikt og gjøre korarbeid på engelsk!
CHORUS WORK  (KORARBEID)

’Chorus work’ can generate a real feeling of ownership on the part of the students vis-a-vis a particular text.
You may want to try chorus work principles on the soliloquy above – or use some other text, e.g. the Queens account of how Ophelia dies by drowning, or Hamlet’s comparison between his father, the murdered king, and his uncle, the present ‘usurper’, as you find it in the scene with his mother, Queen Gertrude.

 The students work in groups of 3-7.

 They read through the soliloquy or scene together, and each one selects one or two words, expressions, sentences, questions – that (s)he likes (or dislikes…).

 The group collaborate to edit their chosen lines – perhaps supplemented by ‘echoes’ from other parts of the play – into a ‘new’ text / poem.

 The rehearse a reading / acting out of it…

 …and present their poem, with a title, to the rest of the class.

They may wish to experiment with voice and a simple choreography, trying out different modes of speech and movement/blocking:

o Solo voices – whole chorus together
o Boys’ voices – girls’ voices
o Volume (from whisper to loud shouting)
o Tempo (slow (motion and speech) – very fast, staccato)
o Repetitions
o Echoes
o Singing
o Movement only by chorus – 1 or 2 ‘narrators’
o Etc.

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