Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A new version of "Hamlet" puts you in the director's seat

by Derek Spencer

Ever wanted to "play" Hamlet as if it were a choose-your-own-adventure-style book? Well, Ryan North's new book, To Be Or Not To Be: That Is The Adventure allows you to do just that. North, author of the long-running webcomic Dinosaur Comics, has put together a massive tome (768 pages!) in which seemingly anything can happen, including King Hamlet avenging his own death while he is a ghost.

Clearly, this is not the canonical Hamlet.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the book is that it allows you to make key decisions from the perspective of three characters: Hamlet, the ghost of King Hamlet, and Ophelia. If you want Hamlet to be more decisive, you can force him to act in critical moments. If you think Ophelia should stand up for herself when people treat her badly (which is basically the entire play), the option is there. And that's pretty cool. If you want events to play out just as they do in Shakespeare's classic, that's also an option — just choose all the options next to which Yorick's skull appears.

Though the book is clearly meant to be humorous rather than a serious examination of Hamlet, it could still hold some interest for students and teachers alike. A recent post on NPR's Monkey See blog contains this choice quotation:
"If Ryan's version gets us to ask why the characters in Hamlet make certain choices — and maybe don't even see that they are making choices, but think that they have no choice — that can help us rethink things that Hamlet (the play) takes for granted." William N. West, Northwestern University Professor of English, Classics, and Comparative Literary Studies, wrote to us. "It might also help us see what we take for granted."
It might seem like a stretch to incorporate this book into your ELA curriculum, but the Common Core State Standards (specifically, this standard) do require students to analyze multiple interpretations of a story, drama, or poem. This book would probably be one of the more fanciful interpretations out there, but it just might qualify.

I backed the extremely successful Kickstarter campaign when it started, so I should receive my copy of the book shortly. I'm so excited! I'll share my thoughts on it, including possible applications for the classroom, once I've had some time to read through it.

Thanks for reading!

Derek Spencer is a Marketing Communications Associate at Prestwick House.

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