CSI Investigates Hamlet

Most students at Phillips Academy are, at some point, required to read a Shakespearean play, whether it be Othello, Romeo and Juliet or Macbeth.

This year, Alexander Manshel, Teaching Fellow in English, and his English 310 class will take their reading of Hamlet to the next level, combining theatrical and analytical elements from Shakespeare’s play to form a modern rendition of Hamlet, or “Hamlet Annotated” as referred to by Manshel.

“[The show] is not a performance of Hamlet, but a kind of creative, scholarly, multimedia reaction to the play,” said Manshel.

The upcoming performance will be shown on Tuesday May 31st in Kemper at 7:00pm.

It begins at the conclusion of Shakespeare’s play when all the characters are dead. The detectives step onto the scene and try to unravel the situation by investigating the characters’ motives, the textual forensics and the setting.

“They ultimately are trying to come to a sense of ‘if this is where the play ends up, what happened? What led to this outcome?’” said Manshel.

The students use CSI, the popular investigative TV show, as the overarching structure for their performance, as this detective theme is a metaphor for the literary investigation the class does when reading Hamlet.

This unifying idea guides the play through different key moments from Shakespeare’s play that the class has analyzed, adapted and modernized.

Manshel said, “[The students] use this kind of funny metaphor of the crime scene investigators to talk about the play…In there, there are monologues, original soliloquies, short lectures on films, clips from various film renditions [and] dialogue scenes. Everything you could imagine go on a stage is on there in this kind of great smorgasbord of reactions to Hamlet.”

Some key scenes that the students focus on include the love story between Hamlet and Ophelia and the murder of King Hamlet.

For their reaction to King Hamlet’s assassination, the class puts Claudius, the main suspect, on trial for the murder of his brother.

Smoothly tying this scene to another analysis, the students have Hamlet lash out during the trial so that he is sent in to psychoanalysis where his therapist, Sigmund Freud, treats him.

“We’re taking these dramatic scenarios and using them to investigate psychoanalytic criticism, and to what extent Claudius is culpable for the murder of his brother,” said Manshel.

On paper, the play is titled “Hamlet*.” The asterisk is a reminder that this performance is filled with the students’ own analysis.

“It’s all about the footnotes that these students are adding to the play, the way in which they’re inserting their own voices between the lines of Shakespeare’s words,” said Manshel.

Manshel came up with this project at the beginning of the year. He said, “I wanted to make this reading of Hamlet, my students’ first reading of this literary masterpiece, something that is personal for them, something that after reading they have ownership over…so I came upon the idea of making an original piece of theater that combines their critical and creative reactions to the play.”

The students have spent the latter half of the term creating and polishing this performance.

Manshel said, “As [the class has] been rehearsing, I’ve been really impressed with the way that they have struck this balance between entertainment and academic substance. It seems like they are creating something that is going to be challenging to its audience, but also exciting to watch.”

This performance on Hamlet is a great opportunity for students and faculty alike. Manshel hopes that this upcoming experience will “spark a kind of dialogue about the play…and it would also make a good study break.”