Ophelia Writes Home

He passed so peacefully in sleep, it seemed
as in a kingly way, or is at least
what passes for a royal death in this
rough place where every bush may hide a bear.
He was a good provider, and we lived
if not as kings, then as two princes who
were born to make the best of baser things
and not forget how blessed we were to be
alive at all. It was Horatio,
you now can know, who hatched the plan to bate
the sword with sleeping potion, culled from stuff
he’d read at school in Wittenberg about
the young Italian lovers, feuding tribes,
a tomb for two. It just remained to bribe
the graveyeard clowns to feign and shuttle both
the boxes (I no longer shivering
and wet) on board the pirate ship we dubbed
The Nunnery, a little jest which fed
the joy we felt in one another’s arms
across the icy sea, until we reached
this Eden Danish men discovered past
the coldest land of all. Our children grew,
the crops rose tall, the swarthy neighbors brought
their harvest in to honor us at fall.
This is in secret—should you draw your breath
to tell his tale do not let this letter show,
thereby his famous tragedy amending.
Recall his melancholy cast and know
how much he would abhor a happy ending.

William Greenway
from his book Everywhere at Once
University of Akron Press, 2008
Used with permission of the poet


For an English Classroom

Lesson Plan for William Greenway’s “Ophelia Writes Home”
by Dave Inman

Students will

KNOW: (1) the definition of enjambment (a phrase or sentence of a poem that flows into the next line of the poem)

UNDERSTAND: (1) that poets use a variety of tropes to establish a poem’s rhythm; (2) that canonical texts can inspire a variety of retellings and revisions in different literary forms

BE ABLE TO: (1) identify the use of enjambment in different poems, and demonstrate its effect on the poem’s rhyme rhythm; (2) discuss the implications of Greenway’s revision to Hamlet on the reader’s notion of Hamlet and other key characters

Introduction [10 minutes]

Direct students to brainstorm (and write down) elements of the following characters: Hamlet, Ophelia, Horatio [3-5 minutes]

*While students are writing, distribute copies of “Ophelia Writes Home”—double-sided, one side with Greenway’s line breaks, one side in prose form. Distribute with prose-side up*

Create columns on board for each character; call on students to share character traits, and write these traits on the board [1-2 minutes]

Based on the lists on the board, lead students in discussion of/textual reference to Shakespeare’s development of key character traits [3-6 minutes]

Direct Instruction [10 minutes]

Define enjambment, have students take note; explain use of enjambment to establish rhythm and internal rhyme in poetry (e.g., a poem without clear pause at end of each line will sound more conversational, and likely will use other tropes, such as alliteration and internal rhyme, to establish the overall rhythm) [3 minutes]

Read “Ophelia Writes Home” aloud to students, as they follow along on paper [2 minutes]

Call on students at random to read the *prose* version of the poem, one sentence at a time [5 minutes]

Guided Practice [5 minutes]

Sentence by sentence, again call on students at random to identify where they would place line breaks for a poem (*regardless of punctuation*). Call on 1-2 students per sentence, and have students mark their line breaks with slash marks on the prose side of their paper. [5 minutes]

Independent Practice [15 minutes]

Have students read silently through their marked-up prose versions. Where did they create line breaks? Do they coincide with punctuation marks? Do their lines tend to create end rhyme or internal rhymes? Direct students to make any changes to their own line breaks and then re-write them as a poem.

*Circulate around the room while students are doing this. Probe around their reasons for creating line breaks where they did.*

For students who finish this exercise quickly: compare against Greenway’s poem. Have students take note (in writing) of the following: How do their own rhythms compare/contrast with Greenway’s? Do the different line breaks tend to cull different meanings from the poem, or do the words end up creating a similar effect?

Closure [10 minutes]

Return to list of character traits from introduction. How has Greenway’s poem changed our understanding of these characters? Are there traits that we would eliminate from the list, or minor traits that have become more important? What impact does Greenway’s revision have on other aspects of Hamlet? If Hamlet has “escaped,” does that necessarily mean the play needs to have a different tragic hero (and, by extension, perhaps a different title)? What does the new imagining of Hamlet’s relationship with Ophelia do to the play’s position on love?

*Discussion assumes students have grasped the general conceit of the poem based on reading and working with the text to this point in the lesson. If students demonstrate a lack of understanding of the poem’s conceit, direct discussion towards a more general reading of Greenway’s poem and what it suggests about the plot of Hamlet.*

*This discussion can be rolled into the beginning of the next class meeting, or extended for a class that meets for 90-100 minutes*

Possible extensions/assignments
*To be used in future lessons, block periods, or extra time at the end of this lesson. Have detailed rubrics created for these assignments, and transition from above discussion to explaining the assignments/options.*

Write poetic revisions a la Greenway of other canonical texts (or other texts studied in the class).

Focus on creating an “artifact” (like a letter from Ophelia) that requires the reader to make inferences and fill in the gaps

Use Greenway’s poem as a springboard to create a longer, more detailed exploration of the revised plot points alluded to in “Ophelia Writes Home.”

Include the details of Horatio’s plan, the negotiations with the “graveyard clowns,” details of Hamlet and Ophelia’s arrival in a new place and their assimilation into a new community/non-royal life, and what finally caused Hamlet’s death in this version of the story

Write an essay detailing how the “new evidence” from “Ophelia Writes Home” changes the overall character(s) or theme(s) in Hamlet. Create a detailed analysis of Shakespeare’s text that could support Greenway’s retelling of events. Give particular attention to conversations between characters named/alluded to in the poem and to soliloquies and asides that may provide additional insights into the characters.

*Notes taken throughout the lesson should assist students in completing these assignments.*

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