The new Middle School Theater provided a perfect venue for the 6th graders, accompanied by their teachers Jonathan Arriarán, Anne Carr, Cassy Clark, Betsy Sandler, and Gianna Vargas, and the seniors in my two AP Literature classes to meet, as we do each year, to explore Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Macbeth.
The seniors presented some of their creative projects inspired by the “To be or not to be” speech as well as a number of dramatic performances of key scenes in the play, including an energetic and meticulously choreographed duel. The younger students shared their clever storyboard projects from Macbeth. All 70 6th graders divided into discussion groups led by 36 seniors to consider such thought-provoking questions as “Which character did you like best? Hate the most? Feel most frustrated by and why?” Or “If you could rewrite the ending of the play, what would happen differently?” or “What connections do you see between Macbeth and Hamlet?” "Is there anything not heroic or admirable about Hamlet?” “Is studying Shakespeare still relevant to students today?” The seniors, many of whom had participated in this same event when they were in 6th Grade, guided the younger students as they grappled with themes in the plays such as parent-child relationships, friendship, hypocrisy, madness, self-doubt, loyalty, revenge, and power.
The seniors relished the opportunity to challenge the 6th graders to go further in their understanding of the plays. Reza S. ’20 was thrilled that he “was able to have a long, mature conversation with a 6th grader, "and…we are friends now.” Sixth grader Everett R. commented, “I enjoyed seeing how the seniors process Shakespeare. I liked hearing their thoughts and even contradicting what they had to say!” Classmate Aubrey G. added, “Interacting with the seniors was great because our discussions were very thought-provoking and intriguing. The experience got me excited for my future English classes at Brentwood.”
Ultimately, the students recognized that, even four centuries after it was written, Shakespeare’s work still challenges us, his often difficult but always magnificent language inspires us, and that, as Ben Johnson wrote of Shakespeare in 1623, “He was not of an age, but for all time.” Having the opportunity to make these connections and to witness the vivid, original efforts of this dynamic group of students made for a memorable experience for us all.