Act 1, Scene 1 through Act 1, Scene 3
A reading response post is your opportunity to record whatever thoughts, questions, and emotional or aesthetic reactions you have as you read. For every reading assignment, I will provide a new discussion board forum on which I will post possible issues or questions. When your group has a reading post due, you should pick one of them and respond to it as best you can.
Because these responses represent the early stages of your thinking about the readings, you should feel free to use them to test out ideas, ask questions, and admit confusion; indeed, summary judgments and easy answers aren’t much use to me or your classmates, whereas confusion, when clearly expressed, can be stimulating. On the other hand, I admire students who are willing to venture an opinion and back it up. What is important is that your response demonstrates your engagement with these works.
The key to reading response posts is to keep them focused by quoting specific passages — you must support your argument with textual evidence by quoting and citing the reading for that thread at least once during your post — and commenting on those quotations in order to support a point. Do not simply quote and expect us to see what you see in the passage; explain. That means you should never begin or end a paragraph with a quotation. Start by establishing a point you want to make or an issue you want to explore. Quote (do not paraphrase) the text to provide evidence for what you are saying. Then, comment on the quotation: never assume that your peers or I will see what you see in the passage you quote, let alone see it the same way. Quotations provide evidence; they do not make your case for you. The ratio of commentary on a quotation to the quotation itself is typically a good indication of how strong a post is.
Always set quotations up substantively. That means that setting up a quotation with a simple phrase like “Shakespeare writes” is unacceptable. If the set-up for a quotation tells readers nothing other than the information a citation could give them, it’s not substantive.
Do not do research for posts. They are your responses to the readings; not a test of your ability to Google. (See Honor Code note below.)
Your audience for these posts is people in the class. You should therefore assume everyone reading your post has also read the assignment to which it responds; do not engage in plot summary or waste time presenting background information we all know. Call your readers’ attention to specific elements of the text (characters, scenes, plot points, and so on) and quote textual evidence, but do not summarize as if you are writing for people who have not read the work in question.
Reading response posts should be between 275 and 325 words long, not including the quotations. Note that longer does not mean better: if you post 500 words I will not be happy, because I do not want reading the posts to be burdensome for your peers or correcting them to be burdensome for me. If you find yourself going over 350 words of your own writing, cut something; you can always bring up additional points in class.
Reading response posts are due by midnight the night before class. Choose one of the following prompts and respond to it. Note that you can use the prompts as you see fit: do not feel as if you need to address every point a prompt brings up. Also, if you have a particular question or idea that is not covered by a prompt and about which you want to post, go ahead. In most cases, though, the prompts will focus your thoughts and help you do a better job on this assignment. Regardless, always change your post’s subject-line so that it reflects your focus.
Hamlet does not appear in this play until Scene 2. Normally, especially in plays written in Shakespeare’s era, tragedies begin with the main character. Why do you think Shakespeare decided to delay Hamlet’s entrance and begin the play with Horatio, the guards, and the ghost?
Claudius begins Act 1, Scene 2 with a speech to the royal court at Elsinore. His brother King Hamlet has died, and he has married his brother’s widow and claimed the throne, even though conventionally the line of succession passes to a king’s son, not brother (or even wife). Denmark had an elected monarchy, which means that succession was not automatic: the nobles had to approve the new king. What explanation for his actions does he provide? How persuasive do you find it? Can you see anything wrong with it?
In the Elizabethan understanding of psychology, Hamlet is what was called melancholy — which means largely what it means now, but was associated specifically with an intellectual (as opposed to emotional) character. Find evidence for this diagnosis of his problem. Do you think he is mentally ill? Would we call him depressed? (Then again, at times he seems almost manic.) Are his feelings under the circumstances justified?
Why does Laertes warn Ophelia about Hamlet? Why does Polonius order her to avoid him in the future? What do they have against him? Do they have the same reasons for their warnings?