Monday, March 21, 2011

What would Osric do?

My husband has testified that I am prone to "enthusiasms" - getting very excited and focused on a particular topic and then I may run out of steam or get distracted by another new interest. Some common ones that wax and wane regularly are exercising and improving my spiritual life. Some others stick around for a long time but just aren't as prominent as they once were, like comics or the Forest of Reading. My current "enthusiasms" are blogging (I've gone from hosting one blog to writing four) and a fantastic project started by Danika Barker. This project is short-term enough that I won't lose steam but long-term enough for me to play and explore and work on it to my heart's content.

As I've described it to my staff: I'm performing in a production of Hamlet - on Twitter.

I am definitely not a Twitter expert. I joined because a dear and respected colleague of mine (@LisaJDempster) recommended using Twitter as a Professional Learning Network. Once I began to follow people and read their tweets, I understood the benefits of this type of learning community. At some point, I followed Danika. She posted that she was going to try out a project where people would take character roles from Shakespeare's Hamlet and "do the play" via Twitter. I was intrigued. I filled out her application form. I received word that I was accepted and that I would play Osric.

My first thought = Hurray! I've been accepted!
My second thought = Who the heck is Osric?
My third thought = Holy crow! I haven't read Hamlet in years - I better get to it!

The process so far has made me reflect a lot about teaching and learning, both my own and that of my students. My first step was to grab my copy of Hamlet and start reading it. I got the gist of the main plot ("oh yeah, they're freaked about because they see a ghost at the beginning of the play") although some of the poetic language was lost on me - I'm an elementary teacher-librarian, so iambic pentameter isn't something I encounter daily. Then I Googled Osric. I scribbled some notes on scrap paper near my computer. (In a "mondaymollymusings" first, I will attach a scan of some of the notes I made - my first visual for this blog. I'll actually put it in a separate post, since this one is so long!) I watched a video of a performance in which he was characterized as having a sharp suit, slick haircut and shiny shoes. Then I read another website in which they suggest that a modern version of Osric would have many gold chains, long hair and fancy shirts. Then I saw a clip online from Kenneth Branaugh's Hamlet in which Robin Williams plays Osric and looks/sounds nothing like either of those interpretations. What would "my" Osric be like? How would I decide what the "right" or "best" interpretation of Osric should be for this project? I looked back at the text and looked at how the other Twactors began to do their posts. I consulted with Danika, our "director" - I was very conscious of "doing a good job". I decided that he would be a bit of a suck-up, complimenting and flattering everyone he could to get in their good books. The most memorable thing about Osric, who really is a minor character that only appears in one scene in the whole play to invite Hamlet to the duel and mention the bet Claudius has placed on the match, is how he is willing to discard his opinion to match that of his social superior. It's hot - definitely. No, it's cold - yes, you've got a point. I decided to use a lot of shout-outs on Twitter, and to mis-use some terms for comedy's sake. This is a big improvisational project, so there are no lines to memorize or follow, just characters to stay true to and plot points to maintain. It's quite an intellectual challenge. I kept asking myself "What would Osric do?" when reading the Hamlet feed. As I wheddled and praised and flattered, I hoped that most of the Twactors wouldn't respond, since Osric is so minor that he's not worth paying attention to, but when even given a tiny smidgen of attention, he'd play it up to the hilt. I think Osric would've wet himself when he saw Laertes call him a friend in public. That's why, so far, he's the only character that retweets. Of course, he only tends to retweet things that involve him or people talking about him, but that's part of his "schtick". I worried I was taking it too far, that Osric was posting too much, but Danika reassured me that she liked Osric's sycophantic and obnoxious sms phrases. Then I worried that Osric's phrases were like the ones I usually post in my regular Twittering.

Can you tell I'm getting into this quite a bit?

Danika encouraged and challenged us to use as many different forms of multimedia as we could. The other people involved are so incredibly talented, both with their use of different apps like FourSquare and with the way they portray their characters so well, that it's a pleasure to be involved in this project. Osric's contributions to the multimedia portion have been hashtags (that don't work - deliberately on my part - I don't want Charlie Sheen following us!) and youtube videos. I was going to make a Shelfari account for him until I found out I have to link it to my Amazon account, so I think I'll make a Goodreads account. So many things I look at and think about how Osric would react to certain things, and whether or not Osric would mention them in his tweets. I think it's possible for me to play like this partly because he's such a minor character. He only has a few lines, so there's a small pot of "primary source material" for me to examine and re-examine. It also gives me room to interpret and explore a bit, because there aren't any iconic images or portrayals that I have to "compete" with in my head. I'm curious to see if I have my old high school notes from our study of Hamlet.

So what exactly does this tell me about teaching and learning? I can see how being engaged in the project is key. Would I have done all the extra reading (on courtiers, civil servants and fencing) if I wasn't keen? Probably not. I see how I use different learning styles (interpersonal, intrapersonal, verbal-linguistic) and critical thinking (evaluating different portraits and interpretations and then choosing which best suits when designing Osric's avatar on Bitstrips) to approach the task. I see how referring to many secondary sources (videos, Wikipedia, blogs, etc.) helps widen and deepen my understanding of the character. I continue to be enthusiastic about this project, and I hope one day to meet the rest of the "cast" in person some day!


  1. We're so glad to have you, you flattering, sycophantic, obnoxious courtier you! (And I mean that in the nicest of ways) Your contributions are fantastic and I really appreciate the blog post since it helps me learn how this project can be useful.

  2. Hi Molly, I am really enjoying your interpretation of Osric and I think you did a great job choosing your avatar. I am playing @cool_court_chik who is just an extra. I like to think of her as a member of the nobility but not too bright, she is just a good time girl. I imagine that in a stage production I would get to stand around in a few court scenes applauding or dancing or pretending to swig wine. I am enjoying the fact that through this medium the minor characters can get to have a bit of 'business' verbally. And Molly your posts really make me laugh sometimes- you rock! Jess Wilson from New Zealand aka @shakespearenut

  3. Jess and Danika, thanks for commenting! It's neat to see the international cast of characters (Canada, U.S., New Zealand - where else?). I'm glad you've thought about your character's personality too. I'm glad everyone's staying in role - I was worried there when Osric (who is quite jealous of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern & how close they are to the king/queen/prince - don't tell Osric I told you) was prissily correcting the other courtiers that they might take offence, but thankfully that hasn't happened. Osric likes to have his fun too, but you'll see what type later on!I agree with you that having minor characters do "verbal business" is one of the best parts of this gig. I feel less pressure than if I was one of the major roles. (And you can call me Diana - my students call me Mz Molly because my last name is so long and another teacher used to constantly say "good golly Miss Molly" when he saw me.)