Falling for Hamlet by Michelle Ray – Review by Amy Rasmussen

I admit it. I am a Shakespeare fan. I think he’s the be-all and end-all, really. My favorite classes in college involved breakfast, lunch, and dinner with the Bard as I worked to analyze his craft. However, in my teaching career, I often look toward Shakespeare with a lean and hungry look as I pass him over for lesser texts as I work to prepare my students for standardized testing. Lord, what fools these mortals be. It’s the AP English Literature students at my school who wait with bated breath to discuss Will’s wondrous words–such stuff as dreams are made on.

 

I know, enough already. But the quoting’s kind of catching.

 

Have you read Falling for Hamlet by Michelle Ray?

 


 

Written in 2011, so I am not sure how retro this review really is, this book reminds me of everything I love about classic literature. It’s not complex. It’s not replete with symbolism and figurative language. It’s not even an original story. But it is a beautiful retelling of The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. . . but, psst, Ophelia doesn’t die.

 

She gets to tell the story–the real story–of her relationship with her brother, her father, and with the achingly troubled Hamlet. Ray has finally given Ophelia a voice. On three shout YES!

 

Set in modern-day Denmark, Ophelia is a senior in high school, living in the castle with her father, who, of course, works for the king. Hamlet and his bff Horatio attend the university in Wittenberg, coming home on weekends and for special royal engagements. Claudius has eyes for Gertrude, and Polonius is an overprotective father. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern even get their comeuppance in this imaginative telling of the most popular play of all time (look it up if you don’t believe me.)

 

Don’t think life is easy for Ophelia. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark, and she is caught right in the middle of the madness. Obey her father? Placate Gertrude? Love her Sweet Prince?

 

Told in two distinct formats, we get to experience Hamlet’s turmoil after the mysterious death of his father, and the unraveling bonds of family loyalty. Ophelia, the strong-willed yet easily-swayed girlfriend, is questioned by detectives who do not believe her story, and she goes on live TV to share her version of events with the world– kind of like an Oprah interview. Cool.

 

Mixed with noteworthy lines from the original play, Ray introduces non-Shakespeare fans to the magic of Shakespeare’s language, and she reminds lovers of the Bard of why we love him. Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind, you know.

 

Oh, and if you read the reviews on Goodreads, you might get a laugh. SO MANY reviewers admit to never having read the play in high school or otherwise. (Of course, they didn’t “get it.”) What if English teachers had used Falling for Hamlet as a ladder to help kids access the real deal? Just sayin’– what if?

Amy Rasmussen spends half her time teaching English to an eager and well-behaved group of 9th graders in the best high school in Carrollton, TX. She uses every opportunity to teach her students the value of literary devices (including hyperbole) in their writing. The other half of her time she spends coaching other 9th grade teachers in her district–but really, this is mostly a way to share thinking and plan lessons that allow for student choice in reading and writing in an innovative workshop district. A mother of many children herself, Amy advocates for all children everywhere:  Just let them read and write, please.

You can find Amy on Twitter as @amyrass and and on the web at  http://www.threeteacherstalk.com.