The Trial of Hamlet


One of the aspects of my writing life is the teaching of First Year writing classes (formerly known as Freshman Composition). In addition to the assignment of formal papers and a variety of smaller exercises based on the reading for that semester, I also include a large presentation of some kind, often done in groups and performed at the end of the semester.

One form of presentation that I use occasionally is the criminal trial of a character from one of the novels covered during the class. I consider this exercise to be the creation of a living paper, including thesis and antithesis, presentation of argument and counter-argument complete with textual evidence, conclusions, and evaluation of the argument. All of the students take part in some way: there is a prosecution team, a defense team, the defendant, characters serving as witnesses, and a jury. All of the students have to prepare written work in addition to appearing in the trial. I give opportunities for students with varying levels of comfort in appearing in front of the class a chance to choose what they wish to be; however, if all the students prefer the jury, then some are disappointed.

My focus this semester was on Gothic Literature, and one of the novels we read was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I choose the Creature to be the defendant, which presents interesting circumstances since both the charged and many of the witnesses are already dead. In this courtroom though, presided over by Judge Chuck—the final arbiter of all things legal and literary, such supernatural occurrences can be expected. In both English 2 classes I am teaching this semester (not the regular schedule), we arranged the filling of the positions comfortably. I was very pleased, that in both sections, the students were enthusiastic about taking part. The Trial will take place during the last week of the semester, so the students should have sufficient time to prepare for court.

In the past, this exercise has always been an excellent adjunct to the standard writing projects, and I am sure it will be successful and useful to the students again.

5 thoughts on “The Trial of Hamlet

  1. dear Prof. French, I wish I had you as a teacher at CSI many yrs. ago. He munched on apples loudly while giving an exam and did not speak clearly. I was very disappointed in this surrounding. You are definitely much better as to the feelings of your students. Yours truly Barbara Pursner

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sounds fantastic. I recall participating a debate in 7th Grade about Shelley’s Frankenstein, in which I was supposed to defend Victor. I did a terrible job, and the Creature won. I think it might have had something to do with the fact that I had only hurriedly finished the book the night before the debate. (You’d be happy to know that I have since re-read the book several times.)

    Novel ways (forgive the pun) to teach literature are always wonderful. Wish I could participate in the trial!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your kind words about the trial. I think it is very important for all teachers to continue to explore new approaches to instructing their students. Yes, I am very happy that you have since re-read the novel.


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