The students in this term's class have been challenging and disappointing. Usually, the spring semester's classes go well because students have come off of the fall term in the swing of academic work. They know where the library is. They know their study habits. They know their schedule.
My students this semester, however, seem very unprepared. They constantly come in late. They hand in work late or not at all. They don't ask questions when they are confused. All of these issues I have repeatedly addressed with the students in different ways. Only now, with about three weeks left in the semester, have some of the messages started to sink in and show themselves in student behavior.
I cannot tell whether this class is anomalous or a sign of students to come. I probably won't be around much longer to find out. In my mind, I have resolved to teach the fall course and then take an extended-to-permanent break.
I lean toward thinking that the students are getting "worse," by which I mean less prepared to deal with material that doesn't conform to certain expectations. In other words, I see these students as less flexible in their thinking.
For example, in one early assignment, I brought in an essay sample for us to go over together. In my opinion, the sample was very clear and well-written. It should have been easy to understand, particularly as we had been reading Hamlet, the subject of the paper.
I put it to you, readers. Is this not lucid prose?
Act I of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet depicts a time “out of joint” (I.v.189). A ghost, a threat of war, and a new king all characterize the moment; the very world seems set against Denmark. For instance, after witnessing the Ghost, Horatio remarks, “This bodes some strange eruption to our state” (I.i.69). King Claudius, newly crowned and married, offers another sign of trouble, that Denmark’s enemies may think the state has become “disjoint and out of frame” (I.ii.20). Finally, when Hamlet follows the Ghost, the sentinel Marcellus declares “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” (I.v.90).As I said, the essay should have been easy to understand--but it eluded them. Students found the vocabulary of the paper challenging. They couldn't articulate the paper's argument at all, and they certainly did not see it as something they should try to emulate in their own academic writing.
During Act I, Claudius becomes identified as the source of Denmark’s troubles. He is a fratricide and a regicide, he has unjustly assumed power, and he has wed the widow of the man he murdered. Hamlet, son of the slain king, learns of Claudius’s foul deeds; the young prince swears to avenge his father. By Act I’s end, the proud prince seems to have license for any punishment he means to give Claudius. Unfortunately, Hamlet approaches Claudius by feigning madness, a strategy that actually creates more problems than it resolves. In other words, Hamlet diminishes his noble vengeance by pretending to be mad. Hamlet’s path to revenge thus prolongs the “eruption” and makes the state further disjoint. In accordance with his motives and his father’s war-like persona, Hamlet should have decided to oppose Claudius openly.
To accept that Hamlet undermines his purpose by feigning madness, we must first examine his motives. If Hamlet has good and honorable reasons to avenge his father’s murder, it is partly because he is obliged to do so. Vengeance is right because it is duty. One such obligation is love for his father:
GHOST: List, list, O, list!A second source of obligation to vengeance is Hamlet’s intellect. The Ghost marks Hamlet as a discerning young man who should be impassioned by knowing Claudius’s betrayal:
If thou didst ever thy dear father love—
HAMLET: O God!
GHOST: Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder. (I.v.23-6)
I find thee apt;In addition to love and intellect, Hamlet’s sense of natural morality obligates him to avenge his father’s murder. The Ghost appeals to this sense in Hamlet: “If thou hast nature in thee, bear it not; / Let not the royal bed of Denmark be / A couch for luxury and damned incest” (I.v.82-4). Here, the Ghost agitates Hamlet’s dignity; the young prince should be affronted that an unworthy person now holds both the office and queen of a once-valorous king.
And duller shouldst thou be than the fat weed
That roots itself in ease on Lethe wharf,
Wouldst thou not stir in this. (I.v.32-5)
* * [snip] * *
By faking madness, Hamlet does not embrace his destiny but rather defers it. Act I ends with Hamlet poised to pursue vengeance against Claudius. Yet Hamlet also recoils at his fate, as when he laments, “The time is out of joint: O cursed spite, / That ever I was born to set it right!” (I.v.189-90). If Hamlet defers his destiny, he also perverts the noble motives justifying revenge. To maintain his virtue, Hamlet could have publicly claimed himself the legitimate successor to the elder Hamlet. This path would have befitted the fallen war king. Prince Hamlet’s true fate, the one he defers, is to pursue revenge through battle against Claudius. By pretending to be mad, Hamlet adds a new rottenness in Denmark and aids that which already sickens the state. He chooses the wrong way to pursue the right ends.
I figure if my students and I are so far apart on something fundamental, then it's time for me to go.