Monday, December 13, 2004

Teaching Students to Masturbate

This last week of teaching saw the culmination of my Hamlet unit in A.P. English. One of my prodigies asked if he could use the television and my computer for his performance, and, of couse, I complied. As he prepared to lauch into his soliloquy, he produced an image on the TV of an Anime-type blonde in the shower (with steam covering all rated R bits) and sat himself down in a chair as if he was watching the television.

He then proceeded to masturbate.

He's acting, true. His clothes are on. But it is clear what his character, Hamlet, is doing. It is clear because the groaning sounds of a guy masturbating are coming out of the speakers of my computer. The groans strengthen in frequency and volume. And then there is a climax.

Did I mention I am filming? I want to make sure I capture any decent performances so I can show them at Open House. I think I may have missed some of the visuals, as I am no longer looking into the camera lens. I am wondering how unemployment works. I'm pretty sure I am gaping in horror.

Having sheathed his "bare bodkin," Hamlet speaks; this is the soliloquy in Act II, scene ii, the "O what a rogue and peasent slave am I" speech (click here for the full speech). His speech is full of passion and acted well, with good discretion as Polonius would say. More than that, the speech is full of self-loathing. This Hamlet sees himself as a villain, a pervert, a whore who can only jerk-off with words. This Hamlet fantasizes about revenge in the same way a teenage boy fantasizes about screwing a super-model. And after the fantasy has played itself out, the utter loneliness sets in. Alone with his impotence, the pathetic portrait of what Hamlet is becoming takes shape: "O what an ass am I". The portrait is clear because the psuedo Anime-porn on the TV has been replaced by the image of this teenage actor; his face stares back at him--and us--througout the soliloquy.

Enthusiastic applause ensues, then silence...perhaps the class is waiting to see what I do. What should I do? The performance was brilliant, brave, discomforting and true. If I had seen this on stage I would have shook my head; how could everybody have missed it? Why hadn't anybody taken it this deep before? For the rest of the day I couldn't shake the disgust I felt, seen through Hamlet's eyes. But I have a responsibility to the class, to the school too, right? What about my role as teacher? Do I say "That was an amazing performance, but..." But what? But it made me uncomfortable? Isn't that what the living theater is suppossed to do? But. But the sexual content isn't appropriate for a public school classroom? Students should have the option to walk out beforehand?

What do I do?


At 3:39 PM, Blogger Indri said...

Wow. As a theater critic, I haven't seen that gutsy a Hamlet yet. Even counting the modern-day, ghost-free, lesbian Hamlet who hates her stepfather because he got her high and molested her when she was younger.

I have no idea what you should do in terms of the class, but some kind of conversation with the kid might be in order--one that begins with admiration for his bravery and creativity, and goes on to talk about how he might have at least given you some warning.

At 6:19 PM, Blogger dewi said...

The wonderful thing about Hamlet is that there are so many interpretations. In my opinion, don't punish the kid. Creativity and originality are almost nonexistent in schools nowadays.
On another note, he could have been inspired by Act 2 scene 1 of Hamlet, when Ophelia tells Polonius of Hamlet going into her room. That could be interpreted as masturbation. But still, not something to be encouraged.


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