WILLIAMSPORT, PA—A 10th-grader's hilariously inept essay on Hamlet was circulated in the Williamsport West High School faculty lounge Monday, eliciting mockery and bemused head-shaking from the teachers.
Written by hard-working but "rather thick" student Erin Grupman for Beth Parker's English class, "The Character Of Hamlet In William Shakespeare's Play Hamlet" kept the teachers thoroughly entertained during their lunch hour.
"'Hamlet is a character in a tragedical play of the same name, Hamlet, which was written by William Shakespeare, and Hamlet also stands as the protagonist of the play,'" Parker, 39, solemnly read over the laughter of her colleagues. "Wait, wait, shut up, it goes on: 'Hamlet, who is portrayed here as a very emotional soul, is a daring, brave character, who some believe has a bad temper.' I would say Erin is definitely on to something here."
Among those in the lounge were social-studies teacher David Archuleta, speech teacher Gene Ringheiser, and history teacher and girls' basketball coach Kay Burroughs. Each took turns reading aloud from the paper and providing his or her own derisive side commentary.
"I'm no Hamlet expert, but I think the best part is where she says, 'Hamlet thought that he was bound up inside a nutshell, which was Shakespeare's way of showing us that Hamlet was symbolically nuts,'" said Ringheiser between bites of a tuna-salad sandwich. "Boy, you have to wonder what kind of horrendously incompetent teacher is responsible for producing students who write this kind of junk!"
Taking mock offense at her colleague's attack on her teaching abilities, Parker retaliated by throwing a non-dairy creamer at Ringheiser.
Grupman's paper elicited howls not only for its barely coherent thesis, but also for its pitiful punctuation.
"Listen to this: 'When we first see Hamlet comma he is getting over his father's death comma which some say comma indeed comma was a shock to Hamlet comma and he could not get over it when he sees his father's ghost comma which comma wants revenge,'" Burroughs read aloud during her turn. "If you ask me comma this paper sucks pretty bad."
The educators' fun was briefly interrupted by the arrival of Adam Sigler, an idealistic algebra teacher known to take a dim view of student-bashing. Upon entering the teachers' lounge, the 24-year-old Sigler poured himself coffee, exchanged brief pleasantries, and then promptly exited the room, enabling his less respectful colleagues to resume reading.
"Is he gone? Good," Parker said. "Okay, I love this part: 'Then, Hamlet is arguing with his mother, and thinks there is a rat, or maybe Claudius behind the drapes, so he stabs through them, and sleys [sic] Paulonius [sic], who is really his girlfriend Ophelia's dad.' You know, I think most Shakespearean scholars would agree with Erin's assessment that the dramatic high point of the play is when Hamlet sleys Paulonius, his girlfriend's dad."
According to education expert Dr. Judith Berman-White, mercilessly mocking students behind their backs may seem unprofessional, but is a vital part of teaching.
"Teachers, like doctors and policemen, have stressful occupations that necessitate the periodic use of levity as a coping mechanism," Berman-White said. "They have to be able to blow off steam somehow. How else can they be expected to teach sub-literate, mildly retarded kids like Erin Grupman all day long without losing their minds?"