Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Secret Language of Stories Explores HAMLET - Carolee Dean

FREE SUMMER CREATIVE WRITING WORKSHOP based on The Secret Language of Stories coming in June.  Watch for details and sign up later this month.


Ordinary World – Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark, is grieving because his father has recently died. His uncle, Claudius, has married Queen Gertrude, and taken over the throne.

As the play begins, two guards have asked Horatio, a friend of Hamlet, to keep watch with them because they have lately seen a ghost roaming outside of Elsinore Castle. When the ghost appears, wearing the king's armor, the three men take this as an omen of impending military conflict. Rumor is that the Norwegian Prince, Fortinbras, has returned to Denmark to reclaim lands formerly seized by King Hamlet.

This is a good example of a story that begins with a new reality. If we go back just a little further, Hamlet's father was ruling Denmark and all was well. To Hamlet, this change of fortune would feel like the New World, but to the reader, these scenes simply establish the current situation, the new What-Is, and the reality of the moment.

Stories told in sequels or serials do this all the time.  At the end of one story a new reality is established, and in the next book, this new reality becomes the Ordinary World.

Call and Response- Horatio brings Hamlet to see the ghost who proclaims that he is indeed the dead king. He tells Hamlet that he was murdered by Claudius and asks Hamlet to seek revenge. Hamlet is reluctant to kill Claudius without proof of guilt.

Mentors, Guides and Gifts- The ghost serves the role of mentor in this story. He arms Hamlet with the truth, orders him to exact revenge, and appears again midway through the story to remind Hamlet of his mission.

Crossing- Hamlet decides to act crazy to give himself time to figure out what to do about Claudius without alerting his uncle to his true intentions.

New World- Claudius and Gertrude try to find out why Hamlet is acting so strangely. They ask two of his friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, to come to Elsinore to keep an eye on him. Meanwhile, Polonius, the Lord Chamberlain, suggests that perhaps Hamlet is acting erratically because he is tormented with love for Polonius's daughter Ophelia.

Problem, Prize, and Plan-  Hamlet wants to be able to prove that his uncle killed his father, and then exact his revenge if he can demonstrate Claudius's guilt. A traveling troupe of actors comes to the castle and Hamlet enlists their aid. He asks them to perform a scene reenacting the details of his father's murder.

Meanwhile, Claudius is making his own plans. He wants to find out the true reason behind Hamlet's strange behavior. Claudius and Polonius spy on Hamlet during a conversation with Ophelia. Hamlet tells Ophelia that all women are untrue and he wants to ban marriage.  "Get thee to a nunnery," he proclaims.

This scene has caused much debate about the nature of Hamlet. Is he, in fact, continuing to try to prove his madness, or is he truly becoming unhinged?

Midpoint Attempt- The actors perform their play for the royal family. during the murder scene, Claudius jumps up and leaves the room. Hamlet believes this is the proof he needs and goes to kill Claudius.

Downtime- Hamlet finds Claudius praying. Hamlet fears that if he kills Claudius in prayer, his soul will go to heaven, and Hamlet's revenge will be incomplete.

Chase and Escape- Hamlet goes to confront his mother about her hasty marriage to Claudius. He hears someone moving behind the tapestry and stabs through the fabric with his sword, believing it to be king.  It is actually Polonius.

After the death of Polonius, Claudius sends Hamlet to England with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Unbeknownst to them, the sealed orders they are carrying contain a request from Claudius to the King of England to put Hamlet to death.

Death and Transformation- Overcome with grief at the death of her father, Polonius, Ophelia drowns herself. Her enraged brother Laertes, returns from France and Claudius convinces him that the deaths of his family members are the fault of Hamlet.

When Claudius receives a letter stating that Hamlet is returning to Denmark because his ship was attacked by pirates, he devises a plan to kill Hamlet with the help of Laertes. Laertes will challenge Hamlet to an innocent sword fight with blunted weapons, but Laertes's sword will not be blunted. Furthermore, the tip will be poisoned. If Laertes strikes Hamlet first, Hamlet will die. If Hamlet strikes first then Claudius will congratulate him with a goblet poisoned with wine.

Climax- During the sword fight, Hamlet strikes first but refuses the goblet. His mother grabs it and drinks to his honor and then dies. Laertes wounds Hamlet but he does not immediately die. Then Laertes is cut by Hamlet with his own sword. Knowing he is a doomed man, Laertes reveals that Claudius poisoned the sword as well as the goblet that killed the queen.

Reward- Hamlet stabs Claudius with the poisoned blade and forces him to drink the rest of the wine. After exacting his revenge, Hamlet asks Laertes for forgiveness and Laertes absolves him of the deaths of his father and sister. They all hear Fortinbras, who has just returned from Poland, approaching the castle. Hamlet tells Horatio he wants Fortinbras to be king and asks Horatio to tell his story, which Horatio promises to do.

Ambassadors from England arrive with Fortinbras and report that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead. Horatio promises to tell them all the tragic story of what has happened and Fortinbras orders that Hamlet be carried away with the honor due a dead soldier.

Now a new world order has been established with Fortinbras ruling Denmark. An entirely original story could begin with this new set of affairs.

At the end of any story, there is the assumption that the story continues with the new reality as the norm.  Likewise, at the beginning of any story there must be the realization that the status quo has come and gone many times already, replaced by other status quos.

An interesting writing exercise is to start a story where another story has left off. Movie makers do this all the time, as do writers of fan fiction, but this is also a valuable creative writing activity for students of all ages.

Monday, March 10, 2014


Before I begin my discussion on tragic heroes, I want to let everyone know that I will be offering a FREE online writing workshop beginning June 14 based on The Secret Language of Stories. 
Details and sign up will be available in April.
For a breakdown of the system visit my blog.

                                Macbeth and the Tragic Hero’s Journey

I’m often asked if the hero’s journey plot analysis works for all types of stories, such as those involving tragic heroes, so I thought I’d try it out on one of the most famous tragic heroes in literature – Macbeth. Macbeth is often taught in high school English courses during junior year, making it a pertinent story to analyze.

A tragic hero is a character who starts out with great promise. He is usually of noble heritage and held in high esteem by his peers, but a tragic flaw causes a fall from grace. At some point in the story, the tragic hero realizes he has made an irreversible error in judgement that will lead to his doom, but he faces his demise with honor.

Plot Analysis

Ordinary World – Duncan, the king of Scottland is at a military camp when he receives the news that Macbeth and Banquo, two of his generals, have defeated invading armies, one from Norway and one from Ireland.

Call and Response- On their way to meet with the king after their victories, Macbeth and Banquo come across three witches in a moor. The witches speak in riddles telling Macbeth that he will be made Thane of Cawdor and eventually King of Scotland.  They also proclaim that Banquo’s offspring will rule Scotland, though he himself will never be king. Both men are skeptical until they receive the news that Duncan has in fact named Macbeth Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth starts to wonder if the other parts of the prophecy might be true and what would be required of him to make it come to pass.

Macbeth starts out as brave and noble but the witches prophecy brings out the fatal flaw that make him a tragic hero – his desire for power and position and his ultimate willingness to do anything to succeed.

Mentors, Guides & Gifts- Macbeth tells his wife, Lady Macbeth, of the witches and their  prophecy and confides his misgivings about the possibility that he might have to commit murder to actualize the prediction. In the beginning, Lady Macbeth shares none of his hesitation and tells him he must kill King Duncan that very night while he is a guest in their home.

Macbeth’s reluctance and guilt are demonstrated through various hallucinations, the first and most memorable being the famous floating dagger. Although Macbeth does appear to have a conscience, it is not developed enough to keep him from committing murder. When he shows hesitancy, his wife challenges his manhood, thus propelling him to dark deeds.

Crossing- Macbeth gets the chamberlains drunk and then proceeds to stab Duncan to death. The next morning he blames the chamberlains for the murder of the king and kills them in a rage, supposedly to avenge the king’s death. This action represents crossing a line that cannot be uncrossed. Once the king's body is discovered, Macbeth forges ahead toward his goal, putting aside all of his previous reservations.

New World- Duncan's sons, Malcolm and Donalbain, flee fearing that whoever killed their father will come after them next. This has the result of casting suspicion on them for possibly hiring the chamberlains to kill Duncan. All of the lords, except for Macduff, agree to name Hamlet king. Macduff returns to his own castle rather than going to the coronation, thus arousing suspicion and fear in Macbeth.

Problem, Prize, & Plan-  Once Macbeth enters the world of murder and intrigue, he must commit other murders to secure his position. Fearing the part of the prophecy that claimed Banquo’s heirs would rule Scotland, Macbeth plots to send men to kill both Banquo and his son, Fleance. Although Lady Macbeth encouraged the murder of Duncan, she falters at the suggestion of more killings.

Midpoint Attempt- The killers are successful in murdering Banquo, but Fleance escapes. The prize of kingship feels tentative to Macbeth with Fleance still alive. The noblemen arrive for the banquet celebrating Macbeth's coronation, but he becomes distraught when the ghost of Banquo appears sitting in his chair. His bizarre behavior makes the noblemen begin to doubt his sanity and his ability to rule Scotland.

Downtime- Macbeth goes to the witches for counsel and they give him a false sense of security by telling him he will be safe until Birnham Wood comes to Dunsinane Castle. They give further false hope by proclaiming that Macbeth is incapable of being harmed by any man born of woman.

Chase & Escape- Macduff goes to England to meet up with Prince Malcolm and ask for assistance from King Edward to fight Macbeth. Feeling invincible, Macbeth orders his men to take over Macduff’s castle and kill Lady Macduff as well as her children. This action marks the total moral and mental disintegration of Macbeth since Lady Macduff and her young son are no real threat to him. When Macduff finds out of this treachery, he swears revenge and proceeds to Scotland with Malcolm and the English army to confront Macbeth.

Death & Transformation- Lady Macbeth descends into madness, wanders the castle, and claims she has blood on her hands that cannot be washed away. Macbeth prepares for the coming battle feeling secure because of the witches visions. He hears a cry and is informed that Lady Macbeth is dead.

Climax- In spite of his despair, Macbeth prepares for battle, still believing he is invincible, but when he hears that the English are using boughs cut from Birnham Wood to shield themselves as they approach Dunsinane Castle, he realizes that the witch’s twisted prophecies have really hinted at his doom. While fighting Macduff, Macbeth proclaims the man cannot kill him because no one “of woman born,” has the power to harm him. Macduff reveals that he was not "of woman born" but was actually "untimely ripped" from his mother's womb. He then proceeds to kill Macbeth.

Reward- Macduff cuts off Macbeth’s head, displaying it like a war trophy, and proclaims Malcolm king of Scotland. Malcolm states that he is adopting the English system of  peerage and is turning all of his thanes into earls. They are all invited to the coronation ceremony. Everyone is a winner, except of course, Macbeth and his wife.

In the end, everyone gets his (or her) just reward.