Hip-Hop Hamlet: Hybrid Interpretive Discourse in a Suburban High School English Class

Joanna L. Anglin, Peter Smagorinsky


This study investigates the collaborative composing processes of a group of five high school seniors who constructed interpretations of each of the five acts of Shakespeare’s Hamlet through the medium of spoken word performances. The group composing processes were analyzed to identify how the students drew on conventions from the spoken word tradition to phrase and perform their interpretations. Findings indicate that across the five spoken word performances, the retelling of the Hamlet narrative involved a set of decisions that were both constrained and afforded by the rap medium. The students’ discussion of how to rewrite the story in the condensed poetic form of a rap required them to clarify events from Shakespeare’s version and both summarize them and interpret them both in their discussion and in their own text. Their interpretive work involved the incorporation of a variety of rap and other pop culture conventions such that their deliberation regarding word choice and accompanying performative elements necessitated careful consideration of the meaning that they found in Shakespeare’s version of the story, itself an adaptation from extant cultural narratives. The study concludes with a consideration of their spoken word interpretations as comprising a hybrid discourse that enabled exploratory interpretive talk that contributed to their understanding of the drama through the collaborative composition of their own representational text.


Dialogism; Shakespeare; Hamlet; Intertextuality; Hip-Hop

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5195/dpj.2014.73


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