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Photo courtesy of Sharon McCutcheon


Hamlet Who?

By Melissa Ostrom


  • To consider how foils showcase Hamlet’s flaws and discuss how these flaws shape the tragedy’s plot and underscore its themes.

The first bell of the last period rings. Deanna Stefano falls into her seat under the Hemingway poster and hears Principal Richards down the hallway, ordering stragglers to class. 

Pollen streams by the window like silver feathers. Beyond this softness, buses pull into the front loop to wait for the spill of students. Deanna slouches in her seat, palms her forehead, and prays for another thrum from the phone in the pocket of her hoodie, another text from Kyle McGarvey that will correct or take back the previous one that has ruined her life.   


Anticipatory Set

  • Who qualifies as a foil for Hamlet?

Ms. Hockley stands at the front of the classroom and talks. She calls on students and scribbles Laertes and Fortinbras and Horatio, and Deanna wonders how Kyle could have ended everything in a text when just yesterday, after his game, when they’d hung out on the sun-baked bleachers, he’d raised the end of her ponytail, wrapped it around his wrist, and tugged back her head. Tenderly. Just far enough to expose her throat to his mouth.     




  • Pair up students for teamed completion of Venn diagram handout.

“Are you kidding me?” Allie asks so softly, the words are mostly mouthed. She glances around the classroom, then leans forward, almost grazing Deanna’s forehead with her own. “Did you ask why?”

“I did.” With difficulty: “He didn’t answer.”

“That stupid fucker,” Allie breathes. 

Deanna jerks straighter in her seat, opens her mouth to stick up for Kyle, then checks herself and presses her lips together, tightly, to iron out the tremble. That everything should remain—the instinct to defend Kyle, to love Kyle, to want Kyle. Too awful to bear. 

The girls, bent over their shoved-together desks, make a shield with their bowed backs. Deanna takes deep breaths and rests her fingers under her eyes, catching the running mascara so she doesn’t blink it down her cheeks.

Allie watches a tear fall on Deanna’s handout, directly in the pointed egg shape made by the overlapped circles. “We have to get you out of here.”   

  • Complete theme and plot questions on the other side of handout in class-wide discussion.  

Ms. Hockley looks up from the stack of essays. “You both have to go to the bathroom?”

Allie nods impatiently. 

Deanna is holding her hand like a visor, but she raises her palm sufficiently to present her eyes to her teacher. “Kyle,” she whispers.

Ms. Hockley winces. “That idiot,” she says quietly, then shoos the girls out of the room and distracts the watchful class by pointing to the window and announcing, “Oh, look, a goldfinch on the flagpole.”

“What’s a goldfinch?” Jeremy asks.    




  • Go over directions to short-answer homework assignment.

Allie pulls a wad of brown paper towels from the dispenser and dampens them in the sink. “Here.”

Leaning against the door to a stall, Deanna presses the bunch against her face. They smell like moldy cardboard. This makes her think about all of the times she and Kyle pretended to do homework in his damp basement. “Oh, God,” she cries into the paper towels.

Allie rubs Deanna’s shaking back.

Principal Richards trudges into the lavatory. “You girls okay?” she asks.

Allie wags her head. 


“Kyle,” Deanna confirms on the cusp of a sob.

Principal Richards’s expression says: He’s an idiot. She pats Deanna’s arm and disappears.

Allie brushes wet strands of hair from her friend’s face. While Deanna weeps, Allie pulls out the band, smooths the dark length, using her fingertips as a comb, and redoes the ponytail at the nape of the drooping neck. “There,” she announces with relief.

The hair, at least, is restored to order. 


Melissa Ostrom teaches at Genesee Community College and is the author of The Beloved Wild (Feiwel & Friends, 2018), a Junior Library Guild book and an Amelia Bloomer Award selection, and the YA novel Unleaving (Feiwel & Friends, 2019). Her short stories have appeared in various journals and been selected for The Best Small Fictions 2019 and The Best Microfiction 2020. Learn more at or find Melissa on Twitter @melostrom.

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