Knott Fellow, Melissa Green, Channels the Bard with “Cassius and Hamlet”

Melissa Green ’18 spent the summer of 2017 absorbed in the works of William Shakespeare. As a Knott Fellow, Green received financial support to undertake a significant writing project that would help advance her creative career. Her original play “Cassius and Hamlet” taught her a lot about playwriting and the creative process.

“Cassius and Hamlet” is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” Julius Caesar,” and “Titus Andronicus.” Its premise brings together Hamlet, a character with power and no passion, and Cassius, a character with passion and no power, in a cruel world of extreme tragedy and poetic violence inspired by “Titus Andronicus.” Using the current political climate as a framework, Green explores the potential of these characters as well as the consequences of their actions.

In fall 2016, Green was taking a Shakespeare class with Theresia de Vroom, professor of English and director of the Marymount Institute for Faith, Culture and the Arts. Mid-semester the U.S. presidential election took place and its outcome influenced the interpretation of selected readings and classroom discussion.

“Suddenly Shakespeare became more than historical context and poetic techniques and I started relating to the work we were reading,” said Green. “I had read ‘Hamlet’ four separate times for different classes and it wasn’t until after the election that I got it on a deeper level.”

The idea for “Cassius and Hamlet” was sparked during this course, but evolved after Green received the fellowship and delved deeper into the project. Initially she planned to take pieces from “Hamlet,” Julius Caesar,” and “Titus Andronicus,” and write a full-length album of original music, but ultimately her literary medley took shape as a play.

Green embraced the change and started pouring over the plays pairing relatable scenes and monologues with political issues and songs. She carefully arranged these elements and developed a subtle narrative that bridges the gap between sometimes difficult Shakespearean language and contemporary audiences.

Green’s hope is that the play’s main takeaway is motivation to take political action. “The people who have the power to make change are apathetic and feel that they can’t make a difference, and the people who are passionate about making a difference don’t have the means to do so,” she said. “I wanted to give voice to both sides and offer hope that through hard work and collaboration – change will come – which is what my generation needs to hear right now.”

Both the play and Green’s message were well-received by audiences. Ally Boulas ’19 of the Loyolan reported, “‘Cassius and Hamlet’ was not a piece of entertainment as much as it was a political statement, and it merged scenes written centuries ago with passionate contemporary monologues in a way that was electrifying and hard to forget.”

Having recently graduated, Green is investing all of her energy into writing, acting, and living the creative life in Los Angeles. In addition to receiving the Knott Fellowship, Green has picked up several other accolades including the Kennedy Center’s National Undergraduate Playwriting Award for her play “Goldenrod,” the Virginia Barnelle Award for excellence in the LMU Theatre Department, and the Sharon Maddon Award for excellence in student theatre at the Del Rey Players. She credits much of her success to Kelly Younger, professor of English, and Theresia de Vroom.

Many students have benefitted from the Knott Fellowship, which is made possible by a generous grant from Joe and Karen Knott. Undergraduate English majors can apply for a fellowship in drama, journalism, or fiction. Past Knott Fellows have used the funding to support internships, while others have used it to complete research and writing projects.

See Green’s project, as well as other examples of Knott Fellowship projects below: