Philosophical Chairs

Philosophical Chairs is an activity designed to foster critical thinking, active inquiry, and respectful dialogue among students. To play a game of Philosophical Chairs, participants agree or disagree with a series of statements, but the game doesn’t end there. The most crucial element of the game is what happens next: Participants discuss their points of view and can switch sides if their opinions change during the discussion. (For more tips on using Philosophical Chairs in a classroom or via a remote-learning platform, see the activity description in your Google Classroom.)

Each topic statement is deliberately open-ended yet ties into a number of the themes present in Hamlet—including the complexities of grief, the challenges of attaining justice, and the cycles of violence that can be triggered by a thirst for revenge. Set the stage for this conversation mindfully. Offer students a brief overview of the opera’s plot, setting, and context, and remind them how to build a safe space for productive conversation. Some of the topics might be confusing or hard—that’s okay! As you and your students explore and learn about Hamlet, you can return to these statements: What do they have to do with the opera’s story? How might these questions help us explore the opera’s story, history, and themes?

The Statements

  • All weddings are joyful occasions.
  • Everyone experiences grief in the same way.
  • If you’ve been hurt, the best thing to do is seek revenge.
  • Revenge always creates a cycle of retaliation.
  • Violence is inevitable.
  • Eradicating corruption is easy.
  • Justice will always prevail.
  • Justice means the same thing to everybody.
  • Everyone lies.
  • Everything happens for a reason.

Keep in mind that the process of this activity is just as important as the statements themselves. Imagine a world in which everyone actively listens to one another and engages in respectful dialogue, honoring others and showing respect for the wide array of diverse ideas and opinions that others hold. Philosophical Chairs fosters exactly this kind of space, encouraging students to take what they’ve learned and change the global landscape for generations to come.