“Hamlet” Spoiler Alert: Everyone Dies!

Calypso makes Odysseus build “the US Airways of rafts.”

After 10 years — or the time it takes to read this story — Odysseus returns to his homeland of Ithaca.

Odysseus’ crew makes the Titanic staff look like NASA.

That’s The Odyssey in a nutshell. Say goodbye, Cliff Notes. Adios, Spark Notes.

Say hello, HighSchoolSummary.com!

Max Lance

The website — offering 4-minute summaries of high school English class standbys like The Odyssey, A Tale of Two Cities and Macbeth in clever web-video cartoon form — is the brainchild of Max Lance.

Before graduating from Staples in 2002 — and going on to NYU, USC film school and a career as a stand-up comic, screenwriter and author of the best-selling Amazon Kindle Single Crazy Girls — Max read his share of those English class, um, staples.

Now he’s turned them into an internet sensation.

“Hamlet” is about an emo teenager who is bad with confrontation.

Spoiler: Everyone dies.

Max — who lives in Los Angeles — works with his brother Dan (Staples ’05), a New York-based cinematographer, video producer and part-time editor for Fox News.

The first step, Max says, is to actually re-read each book. “When I was in high school, I could care less,” he says. “Now I think they’re pretty neat.”

He writes a one-page plot summary — straight up, no jokes — and then adds humor. There are sly asides, pop culture references, and plenty of sexual innuendoes.

After 4 or 5 drafts, Max tapes his shtick. He emails the sound file to Dan, who animates the summary to sync with the audio.

The site has caught on. Within 2 days of the Great Gatsby posting, it had 10,000 hits.

Max markets the videos through Reddit, BuzzFeed, CollegeHumor, his own blog, and  tweets and Facebook posts. But many students find it just by — desperately — searching for the books they were supposed to have already finished reading for an essay due tomorrow.

“That’s not why we did the site,” Max says. “We just thought we’d put up funny summaries for people who know the books. But if that’s part of our audience, fine.”

“1984” is a really inaccurate portrayal of the year 1984.

Dan Lance

Of course, the brothers hear from folks who accuse them of butchering their favorite books. As a stand-up comic, he’s used to people who don’t think humor is funny.

Next up: Huck Finn. The website also offers a list of future suggestions, for users to vote. It includes classics like Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies and Grapes of Wrath.

But already, Max and Dan have branched out beyond high school literature. “Art History” includes these observations:

The Phoenicians [illustrated with a map of Phoenix, Arizona] and Greeks perfected the technique of boring pieces of chipped pottery, which we ignore in museums.

Four Renaissance artists — Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo and Donatello — are better known asNinja Turtles.

Chiaroscuro is an SAT word!

(To see all the HighSchoolSummary videos, click here.)

3 responses to ““Hamlet” Spoiler Alert: Everyone Dies!

  1. Well, I guess we didn’t raise a pair of accountants! (And we’re proud of it, too…)

  2. Brilliant and great idea! Love the combination of creativity and entrepreneurship, not to mention the brotherly cooperation. Great going Max and Dan.

  3. Great job Lance brothers! Funny website. Do one on A Christmas Carol, and I’ll include you in my iBook for the Dickens Project UCSC on adaptations of the original Dickens story.