Doing Something about ‘Hamlet’

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February 4

And now.


The play has been read. It’s so compact! It’s so complete!  Each line is so…significant! So…powerful!


Calm down.  Yes, it’s a powerful play. More so with each reading. So what else is new?


The available spin-offs have been watched, some not previously seen. Star Trek?? Oh yes. And one of the most unexpected and truly you-gotta-be-kidding spin-offs: Hamlet in Klingon! Can you do that to Shakespeare? Oh yes, you can! Thank you, Trekkies and Klingon speakers everywhere! And thank you, Tom Stoppard, Gary Oldman and Tim Roth for another oh-yes-you-certainly-can-do-that-to-Shakespeare experience. Thank you, Rosencrantz. Thank you, Guildenstern.


Two of the available films have been seen.  The BBC television version with Derek Jacobi. No more need be said.  The Zeffirelli. Mel Gibson? Can you do that to Shakespeare? I would have said absolutely not! I would have been wrong. Even Mel Gibson can’t ruin Shakespeare.


February 16

Two weeks later. Things happen. Richard III’s bones. Exciting but disruptive to Hamlet musings. Focus!


I’m focusing. I’m thinking. I’ve actually started writing a text.  There’s a plan. An outline. The subject? Something scholars repeatedly say can’t be done. I know that.  That’s what these reflections are rambling on about.  You can’t write about Hamlet. Why then have so many done it?


A paragraph. An intro.  That’s what I have so far.  And a list.


Two more movies.  Ethan Hawke as techno-corporate Hamlet.  Yes, yes, you can do that to Shakespeare.  Ethan makes Mel look like a blue-eyed stick of wood.  What about Olivier? Ethan makes Olivier look like an old ham.  And a stick of wood.


Four more to go. And I’m going to continue writing the impossible text.


February 18

Oh no. I’ve just started reading a book on contemporary criticism of Hamlet.  Now I have to worry about whether or not my emerging text adheres to traditionalism (oh horrors!), structuralism, post-structuralism, deconstructionism, cultural materialism, feminism…none of the above? All of the above?


February 24

It’s happening. I’m writing. Six pages so far. It could easily become sixty. Six hundred. Six million. But no, it’s under control. I’m following my outline. I’m very nervous.  But it’s actually happening.  Three brilliant movies help. David Tennant, Adrian Lester, Kevin Kline. Harold Bloom says that every actor creates a new Hamlet, or something to that effect. True. The same can be said for the Ophelias: Mariah Gale, Shantala Shivalingappa, Diane Venora.


Later, same day

It’s done.  How did that happen?  It wrote itself in the end. Hamlet does that to you. There’s no resisting, you just get swept along in the power of the play.


What’s next? Polishing up the text. Posting it on the blog.  Watching Sir Kenneth Branagh’s film – the apex of the eight-film (fourteen if you count the spin-offs) Hamlet marathon.  Will I still think it’s the apex after Brook, after Doran? After reading it again and thinking about it so much?


It’s done. Mostly. A sigh of relief? A sigh anyway.  And then:


Life After Hamlet?  I miss him already.

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Author:Ruby Jand

Ruby Jand has an MA in English literature and history from the University of Stockholm. She teaches history and English at grade school and high school level at the Sundbyberg School of Adult Education in a suburb of Stockholm. Her interest in Shakespeare has emerged recently, developing within the last year into an ongoing project on the blog Shakespeare Calling.
  • Humphrey

    Caught Mel on TV the other day and recalled this blog. Even though it has to be one of the worst, most over-the-top, hammed up, shockingly poor Hamlets I’ve ever seen… it was still the best thing on the box that night.

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