Monday, October 11, 2010

happy thanksgiving, please pass the hamlet

my first introduction to shakespeare's 'hamlet' was in high school. we had to memorize the 'to be or not to be' soliloquy, including all the punctuation, for a written exam and i aced it. i didn't really understand much about the play, except that particular act had something to do with hamlet contemplating suicide.

since then, through a college liberal arts degree and an english degree, i've learned that particular bit of poetry, and all the rest of it in fact, can be interpreted in many different ways. hamlet, for example, might have been pondering whether or not it's worth murdering claudius (who he believes has killed his father and married his mother). over the years i've examined and scrutinized and philosophized over and written about the play many many times. today i watched a newish interpretation from the bbc, with patrick stewart as claudius and the ghost, and david tennant (doctor who) portraying perhaps the most afflicted royal son ever. i spotted the dvd on the shelves at yo video (the best video store in the world, if not the universe) and thought ..... every time i see or read this play (probably 2,315 times by now at least) i find something new that i didn't see before. there's no way, i thought, i could possibly glean any more useful tidbits about human behaviour. i've written papers, exams, i've studied the play inside out. i've thought about it from all possible angles.

ten minutes into the film i had it, something i'd never considered before.

what if claudius, after or perhaps even before committing the murder, realized that the dane would figure it out and so plotted to make hamlet (and everyone else) think he'd lost his mind. hamlet is, after, next in line for the throne and if he could prove what claudius had done he might succeed in having him dethroned. so claudius might have hired the sentinels, barnardo and marcellus, to pretend they'd seen the ghost of hamlet's father. they might have also convinced horatio (hamlet's best buddy, who i don't think would ever betray him) that the ghost was real. claudius might have brought hamlet's mom gertrude in on the deal. they might have plotted together to kill the king, then decided that having hamlet claim to have seen a ghost who told him how he'd been done in might be enough to discredit him forever so he'd never take the throne.

it's possible. i listened, rather than watched, a lot of the play as i prepared thanksgiving lunch (fresh farm veggies and polenta casserole, apple crisp with coconut dream for dessert) for my folks, so i can't say with great confidence whether there's a lot in this interpretation of the play to support this particular thesis. i heard a couple of lines that might support it, though, and the idea of having the same actor portray both claudius and hamlet's father's ghost is what gave me the idea.

you just never know what old bill shakespeare intended. one of the things i love most about him is his lack of stage direction. you often never really know for sure who's listening in on what conversations, who sees what, where everybody is, all that sort of thing. and certainly this play was among his finest works. even after all these years i can still find something new to think about. i'd always wondered about that ghost, the rest of the play being so grounded in reality, it didn't seem logical to pin the entire story on something so obscure.

luther and nelly, the little cuddly poodles i'm currently employed to love and protect, were disappointed at the lack of canine influence over the play, but appreciated that at least some dirt was dug up in the graveyard scene.