Regular readers know my opinion on the “Lion King is Hamlet” issue. King is killed by his brother, son must go on hero’s journey and eventually regain the crown. Boom, Hamlet. Timon and Pumbaa are kind of like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, other than the fact that they’re his friends and not spies for the bad guy, I suppose … and Zazu is the Polonius character even though he doesn’t have any children, doesn’t end up dead… you get the idea. We focus on the facts that support our case and ignore the ones that don’t. Like politics.
Today I was asking random people about their thoughts on Shakespeare, and there was at least one expected answer of, “old and hard to read.” My normal reaction was to go with the “Well, you really need to see it to understand what’s going on, reading is great after you already understand the story and character and now want to get into the details…..” when something occurred to me that I don’t think I’ve ever considered before.
When it comes to making Shakespeare “easier to read” we always seem to go to “modern translation” at worst, or “easy to access glossary and crazy amounts of footnotes” at best. The latter might give the most amount of information to the reader, but it’s certainly hard to “read” anything when your eye is constantly jumping around the page.
When I need an example I often go back to one that Mr. Corey, my 12th grade English teacher, used when discussing Hamlet. There’s a moment when Polonius says, “take this from this, if this be so.” Which makes no sense unless you can see that he is pointing to his head and then his shoulders, in other words, “have me decapitated if I’m lying.”
In this particular case, there’s often (always?) a stage direction that says, “[Points to his head and shoulder]. So it’s not really the greatest example. But is that part of the problem? The incredible dearth of stage directions? For the most part all we get with Shakespeare is who entered, who exited, and who stabbed or killed whom. You’ve got to be careful, too, because those that are stabbed often stick around for a few speeches before they die.
Has anybody published an addition that doesn’t touch the actual text of the dialogue, but instead lays out the context in the stage directions? Modern stage directions, in my limited experience, seem much more detailed. For some reason True West by Sam Shepard is what came to mind, and here’s a snippet of those stage directions (I was unsure if the bolding was in the original, I took a screenshot of somebody’s analysis I found online):
There’s a fairly obvious argument against going down this path in that it destroys the infinite interpretation of Shakespeare that has made him so timeless. To say “Enter Hamlet, and here’s what he’s wearing, and here’s the expression on his face because here’s what he’s thinking…” is to destroy the character. Or at the very least, to lock one interpretation in stone. But surely there’s middle ground? How hard is it to write, “Enter HAMLET, still mourning his recently deceased father, dressed mostly in black.” Now you’ve got context for “clouds hang on you”, “inky cloak,” “nighted color”, and so on.
Maybe this is how Shakespeare is actually performed, I don’t know. Maybe the director, in trying to document her vision, does something similar where she has to go through and add notes of description to all the various scenes?
Anybody that knows me knows that when I see a post titled 1000 Most Mentioned Books on Reddit (or, really, anywhere), the first thing I’m going to do is search it to see where Shakespeare shows up. Any guesses?
I’d love to say more about who made the list and why and how, but there doesn’t seem much to go on. The post, on Medium, was made by BookAdvice. Have to look more into that, see what other cool lists they have. All we know about the methodology is, from the summary, “Sorted based on the number of upvotes and the number of different users linking to them in post and comments.” I suppose that’s got a certain chronological bias — a book that came out last year couldn’t possibly compete with those that have been around since before Reddit. But it does say “most mentioned” and not “best” or “most loved” or anything like that, so I suppose it’s accurate to say that a book that has existed for ten years will typically be mentioned more than a book that’s only existed for one.
Ok, you want the data? Drum roll, please. Presented in reverse order, from least to most mentioned, we have …
905. The Taming of the Shrew
754. The Tempest
674. Merchant of Venice
625. King Lear
578. Much Ado About Nothing
371. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (*)
237. Romeo and Juliet
and the most mentioned work of William Shakespeare on Reddit is……
What do we think, any surprises? Surely not the great tragedies, I think those became self-fulfilling long long ago. Is Romeo and Juliet popular because it’s so good, or is it considered so good because it’s popular? Little surprised about Othello, that one doesn’t usually get much love, and I’m kind of wondering if they took the time to rule out references to the board game.
When I first made this list, searching for the word “Shakespeare”, I was surprised to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream not make the list. I had to go back and double check. It’s because they’ve got it listed by, and I’m not kidding, SparkNotes. I wondered if there were many on the list marked this way, but it turns out that’s the only one. Glad I checked, I almost missed it!
Anything you think should be on the list that’s not there? Hey, wait … where’s Twelfth Night?
Yesterday my daughter had an unexpected medical procedure on her mouth, so she’s in some degree of pain this morning (but not enough to skip school). So she’s getting ready and I ask, “How’s your face?”
“Bad,” she says, “And now I have a pimple!”
“When sorrows come they come not single spies but in battalions,” I offer.
“That means a third bad thing is gonna happen to me now too! Great!”
“No, it was just an opportunity for me to use a Shakespeare quote I don’t normally get to use. King Lear?”
Both wife and geeklet look at each other and just leave the room.
Didn’t feel right, though. Couldn’t place who said it, or where. So over breakfast I had to look it up. “You know what?” I told them, “When I said that quote was from ? I was wrong, it’s Hamlet.”
Geeklet looks at wife, looks at me, and says, “Well, duh. We just didn’t want to embarrass you.”
But now I’m trying to figure out what quote I was confusing it with, because surely there’s stuff in King Lear all about the piling on of sorrows.
A discussion came up on Reddit the other day about how Hamlet can be so concerned over the fate of Claudius’ soul (and whether he goes to heaven or hell), while being engaged in a revenge murder himself. Shouldn’t he worry about his own soul?
But I took the question in a different direction. I’m wondering about Polonius. Hamlet has just gone to great lengths to explain to the audience why it’s not cool to kill a man when he’s praying:
Now might I do it pat, now he is praying;
And now I’ll do’t. And so he goes to heaven;
And so am I revenged. That would be scann’d:
A villain kills my father; and for that,
I, his sole son, do this same villain send
O, this is hire and salary, not revenge.
He took my father grossly, full of bread;
With all his crimes broad blown, as flush as May;
And how his audit stands who knows save heaven?
But in our circumstance and course of thought,
‘Tis heavy with him: and am I then revenged,
To take him in the purging of his soul,
When he is fit and season’d for his passage?
Then what about poor Polonius? His sins are all still on his head. He’s basically an innocent man when Hamlet runs him through. True he didn’t kill anybody like Claudius did, he’s probably not got any mortal sins working against him. So where do we think he went – heaven, or hell? Or purgatory? Probably the third, he probably gets the same deal that Hamlet’s father got, ironically enough.
What I’m wondering, though, is what Hamlet thinks. He seems to be concerned only with himself:
I do repent: but heaven hath pleased it so,
To punish me with this and this with me,
That I must be their scourge and minister.
I will bestow him, and will answer well
The death I gave him.
It’s not all about you, Hamlet. He doesn’t seem to care about the fate of Polonius’ soul. Am I missing something? Hamlet’s distraught when his father’s ghost tells him about being doomed to walk the earth a certain time. It seems as if Polonius has just been sentenced to this same fate. So Hamlet’s got no sympathy for him at all?
I realize this one came out several years ago, but I’m pretty sure I never reviewed it. If you haven’t heard of it, have you heard of those old “Choose Your Own Adventure” books? Where you’d get to the end of a page and it would say things like, “To talk to the pirates turn to page 19, to hide and hope they don’t catch you turn to page 25”? It’s that. The great thing about the ebook form is that everything’s just clicks now, which makes the format that much more flexible. You can go crazy with the different paths through the book and not worry about producing a paperback that’s 500 pages.
You have to know, right from the start, that this is going to be mostly original material, rather than follow the plot. How can it be otherwise? Every time you choose to do something that a character didn’t do in the original, North has to supply his own version of events.
With that in mind, you can “play” as Hamlet, Ophelia, or even Hamlet Senior. I first chose the latter thinking it to be a joke – you get one page in and find out you’re dead – but the author’s better than that. You’re now the ghost, and you get to play the book that way, going on adventures, checking in periodically to see how your son is doing on his quest, all that good stuff.
It’s actually quite fun. There’s a lot of the author’s attitude in here, and the fourth wall is just a pile of rubble. He is speaking right at you the whole time, asking you to double check your choices, scolding you if you don’t follow directions. It’s great fun.
I don’t know that you’re ever really finished with a book like this. Since it is technically a book and not a game or app, your reader will give you page numbers. Mine tells me that there are about 1200 pages. In theory, you should visit all of them, but I’m not so sure. I’m fairly convinced that the author has written one or more entirely separate stories as easter eggs for people who just randomly flip through the pages (because, since it is a book and not an app, he can’t stop you).
If you haven’t read it yet, you might want to give this one a chance. I see on his author page that he did a Romeo and Juliet as well, I think I might have to add that one to my collection.
There’s a few different ways to answer this question. I assume that most of the time people ask it, they’re referring to III.3, when he catches Claudius at prayer:
Now might I do it pat, now he is praying;
And now I’ll do’t. And so he goes to heaven,
And so am I reveng’d. That would be scann’d.
A villain kills my father; and for that,
I, his sole son, do this same villain send
Why, this is hire and salary, not revenge! [citation]
So the short and easy answer is, Hamlet tells us – by killing Claudius at prayer, his soul is clean, and therefore he’d go to heaven. This is not a luxury granted to Hamlet’s father, however, which is why he now roams the earth as a ghost. Hamlet doesn’t feel that this is an even exchange.
You should, however, be saying “Seriously?” right now. “You set the trap to prove Claudius’ guilt, it worked, now you’re behind him, there’s no witnesses, you could absolutely finish him off. And instead you’re thinking ahead to where he soul ends up?”
Precisely the whole point of the play. Hamlet’s indecisiveness is all. He can talk himself out of anything. Go back to I.5:
But know, thou noble youth,
The serpent that did sting thy father’s life
Now wears his crown. [citation]
So your father’s ghost appears and says, “I was murdered by the king.” Your first thought is, “I know, I’ll start acting crazy around everybody so they won’t know what I’m up to.”
At least point has a certain rationale, however. In Amleth, the source material for Hamlet, the hero believes that his life is in danger and decides to pretend that he is an imbecile so that he will not be perceived as a threat to the new king.
In Shakespeare’s version, however, that connection is lost — there’s no reason early in the play to think that Claudius is playing to kill Hamlet. So it ends up looking like Hamlet’s just coming up with reasons to delay action.
Personally I’ve always held that it is his mother’s death, not his father’s, that ultimately spurs him into action. The entire play passes without him avenging his father, but it takes just 20 lines of dialogue between his mother’s death (“The drink! I am poison’d.”) and Hamlet’s action (“Follow my mother!”) There are those that argue that he finally sees his own mortality and knows, from Laertes, that he too has been poisoned and if he does not act now he will never have the chance. But I’ve always felt that “Follow my mother” line is a big deal – it’s not as if he mentions his father.
By that I mean Hamlet’s Ghost, a new film by Walker Haynes. I just saw it scroll past on my FIOS On Demand. I’d never heard of it! It appears new – their Facebook page says that it just became available this past week, which would explain why I never heard of it – but the IMDB page dates it 2015, so I guess it took a spin on the festival circuit first.
A modern Shakespearean actor must travel back in time to confront enigmatic forces from the past and future.
You had me at Hamlet. But I’m still trying to figure out how much Shakespeare is actually in this. Here, check out the trailer (which is dated two years ago and looks like the director put it together on his Commodore 64, but maybe he didn’t have much budget left at the time…):
So there’s a swordfight on stage. Is that it? Do we even see Hamlet’s ghost? I’m happy to check this out, but I can tell you right now that I’m in it for the Shakespeare so if there’s not much, I’m going to be disappointed.
Also, does anybody else get a strong “young George Clooney” vibe from the director / star, Walker Haynes? I don’t believe I’ve seen him in anything else, George Clooney is the name that keeps leaping to mind as I watch.
Be the players ready?
The credits list Gertrude, Horatio, Laertes and Polonius, so that gives me hope. Where was everybody else? I clicked “See full cast” and discovered Claudius, Osric and Fortinbras. Can’t find Ophelia anywhere, though.
Hey here’s a fun bit of trivia! Hamlet’s ghost (or, at least, “The Ghost”) does show up! The actor is someone whose credits include apparently long-running full time work as a transcriber for Shark Tank, and production assistant for The Real Housewives of Orange County. Guess the actual amount of acting experience needed for the ghost wasn’t too high.
Seriously, though, has anybody seen this yet? Is it worth seeking out?
He doesn’t. He’s what you sometimes hear referred to as the “exception that proves the rule.” Like how at the end of Hamlet, everybody dies. Except Horatio.
The official body count in the final scene (Act 5 Scene 2) of Hamlet is four: Gertrude, Laertes, Claudius, Hamlet. Enter Fortinbras, who says “What happened here?” and Horatio is left to tell the tale.
Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 film version may have also killed off Osric (the referee, for lack of a more description term), it’s difficult to tell. In Branagh’s version, Fortinbras is actively invading the castle while the final duel takes place between Hamlet and Laertes. Osric is seen being taken by surprise and stabbed. However, he then returns to the scene to deliver his line about Fortinbras’ “warlike volley.”
In some interpretations, such as Ingmar Bergman’s 1986 production, Horatio is killed at the end of the play. When Fortinbras orders, “Bid the soldiers shoot,” some directors have taken that as license to execute Horatio, presumably as the last remaining witness to all that had taken place. It’s important to note that there is nothing in the text to indicate this (just like Osric’s death above). However, there’s two ways to die in a play. Either the script says you die, or else you eventually just run out of lines. Once you’re no longer part of the action (such as Osric), you might fall victim to artistic license and find yourself dead at the end of Act 5 whether Shakespeare wanted it that way or not.
There’s a short and easy answer to the question of why Hamlet killed Polonius. It was an accident. A case of mistaken identify, if you will. What he did next, however, certainly was no accident.
The story so far: Hamlet has sprung his mouse trap, playing out Claudius’ crime in front of him with the help of the actors. Claudius reaction has, as Hamlet anticipated, “caught the conscience of the king.” Gertrude, upset with her son for angering her husband, has requested Hamlet come to her bedchamber so she might speak with him. Polonius offers to spy on Hamlet by reaching the queen first and hiding in the arras (curtains).
Hamlet, in exultation at having proven Claudius’ guilt, comes to his mother’s bedchamber and intends to tell her off:
Hamlet. Now, mother, what’s the matter?
Gertrude. Hamlet, thou hast thy father much offended.
Hamlet. Mother, you have my father much offended.
Gertrude. Come, come, you answer with an idle tongue.
Hamlet. Go, go, you question with a wicked tongue.
Gertrude. Why, how now, Hamlet?
Hamlet. What’s the matter now?
Gertrude. Have you forgot me?
Hamlet. No, by the rood, not so!
You are the Queen, your husband’s brother’s wife,
And (would it were not so!) you are my mother.
Hamlet’s mood at this point is pretty obvious. He’s been unhappy with his mother and is letting it all out. You have my father much offended. You question with a wicked tongue. You are your husband’s brother’s wife.
If Hamlet had stormed off at this moment, having made his point, the play would have gone differently. Instead, Gertrude stands up and says, “I don’t have to take this!” and Hamlet shoves his mother back down, because he’s not done with her yet:
Gertrude. Nay, then I’ll set those to you that can speak.
Hamlet. Come, come, and sit you down. You shall not budge;
You go not till I set you up a glass
Where you may see the inmost part of you.
Gertrude is not prepared for Hamlet to put his hands on her. Remember that the whole castle believes Hamlet to have lost his mind. So it’s hardly unexpected when she yells to Polonius for help:
Gertrude. What wilt thou do? Thou wilt not murther me?
Help, help, ho!
Polonius. [behind] What, ho! help, help, help!
Hamlet didn’t know someone else was in the room. He stabs blindly through the arras:
Hamlet. [draws] How now? a rat? Dead for a ducat, dead!
[Makes a pass through the arras and] kills Polonius.
Polonius. [behind] O, I am slain!
Gertrude. O me, what hast thou done?
Right now the audience is thinking the same thing that Gertrude is. What just happened? Hamlet’s a thinker and a talker, not a doer. Up to this point in the play he hasn’t really done anything. Until now. Heard a noise? Kill it!
Hamlet. Nay, I know not. Is it the King?
Gertrude. O, what a rash and bloody deed is this!
Hamlet. A bloody deed- almost as bad, good mother,
As kill a king, and marry with his brother.
Gertrude. As kill a king?
Hamlet thought Claudius was hiding behind the arras! During this exchange, in fact, he still believes he has killed Claudius, which perhaps explains why he so blatantly accuses his mother of the crime, thinking that he has now avenged his father.
The timing here is subject to some debate. In the previous scene, on his way to his mother’s bedchamber, Hamlet had already passed Claudius at prayer. He has an opportunity there to kill him, but chooses not to take it. So, then, does Hamlet think that Claudius somehow beat him to the same destination? It’s possible that Hamlet took his time getting to his mother’s room eventually. Or that castles do tend to have secret passages and if there was a shortcut to Gertrude’s room, Claudius knew it. It’s also likely that in the heat of the moment Hamlet simply never thought of this.
So, Polonius’ death was an accident. What happens next is not. Hamlet hides Polonius body, refusing to let him have a proper burial. Act 4 scenes 2 and 3 are actually devoted entirely to the search for Polonius’ body:
Rosencrantz. What have you done, my lord, with the dead body?
Hamlet. Compounded it with dust, whereto ’tis kin.
Rosencrantz. Tell us where ’tis, that we may take it thence
And bear it to the chapel.
And then, when Rosencrantz and Guildenstern can get no answers out on him, Hamlet is taken before Claudius:
Claudius. Where is Polonius?
Hamlet. In heaven. Send thither to see. If your messenger find him not
there, seek him i’ th’ other place yourself. But indeed, if you
find him not within this month, you shall nose him as you go up
the stair, into the lobby.
So Hamlet uses the dead body of his girlfriend’s father as a prop so he can tell Claudius to go to hell. Is this part of his crazy act? Or at this point does he truly care so little about such things that he doesn’t think twice about defiling a corpse?