My Dream Hamlet

Dreaming Hamlet

I mean that literally. The other day, while thinking about ghosts and special effects in modernized Shakespeare adaptations, I thought, couldn’t Hamlet have dreamed the whole thing? We’ve already got his “in my mind’s eye, Horatio,” reference. What would that do to the play? Has anybody done that before?

I don’t know about the answer to that last question but I thought we could cover the first two.

Marcellus and Bernardo

Step one, we have to get rid of the opening scene. Marcellus and Bernardo in the opening scene. I think this is an easy cut for this purpose, though, because it’s not like the fact that these two have seen the ghost makes any difference to the play at all. They don’t mention it again, to Hamlet or anyone else.


Like Marcellus and Bernardo, Horatio seems to forget all about the ghost after they take Hamlet to see him. But the fact is that Horatio did see the ghost, and he does continue his ongoing dialogue with Hamlet for the rest of the play, so it must inform his thoughts and actions in some way. Thus the question for us has to be, does Hamlet tell him about this dream he had? Horatio never gets to hear what Hamlet and his dad talked about, just that they did. It’s basically just an extension of this scene:

My father!–methinks I see my father.

Where, my lord?

In my mind’s eye, Horatio.

I saw him once; he was a goodly king.

He was a man, take him for all in all,

I shall not look upon his like again.

Hamlet I ii

Let’s say that we insert a dream sequence scene between Hamlet and his father. Now, for this scene with Horatio, Hamlet drops a “methinks I saw my father” rather than “see”. Testing the waters, to see if he wants to tell Horatio what happened. But then he changes his mind, and turns it into a sigh and an, “Oh, that’s just be being sad, never mind, nothing to see here.” And nothing more is ever mentioned about it.

Hamlet’s Point of View

So now we’ve got a world where only Hamlet has seen or heard from his father’s spirit. This might as well be the definition of paranoid schizophrenic – the man’s hearing voices saying to avenge a murder. Even if he did tell anyone, he’s going to look crazy. His “antic disposition” now is all in his head, nobody knows what he’s talking about. Out of the blue, he tells his friends, “Listen, you’re going to think I’ve gone crazy, but I haven’t! Trust me!” And of course they’re all thinking, “He’s crazy.”

Gertrude’s Bedchamber

This is the tricky scene because, as we all know, the ghost comes back while Hamlet confronts his mother, Gertrude, in her bedchamber (even though he was clearly told not to!). We can’t easily make this a dream sequence, since Gertrude has to be an interactive part of it. There’s the theory that Hamlet really is imagining the ghost at this point, since Gertrude does not see him. But if we went down that path we are taking the mystery out of it, Hamlet’s definitely seeing things.

I don’t want that, I want the question of Hamlet’s sanity to remain front and center. We the audience are the only ones who know what happened in his dream so we’re the only ones in a place to say whether he’s gone mad.

We could do a flashback sort of thing where the ghost’s only appearance here is just a replay of the dream ghost saying “leave her to Heaven.” Hamlet suddenly reminding himself of this causes him to stop cold in his tracks, possibly mid sentence, which causes Gertrude to react. Maybe Hamlet forgets where he is and starts talking to himself as if the ghost is there. Something along those lines. Easier to do on film than on stage, though. Hard to get across “ghost isn’t really there, it’s just Hamlet remembering his dream”. Not sure about this part yet.

Is That It?

I’m no director, I just wanted to try brainstorming my way through a specific interpretation of an idea. What did I miss? Any horrible continuity errors if we did this?

2 thoughts on “My Dream Hamlet

  1. It’s good to have a dream Hamlet in both senses but I’m not sure exactly what the difference is if it’s a dream or a vision. Especially since dreams are sometimes visions that you can have while you’re asleep. Either way, it’s psychic activity that raises the possibility of madness and/or spiritual insight. But from the point of view of artistic realisation, I just don’t see that it matters much whether he saw his father in a dream or in a vision.

    It’s possible that your interpretation misses the point that “seeing things” is not a sure sign of madness because it can also be a spiritual state. Also, by having many people see the ghost, the original lends weight to it being a social “portent” rather than something personal – yet it doesn’t take all the mystery out of it or insist on that interpretation. (It may also be a portent that many people in a society are feeling disturbed!)

    Even though (in the original play, not your dream one) many people saw the ghost, it doesn’t really prove that it’s any more than a dream to each one of them. After all, it would be surprising if many people had complicated feelings about it. Many people might have visions of a recently dead king, maybe, and maybe also dreams and more standard thoughts during the day! Such as: “Is he at peace? How does he feel about his brother, who seems so different from him, now getting personal with his wife and the throne? Would he feel a bit like wreaking vengeance on Denmark at all at the moment?”

    I think seeing a ghost doesn’t mean you’re crazy in the world of Hamlet. Many people saw the ghost, as you say. The point is whether or not it drives you over the edge or means you’re already over the edge – as you are more likely to be if the ghost is the spirit of a person who has a close relationship to you and whose death affects your own future so profoundly, as in the case of young Hamlet.

    For the Gertrude/bedchamber scene, you’d have to insert or recycle a few lines from earlier to signal that it’s the gripping memory of a dream not a present vision. Mutterings like “My father… Methinks I saw my father..” and “in my mind’s eye”.. “Was it yesternight?” or something like that maybe.

    I guess what I don’t get is the artistic motivation for the vision to be a dream instead. Is it just to make it realistic since people often dream but more rarely see visions?

    By the way, I don’t think Fortinbras saw the ghost in any version. I haven’t checked but that’s not the way I remember it.

  2. You just need to add this at the end:

    Hamlet: The rest is silence.


    [Brief pause]

    [Lights up on a 1960s-style Chicago bedroom. Slowly we discern two people asleep. One awakes, then the other.]

    Hamlet: Oh, man. Talk about “To sleep, perchance to dream.”

    Suzanne Pleshette: That settles it—no more Japanese food before you go to bed.

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