Hamlet | 2011
About the Play by John Dunlap
“This play of Hamlet —EXCELLENT!!!! The costumes—absolutely beautiful. The 3 Hamlets—very different, ALL very good”
“Hamlets, You All Rock!!! Especially the third one…sense of humor….the second…so serious….the first so brave!”
“Again, I am very impressed with the quality, sincerity, and beauty of the performance. Many thanks from all the audience members who forgot to pen their thoughts.”
“I was wondering how well the three Hamlets would play out, but they played very well. Impressive ensemble. Loved the gravediggers and Ophelia especially. From a long-time Shakespeare lover and attender at many a production ofHamlet.”
– Notes from our Hamlet Guestbook
Based on a late 16th-century popular translation of an old Danish legend, Hamlet was first produced about 1601, when Shakespeare was well into the most fertile period of his creative genius.
Prince Hamlet of Denmark, still mourning the recent death of his father the king, is told by a ghostly apparition of the king that Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle, poisoned the rightful king to usurp the throne. A worse outrage, in Hamlet’s view, is that his mother, Queen Gertrude, after an adulterous affair and within a month of her husband’s death, has married the treacherous Claudius, a man whom Hamlet already has clearly discerned to be much the inferior of Hamlet’s noble father. The ghost of Hamlet’s father demands that Prince Hamlet take revenge against the miscreant couple. The consequent train of events unfolds with exquisite complexity. Hamlet may well be, in Mark Van Doren’s phrase, “the busiest of all known plays.” The dialogue is packed with questions and riddles and, not least for the quotable Shakespeare, the single largest assortment of familiar lines.
The principal characters together exhibit a tempestuous range: King Claudius, intermittently conscience-stricken amid his relentless and murderous scheming; Queen Gertrude, generous and gracious amid her deeply felt personal shame; sweet Ophelia, innocent and vulnerable in a manner as if calculated to trigger both regret and rage; old Polonius, at once foolish and shrewd; young Laertes, rather a good man whose hot head and quick judgment make him easy to manipulate; Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the inevitable and treacherous get-along, get-ahead opportunists. Then there’s Horatio, Hamlet’s guileless and good-hearted friend, an anchor amid a tempest of fierce emotions ready to spin out of control.
And then there’s Hamlet, enigmatic in every way except in the good judgment he displays in his choice of friends. The very name “Hamlet” has become a byword over the centuries to identify the intellectual type prone to reflection but averse to action. Although the text doesn’t really support Coleridge’s influential assessment of Hamlet as a feckless egghead, the notion persists. In a voice-over at the start of his celebrated 1948 film rendition of Hamlet, Laurence Olivier intones, “This is the tragedy of a man who could not make up his mind.”
That seems an odd remark coming from a great actor whose own portrayal of Hamlet is a character of deep moral sensibility and huge reserves of decisiveness, often teetering on the impulsive: a contemplative soul for sure, but also a man expert at the sword, dazzlingly quickwitted, popular among his people, and demonstrably capable of bold action. What comes through the play in every era of its frequent production, and helps account for a critical history of wildly conflicting interpretations, is something more fascinating than Olivier’s dry precis, for Hamlet is the supreme tragedy we all experience daily: the tragedy of life’s stubborn inscrutability.