Hey you! Yeah. You! How the fuck can you dislike Hamlet?!
I'm not talking about the play here; I am talking about the man. Fuck you a...moreDear Hamlet Hater,
Hey you! Yeah. You! How the fuck can you dislike Hamlet?!
I'm not talking about the play here; I am talking about the man. Fuck you and your bullshit about his "indecision," that indecision sets him apart. Unlike everyone else in the play -- who slay their foes willy-nilly or embrace their personal ignorance to engage in tacit murder or let their passions o'errule their reason -- Hamlet takes his time with his revenge, refusing to be fooled by a damned ghost, looking for proof, making sure that Claudius is really guilty before he acts.
Yeah, yeah, Hamlet was mean to Ophelia. I don't disagree. But Hamlet can hardly be considered the only factor in her death/suicide. And it's not like she didn't deserve it. Polonius and Laertes, Claudius and Gertrude (and maybe even that sneaky bastard Horatio, the last to see her alive) played their parts in her "madness," and it's not like Ophelia didn't have her own hand in her demise. Hamlet loved her. Hamlet's father dies, he's seeing ghosts, his mother is banging his uncle, and there's Ophelia -- at the behest of her family's patriarchs -- cutting off Hamlet when he needs her most. I'd be pissed if she did that to me. I'd call her a whore and a weakling and mock her until she left me alone. Where's her backbone? Where's her love? Nowhere to be found; hence, Hamlet's anger (not that I blame Ophelia, though. What the hell could she do considering the world she was living in? Considering the power of the men in her life?).
And what about Hamlet's thoughts on the equality of mankind? How can you hate on a guy who thinks the way Hamlet does? This is a cat who spends most of his soliloquys holding an in-head debate about the equality of man in death. This is a guy who puts kings and nobles on the same level as fishmongers and worms. He's a guy who embraces life in death without fliching. He sees the "providence in the fall of sparrow" and knows it is good.
Yet you hate him. Why?
Is it because your high school teacher sucked? Is it because you are daunted by Shakespeare and Elizabethan English? Is it because you are convinced that Hamlet is a whinger? Is it because you've fallen prey to a century-plus of Freudian disassembling? Is it because you expect Mobster-style decisiveness? Would you like it more if RockStar put out a shooter game called Grand Theft Elsinore?
Or are you simply a dumbass?
Go watch Lion King or Strange Brew and get back to me.
p.s. this is a Ceridwen-special: a drunken review.
Whenever I read Shakespeare, I always find myself longing to be back in Rome watching the assassination of Caesar. So I do just that.
I read Hamlet fo...moreWhenever I read Shakespeare, I always find myself longing to be back in Rome watching the assassination of Caesar. So I do just that.
I read Hamlet for class, and I immediately pick up Caesar. I read one of the plays I've been meaning to get to, and I immediately pick up Caesar. I catch a late night TV showing of Much Ado About Nothing or Othello, and I immediately pick up Ceasar. It feels like home to me.
It contains the elements that make Shakespeare's great plays great (at least to me). Death as the great equalizer. The corruption of power. Errors in judgement. The indecision that "goodness" necessitates. The supernatural as an inescapable motivator. The manipulative power of speech.
It's an old friend, is Julius Caesar. My son's middle name is Cesar, and at least part of the reason for that is my love of this play. It is always on my mind, even when I am not reading other Shakespeare. Yet I cannot watch the Brando/Mason film of the play (too daunting); and I've never actually seen it staged (when I wasn't involved).
I want to play Brutus some day soon. Then maybe Cassius before it's too late. And then Caesar when my hair is all grey. Maybe by then Milos Ernest Cesar can play Antony. Now that would be cool. (less)
I have loved Hamlet for most of my life. I've read it, performed in it, read it again and again, seen it on stage countless times, performed in Stoppa...moreI have loved Hamlet for most of my life. I've read it, performed in it, read it again and again, seen it on stage countless times, performed in Stoppard’s 15 minute version, read it again and again and again, and taught it over and over. I have always loved it.
But not this time.
I finished re-reading it last night (I've one more class to teach tomorrow), and I feel like I've just fallen out of love. You know that feeling when you still love someone but you're no longer in love? That's where I seem to be with the Dane.
I struggled all night trying to locate these new feelings. “Where did they come from?” I wondered, and I think I found the answer while I was eating my breakfast bagel. I'm tired of Hamlet and his internal world.
I know there is much more to Hamlet than this internal struggle -- which the Romantics gave us in the 1800s and psychoanalysts entrenched in the 1900s -- but I can't seem to shake myself out of Hamlet's self-absorption. It's like standing in front of Picasso’s Guernica and being so entranced by the suffering that Picasso’s technique and political message disappear.
I am always reading Hamlet criticism, I listen to what others have to say (including my often insightful students), and I even discover new things for myself that I’ve never noticed before. I hear these voices, but none of them can break through my emotional attachment to Hamlet’s self-examination. And I am bored with it. I see the other stuff going on around it, I hear the other things going on around it, but I am as fixated on Hamlet’s internal struggle as he is.
And to make matters worse, I am starting to wonder if the two hundred year preoccupation with Hamlet’s internal world has reached the end of its usefulness. Is self-awareness useful in our time of reality shows and vampire love affairs? Is it as precious as the novel Push by Sapphire? Is it as dusty and mouldy as Woody Allen and Philip Roth? Do we need to find our way back to the roots of Hamlet (“what is this quintessence of dust?” where man and dust are the key components) or do we simply need to find something in Hamlet that speaks to us in the here and now?
Or is the question really only one I can ask myself: do I need to find something new in Hamlet that speaks to me, something to break my obsessive focus on what’s going on inside?
Forget everything you know about Hamlet. Chances are your ideas have been formed by ideas espoused since the early 1800s. Ma...moreThis is an excellent book.
Forget everything you know about Hamlet. Chances are your ideas have been formed by ideas espoused since the early 1800s. Margreta de Grazia deals with our perceptions of Hamlet then discards them as latter day relics. She is more interested in relics of earlier days, and it shines a fresh albeit antiquarian light on the "Tragicall Historie of Hamlett."
Suddenly man and dust, "generation and degeneracy," "doomsday and domain," the history of Empires and Hamlet's procrastination become important. The modern concerns of Hamlet, his feelings, his pain, his sorrow, his existential crisis, stop being matters for concern. And the return to Shakespearean concerns is enlightening.
If you love Hamlet like I love(d) Hamlet, this book is an essential work. Margreta de Grazia knows her shit; she is a literary scholar of the highest order. I wish I had her acumen. (less)
Can 35 Thousand Literary Critics and 3 Million Groundlings Be Wrong? Yes.
Taking arms against Shakespeare, at this moment, is to emul...moreFor Harold Bloom*:
Can 35 Thousand Literary Critics and 3 Million Groundlings Be Wrong? Yes.
Taking arms against Shakespeare, at this moment, is to emulate Harry Potter standing up to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Simply opposing Lord V-- won't end him. The Shakespeare epiphenomenon will go on, doubtless for some time, as J. R. R. Tolkien did, and then wane. Or so one can hope.
The official newspaper of our dominant counter-culture, The New York Times, has been startled by Shakespeare's plays into establishing a new policy for its not very literate book review. Rather than crowd out the Grishams, Clancys, Crichtons, Kings, Rowlings and other vastly popular prose fictions on its fiction bestseller list, the Shakespeare plays will now lead a separate theatre list. William Shakespeare, the chronicler of such characters as "Hamlet" and "King Lear," thus has an unusual distinction: he has changed the policy of the policy-maker.
I read new dramatic literature, when I can find some of any value, but had not tried Shakespeare until now. I have just concluded "The Comedy of Errors," purportedly the funniest of the lot. Though the play is not well written, that is not in itself a crucial liability. It is much better to see the movie, "The Wizard of Oz," than to read the book upon which it was based, but even the book possessed an authentic imaginative vision. "The Comedy of Errors" does not, so that one needs to look elsewhere for the play's remarkable success. Such speculation should follow an account of how and why "The Comedy of Errors" asks to be read.
The ultimate model for "The Comedy of Errors" is "Menaechmi" by Plautus, performed in Ancient Rome. The play depicts the mistaken identity of a set of twins named Menaechmus. But Plautus' play, still quite performable, was a Roman musical, not an Elizabethan comedy. Shakespeare has taken "Menaechmi" and re-seen it in the silly mirror of slapstick. The resultant blend of mistaken identities with cheesy Elizabethan idiocy may read oddly to me, but is exactly what millions of theatregoers and their parents desire and welcome at this time.
In what follows, I may at times indicate some of the inadequacies of "The Comedy of Errors." But I will keep in mind that a host are watching it who simply will not watch superior fare, such as Ben Jonson's "The Alchemist" or the "Tamburlaine" plays of Christopher Marlowe. Is it better that they watch Shakespeare than not watch at all? Will they advance from Shakespeare to more difficult pleasures? One doubts both possibilities.
Whatever we may think about the apparent misogyny in The Taming of the Shrew, popular culture -- for good or ill -- owes a great debt to Shakespeare's...moreWhatever we may think about the apparent misogyny in The Taming of the Shrew, popular culture -- for good or ill -- owes a great debt to Shakespeare's tale of Kate and Petruchio, and even a little bit to Christophero Sly (remember Eddie Murphy's Trading Places?).
From It Happened One Night, Philadelphia Story and Disney's Beauty and the Beast to Remington Steele, Fawlty Towers and X-Files (just to name a small few), The Taming of the Shrew has been the template for some of the most memorable film and television romances.
The shrewish Kate and sexist Petruchio reappear time and again. If there is a popular expression of "sexual tension," if the "will they? won't they?" questions are being asked, if one side is shrewish or foolish and the other side is controlling (acceptably or otherwise), you can bet that The Taming of the Shrew is lurking somewhere beneath the surface. And let's face it: audiences love these elements. They make for precisely the sort of abrasive romances we seem attracted to.
Take the most blatant mimicking of The Taming of the Shrew -- television's Moonlighting. It brought together snooty supermodel Maddy Hayes (Cybill Shepherd) and sarcastic private dick David Addison (Bruce Willis), threw the former in shoulder pads and the latter in cheap suits, and suddenly Kate and Petruchio were reborn as 80s sparring partners. The connection was so obvious, in fact, that the makers of Moonlighting decided to make it explicit, actually writing an episode called "Atomic Shakespeare," wherein Maddy and David became Kate and Petruchio. The point is, though, that we, the viewing public, loved it. Maddy and David were water cooler conversation before that term was common. Everyone knew who they were, even if they weren't watching the show, and we all knew that eventually they would tame each other (which, of course, killed the show).
I am rambling now, but what I am trying to say is that The Taming of the Shrew is one of the progenitors of funny relationship comedy. So if you have a chance to check it out on stage (because it is much better on stage than lying flat on the page), make sure you see it. You'll recognize so much that you love that you'll find yourself comfortably going along with the absurdity, the sexism, the endless kissing in spite of yourself. And you may even have a fun time. (less)
I am a huge, unabashed fan of Ken. I love him. I have loved him for years. And this extremely early biography simply made me love him more. I love him...moreI am a huge, unabashed fan of Ken. I love him. I have loved him for years. And this extremely early biography simply made me love him more. I love him so much that if you ask me the question, "Emma or Ken?" My answer is Ken (though I love Emma too).
Beginning took much heat for being precipitous. It came out extremely early in Ken's career, just after his amazing triumph with Henry V, and everyone thought it was dreadfully narcissistic to write an autobiography when he was so damn young. They're probably right. But that arrogance, that self belief, the surprising humility beneath the arrogance, the recognition that it was too much, and the wonderful tale of a young life on the brink of a greatness that would fizzle and remain on the verge for years is just too beautiful to dismiss.
A good portion of the book is taken up with his production diary for Henry V (which is excellent, particularly for anyone interested in some day directing films), but the best parts of the book are the truly autobiographical chapters, which offer unforgettable anecdotes about all of Ken's heroes. These sections made me fall deeply in love with a couple of generations of amazing British actors, and I remain fans of them all to this day. Branagh's marathon runs with Brian Blessed, his awe over the Hamlet recall of Derek Jacobi (the man knows the ENTIRE play by heart), his love for Olivier and Gielgud, his crush on Judi Dench, all of it dazzles, and it is obvious that Branagh was -- and if one considers his body of work he must remain -- as big a fan as he is a colleague of these geniuses.
And you know what, apart from his appallingly shabby rendition of Frankenstein, I remain a massive fan of Branagh's body of work. I loved him most recently in Valkyrie (regardless of my general disappointment in the film) and Wallander, but I really can't think of anything else I've disliked. I know some find his Hamlet overwrought, but I love huge portions of it and like most of the rest (and casting Heston as the Player King is genius). I loved him as Gilderoy Lockhart. I still adore Dead Again. And I don't care what anyone thinks, I love his casting of Keanu as Denzel's brother in Much Ado About Nothing.
You can tell me he sucks. But I'll disagree. You can tell me I am a fool. And I will say you're probably right. But I love Ken. Nothing's going to change that. And I know, at least, that James has my back.
Kenneth Branagh is the King. I can't wait for The Mighty Thor!(less)
This is not a review. It is, instead, a call to all those people (who will probably never read these words because they aren't on goodreads) to teach...moreThis is not a review. It is, instead, a call to all those people (who will probably never read these words because they aren't on goodreads) to teach Shakespeare young and often to the kids they love.
Don't wait for high school teachers to bungle the job. Don't let your kids stress out. Never tell your kids how tough Shakespeare is "supposed" to be. Don't share your own fears of the Bard's writing.
Do buy your family every filmed version or adaptation of Shakespeare's plays. Do, then, buy a book copy of that play, leave it around and encourage them to pick it up. Do let your kids watch as much Shakespeare as they want. Actually encourage them to enjoy that guy from Titanic as Romeo, that girl from Sixteen Candles as a modern day Miranda, Gilderoy Lockhart and Professor Trelawney as Benedick and Beatrice, Gandalf as Richard III and on and on. Do let them use Shakespeare's tastiest insults without putting money in the vulgarity jar. Do take them to any live versions of Shakespeare -- no matter how community theatre poor they may be -- and fill in the blanks for them the best that you can. Do let them tell you what they think happened, and do let yourself learn a little about the greatest playwright in the English language from those who are enjoying it without fear and trepidation.
Much Ado About Nothing is a great place to start if you're trying to introduce your kids to the world of the master storyteller. My six-year-olds spent the last three days diving into Much Ado (we watched Kenneth Branagh's fun film, read some stuff from the play itself, pretended we were the characters, played matching games to link the relationships in the play, talked a lot, and watched the movie a second time), and they came away today with an excellent understanding of what was happening and a love for the play. Milos is sure the play is about the love story of Benedick and Beatrice, but Bronte thinks they merely support the love story of Claudio and Hero, although she is not convinced that the latter pair are really in love. They are quoting Dogberry incessantly, and they are generally reveling in what they see as a fun, hilarious, positive experience. They can't wait to see Romeo and Juliet starting next weekend.
It can be that way for your kids too. For all kids. It really can. Just take the time, enjoy it with them (even if it is not your forte ... all you have to do is fake it), and see where the journey takes the whole family. It will set them up with an appreciation for art and theatre that will help them in their future education and -- more importantly -- enrich their imaginations.
Is there a better artistic expression of death's myriad manifestations than Shakespeare's Hamlet? I say no. In my counter-factual universe I see Willi...moreIs there a better artistic expression of death's myriad manifestations than Shakespeare's Hamlet? I say no. In my counter-factual universe I see William Shakespeare as a Lieutenant at the First Somme. Imagine the war poetry that Shakespeare could have written. Perhaps one such war sonnet would have gone something like this:
My subaltern’s eyes will ne’er again see the sun, Exposed hearts are more red than whores lips are red; If we go o’er the top we are sure to face the gun; And those caught on wires are things better off dead.
I have seen bodies gouged open, red and white, And from froth-corrupted lungs seen gas leak; The scent of naturally rotting flesh gives more delight Than the breath of vesicant that from blisters reeks.
I loathe the whine of 5-9s we needs all must know Dying screams hath a far more pleasing sound; I grant I ne’er saw an unworthy boy go; My subaltern when he dies rots on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my loss as rare As all the missing and dead I blench to compare.
There is a scene in Act IV, rarely presented on-stage, wherein Hamlet looks upon Young Fortinbras' forces and feels guilt over his own concerns compared with the concerns of the men who go to die: "...to my shame I see / The immanent death of twenty thousand men / That for a fantasy and a trick of fame / Go to their graves like beds..." (IV.iv.59-62). Dulce Et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori, indeed. (less)
I like to come at Macbeth from an historical perspective, a perspective where Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are not anti-heroes, but heroes of the highest...moreI like to come at Macbeth from an historical perspective, a perspective where Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are not anti-heroes, but heroes of the highest order.
How is that possible you ask? Because Macbeth is taking what is rightfully his.
Modern audiences, and perhaps even audiences in Shakespeare's day (although that seems unlikely since they would have had a greater everyday knowledge of the power structures of Scottish clans), look at Macbeth as the story of power corrupting absolutely. We see it as a story where a man's ambition overrides his goodness, and his callous regicide justly destroys himself, his Lady and everything they have built.
It is a comfortable reading for us. It supports our current belief in good and evil as absolutes, and it allows us to see Duncan as a benevolent leader, Banquo as a victim and Malcolm and Macduff as righteous avengers. It fits our view of the world.
But this reading hurts the complexity that is Macbeth, and it dissolves what makes Macbeth my favourite Shakespearean tragedy -- the tragedy itself.
There is little tragic in the fall of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth if we follow the ill-informed modern reading. They get what they deserve. They commit murder, they make a grab for power, they pay the price. We cannot pity them. And it is difficult to care for them.
But consider the historical context and this reading is tipped on its side like a sacred cow in a dusty field of moonlight.
Macbeth, as the next most powerful Thane, is next in line for Duncan's crown. It is his right. It is the way of Scottish accession. Duncan simply has no right to declare Malcolm the heir, and to do so immediately following Macbeth's greatest victory is both an insult and a challenge.
Moreover, once all others back Malcolm and place themselves against Macbeth they are committing high treason.
Should Macbeth have assassinated King Duncan? Probably not (although the alternative would have been civil war and is killing one King more criminal than being responsible for the death of thousands?), but therein lies the strength of Shakespeare's play. Macbeth and his Lady feel overwhelming guilt, and their killing of Duncan tears them apart. Not because it is what they deserve, but because they are fundamentally virtuous people who made a decision that, even righteous, wounded them as deeply as it wounded those around them.
Taken within the context of Scottish accession, the play becomes much deeper and more meaningful. The conflicts of all the characters are muddied, the right and wrong becomes a worrisome mess, the tragedy deepens, and Macbeth and his Lady become honorable people who make a difficult choice that ultimately undermines their own values. This also suggests that the Witches and the supernatural are not some crazed deus ex machina that makes Macbeth's fate inevitable, but a form of chorus that plants seeds of understanding in the minds of the audience and Macbeth.
It's a great play even if the historical context is ignored, but how much greater is it when the historical context is restored? I feel it becomes a match for Lear and Hamlet. Re-read it and see what you think. (less)