February 12, 2018

My Thoughts on Shakespeare's "Hamlet"

Isn't that an awesome setup?!
{Beware. I have FEELINGS about our lovely playwright...}

So over the weekend, I had the privilege of watching Shakespeare's Hamlet onstage at the American Shakespeare Center's Blackfriars Playhouse. And I have to admit that I was uncertain about it beforehand. As you may or may not know, my dear friend, Hamlette, LOVES this play (as if her name doesn't give that away, right? ;) and so, due to her enthusiasm and the fact that I'd be watching it with her, I decided to give it a go. Just to say I'd seen it once, but mainly to spend more time with her! (I totally admit that latter reason was the biggest one of all.) When someone is really passionate about something, it makes me happy to listen to them expound on why they love it so, even if I don't happen to feel the same way. Such was the way Hamlette feels about Hamlet, and also why I agreed to watch it with her. :)

But y'all!

Oh, wow. To say that I was blown away by the acting? Especially the guy who played Hamlet himself, Josh Innerst? Just WOW.

Okay, so I feel I should preface all of this to explain my relationship with Shakespeare thus far in my life. I've never been a huge fan of his, to say the least. I knew he was considered a "classic writer" or whatever term fits. But there's loads of classics out there that I've no interest in reading! So that meant nothing. In high school, we had to read Romeo & Juliet, and can I just be honest with you? (All R&J lovers out there, please don't hate me) Romeo and his Juliet have got to be the stupidest teenagers I've ever read about. I enjoy love stories, okay? Anyone who reads this blog with any regularity is totally going to know that by now. But R&J? Is SO not a love story in my book. It's depressing and horrible and they make really stupid, life-ending decisions all because they were supposedly "in love". That is not love, guys. Nope. (Sorry! But my dislike of R&J is serious.)

So! As you can guess, my first introduction to our main man, Shakespeare, was a total bust! I hated Romeo & Juliet and, thus, was very uninterested in reading anything else of his. Especially when my English teacher droned on and on about how all of his characters' choices had meaning, the only "meaning" I ever got out of those characters was how depressing they seemed!

{By the by, I'm not saying I was right in feeling this way about his plays, I'm just saying that was my impression at the time...}

But! Somewhere along the way, I found out that he'd written a non-depressing play. What is this craziness?! The idea that he'd written a comedy intrigued me (especially when I figured out there was a bit of romance in it.....what can I say? I'm a hopeless fool for romance in a story.) and so when I had the chance to read Much Ado About Nothing, I took it and fell in love. I will admit that I didn't truly fall in love with it until I saw Kenneth Branagh's version onscreen.

{Sidenote, it was mentioned sometime on Saturday that Shakespeare seems to translate better once you see the character onstage or onscreen versus just reading the lines of the play. I completely agree with this!! I understand so much more of the motives of the characters based on their facial expressions and body language! Plus the humorous lines just come through SO much more clearly and hilariously. I laughed at many moments during Hamlet that I'm not certain I would have by just reading the line itself.}

Maybe I should do a post about the versions of
Much Ado I've enjoyed so far? Hmmmm....
Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson became my Benedick and Beatrice. Their banter was perfect, their chemistry was glorious, and I simply loved every minute of the story. (I know, this post is supposed to be about Hamlet, not Much Ado About Nothing! I'm getting there, promise. Hang with me here just a bit longer!)

Thus, I decided that this guy, Shakespeare, maybe wasn't worth writing off completely just yet. But I still was awfully hesitant about his really popular tragedies. I'm a happily-ever-after girl, okay?! I like my endings to at least have hope! No depressing endings for me, thank you!

So when I asked Hamlette, before we watched the play, to tell me what it is that she loves about this story so much, I was really hoping she'd help me to understand it better. I was planning to spend at least two hours with this, I wanted hope that I wouldn't be miserable that entire time! I am happy to say she did her job. :) I sat down with, maybe not an expectation to love it, but anticipation of a storyline I could understand and sympathize with. And oh, I got that. Boy, did I ever get that! :)

First of all, I was happy to have read a little about the play before watching, so I went into it knowing at least the basics of what was supposed to happen. (Shakespeare's lines, people! You have to admit that he can be a bit hard to understand when you've got an actor/actress spitting out these complicated lines lickity-split.) The best thing though? I laughed so, so many times! I was not prepared for that. I absolutely fell in love with how Shakespeare wrote in all these little moments of sarcasm! Especially during really emotional scenes. Hamlet would be all intense and focused and then suddenly throw out this ridiculous line that would catch me by surprise! It was hilarious and perfect and I think probably my favorite thing about the play. :)

dr ralph ten things to know hamlet josh innerst blackfriars playhouse
image via
Then there was the acting. I already mentioned the guy who played Hamlet. He was AMAZING, y'all. Seriously! He'd go from being all agonizing turmoil, to throwing out this sarcastic little thought, then right back into the intensity, all while never losing his momentum or energy! By the end of the play, I could see the sweat dripping down his face and could totally understand why. Because whoa! The character of Hamlet seriously requires a ton of energy! He might not be in every single scene, but his presence was felt at all times, even when offstage. He definitely had the pressure of carrying most of the heavy weight of this story and man did he ever come through. I was very impressed with his acting. And all the other actors and actresses did a wonderful job as well!

Can I just mention the play itself now though? {Beware spoilers!} Because there was one thing I was stumped on. Having read a bit about the play beforehand, I was wondering what I'd think regarding Hamlet and his "madness". Whatever website I found last week (can't remember now) mentioned about how there are differing opinions on whether Hamlet was putting on a show of being mad or if he truly did become a bit crazy. And I still don't know what I think about that! (So if you know the story, please feel free to enlighten me. I would enjoy some clarification on this.) I began the first half thinking that he was totally putting on a show, but there were moments that I began to feel uncertain. Also, considering that Ophelia then becomes mad near the end, and I do think hers was very real, then that raises the possibility that Shakespeare could have meant that Hamlet did the same. His madness was just much more slighter and he had his revenge to keep him grounded, perhaps. I don't know! All I am certain of is that there are moments when Hamlet is clearly putting on a facade. Yet was he the entire time? I think it was during the scene when he sees his father's ghost up in the ceiling/sky (whichever it was) when he's with his mother that I felt a slight doubt as to him "acting" that bit. But maybe that's just the interpretation of the director of this particular version? Maybe it's purposely vague? I don't know! What do you think?

I do want to mention how fun it was to hear several lines that I recognized but had never actually heard in their context. Like, "To be or not to be, that is the question." And "Alas, poor Yorick...", as well as "Doubt thou the stars are fire; Doubt that the sun doth move; Doubt truth to be a liar; But never doubt I love." Also, "Brevity is the soul of wit." and "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark." Those are the only ones I can remember off the top of my head currently. I've heard or seen those lines quoted lots of times, but I never really understood them. Naturally! Because you need to hear them in context to understand! And I do. Kinda sorta anyway. :)

(Speaking of quotes, I have to mention that I had the privilege of sitting beside Hamlette and watching as she quoted the lines right alongside the actors. Very impressive! :)

Whew! Okay, I think I'd better stop here. Anyone still with me? I hope I haven't driven you all away! But to simplify, in case anyone skips all those paragraphs just to get to this one, it was an excellently done production! I really enjoyed watching it, and it wasn't depressing. I appreciated that there was a slight hopefulness at the end. Very glad I had the chance to watch it! Not so sure I'm going to run out and immediately watch every onscreen version now, but I still thoroughly enjoyed myself. Yay!


  1. So many things to say!

    Branagh and Thompson are MY Benedick and Beatrice too. Love that film. Not that the ASC actors weren't awesome last fall, cuz they were, but they weren't mine in the same way.

    Hamlet's madness. I think it almost varies by actor and production. You can interpret his madness so many ways! He might be feigning it the entire time. He might go mad. He might already be mad. He might intentionally allow himself to go just a little mad in order to save his sanity, if that makes sense. I think this production fell on the side of "not really mad, but teetering on the edge in a few places."

    Polonius defines madness at one point as being "nothing else but mad." He's being wordy and ridiculous still, but I think that's a huge point in the play. How do you define madness? Is it acting weird? Is it seeing things others can't see? Or is it understanding things differently than other people do? That's a big thing in the play.

    Ophelia does go mad. She's another foil for Hamlet in that way -- her true madness is a reflection of his feigned madness. It's part of what makes me usually think he doesn't really go mad. Ophelia does and he doesn't, just like Laertes and Horatio and Fortinbras are all foils of Hamlet, doing things the opposite way from him.

    I WISH WE HAD HAD SUPPER TOGETHER. Cuz then we could have discussed the whole play thoroughly then and there. It would have been so much better. Oops. Thanks to the fog and rain, we ended up getting home really late anyway.

    Oh dear, did you really see me mouthing like half the lines? I... tried hard not to say them out loud at least? Hee. There are so many parts I just love that I have to work hard not to mouth them. (Also, I think Horatio saw me doing that at one point. Um, sorrynotsorry.)

    This play makes me laugh a lot. I love Hamlet's sarcasm (though he can get fairly mean sometimes, and I don't love that), I love the absolute silliness of the Gravedigger (and yet, Osric annoys me), and yeah... it's tragic, but it's funny.

    And it's not depressing. To me, anyway. Tragic, yes, but like I think I said at lunch, it's kind of an unavoidable tragedy? Unless Hamlet had just stayed on that pirate ship, there was no other way for this to end. And if he'd stayed on the pirate ship, he wouldn't have been Hamlet. Just not what he would do.

    Okay, that's all I have time to write up right now. I'm so glad we got to see this together! Pleasure shared is doubled :-) Next year, we can think up lots of fun things to do together, yay!

    1. Hamlette: Pleasure shared is absolutely doubled! For all I was a bit doubtful before watching, I really did thoroughly enjoy myself. All during the drive home and all day last Sunday, this story and these characters were on my mind. I analyzed this and that and tried to figure out why I was so intrigued by the story as a whole. (In fact, I bored a good friend of mine by having to vent about it all for a good 30 minutes Sunday evening. ;) I still wouldn't say that it's a favorite? But it made my mind spin with all sorts of analysis! And I LOVE when a story does that to me. Proof of it's awesomeness! It really is a rare few that make my every thought spin with questions and determination to figure out why this or that happened. I definitely wish we could have ridden home together! Because I would have peppered you with questions and ideas. :D

      Thank you for help regarding Hamlet's madness. That all makes a lot of sense. And I definitely felt like this version had him "teetering on the edge in a few places"! I think I'm almost intrigued enough to want to see how other actors portray him, to see which way makes sense to me and which I like better? What madness have you done to me, Hamlette?! I never thought I'd say that about a Shakespeare play, at least other than Much Ado. ;)

      If Horatio did see you, I bet she thought the same as me... "that lady is AWESOME". :D

      Yeah, you're right. Hamlet can definitely be mean with some of the things he says, so he can go a bit too far unfortunately. But his sarcasm still makes me laugh remembering back on it. I think it's that combo of tragic and funny that somehow works? At least for me. If only tragic, I wouldn't have enjoyed it half so well I don't think. But if only funny, there would have been a few scenes that would have been far less powerful. So it takes both to create the perfection of it.

      I can see what you meant by unavoidable tragedy now. Hamlet had no control of several plot points, he could only react. While I still don't think he always reacted right, he did the best he was capable of in the moment. He seems to be a bit of a hothead in general too. Which certainly doesn't help with dealing with his grief and pain. And yeah, he doesn't seem the sort that should have stayed on the ship. His reactionary emotions wouldn't have let him do so, for one thing. At least I think?

      Lots of food for thought, that's for sure!! Thank you, AGAIN, for asking if I wanted to go. It was a delightful day!


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