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The pages of Hamlet Studies document articles on productions and
cultural adaptations that recur regularly on Western stage and continually
on Indian stage. As these are open to new ideas and concepts, productions
tend to epitomize theatrical practice as being reworked variously. This
chapter opens interrogation of western and eastern producers’ artistic
effectiveness, i.e. Do these productions have the tendency to turn
interrogations (?) into exclamations (!). Critical approaches such as
Deconstruction, Psychoanalysis, Feminism, Postmodernism, etc. underline
articles such as “‘In my mind’s eye”: Postmodern (Re)visions of Hamlet’;
“Play[ing]’s the thing”: Hamlet on the Indian Stage; “Hamlet and Oedipus
: A Protest”; “The III Act Hamlet: a Feminist Extension/Reconstruction of
Shakespeare’s Hamlet.” A Response to “Hamlet Reworked as the Princess
of Denmark”; “Joseph Papp Presents Hamlet”; “Heiner Muller’s Staging of
Hamlet For the Deutsches Theatre, Berlin, 1990-91”, respectively.
Yet another source of critical study is the performance-based
contributions to the journal. Certain performance based contributions are in
terms of critical approaches to the play while others are cultural
adaptations. Productions lend credence to watching the play. Jeanie Grant
Moore discusses Adrian Noble’s 1993 RSC production that showcases
blurring of boundaries between play-within-a-play and the play:
The stage audience faced the theatre audience and the
Mousetrap actors performed in profile for both. The two
audiences stared through the players at each other as if seeing
a mirror reflection; the theatre audience was thus drawn into
the play: mirroring the actor/audience, spectators became
actors as well, participating in watching the Mousetrap and
being observed by the onstage audience members just as the
latter were observing them. Caught by the gaze, the viewer no
longer occupies the privileged position of seeing unseen, and
the inner/outer dichotomies created by the play-within-a-play
as well as by the play itself, are deconstructed
(qtd. in Moore 55).
The productions bring to light the working of a text, the latest interiority of
the figures on stage. The Mousetrap, suggests Moore, is an external
dramatization of Hamlet’s mind. All roads lead to—the quest for a definite
meaning and a centre which in Derrida’s view is unattainable:
The “matrix” of metaphysics is the determination of Being as
presence in all senses of this word. It could be shown that all
the names related to fundamentals, to principles, or to the
center have always designated an invariable presence—eidos,
arche, telos, energeia, ousia (essence, existence, substance,
subject) aletheia, transcendentality, consciousness, God, man,
and so forth (qtd. in Moore 56).
He further says, “the wish to discover an inner, cohesive Hamlet arises
from the same metaphysical notion that one can find a complete presence,
inner meaning and a center” (Moore 56). But the play is foregrounded with
displacements deferring presence, decentering sight and thus destabilizing
meaning. Spatial and temporal displacements hold the play:
The dumb show tells a story that has already happened, and at
the same time, tells the story that is about to happen, so the
present (which is not the present but the displacing time of the
play) is displaced by the past and future simultaneously…
Second, the staging of the Mousetrap and the staging of the
onstage audience de-centers the sight of the theatre audience
watching the play… Hamlet, too displaces his character; ‘he
sees and he is seen by both audiences as he repeatedly shifts
from performer to observer, interacting with and disrupting
both performances… Similarly, Claudius sees, and is being
seen by Hamlet, by the two audiences, by the actors in the
Mousetrap play as it re-enacts the murder, and by the Hamlet
present in traces through the Lucianus figure and moreover,
…when a king is killed there is no center—there is only
displacement (57-58).
Thus, denying a stable and a cohesive meaning to the play and it is subject
to endless rounds of critical analysis.
Another contributor to Hamlet Studies, Poonam Trivedi discusses
the deconstruction of the play by itself, in the article “Play(ing)’s the thing:
Hamlet on the Indian Stage.” The Indian Hamlet is apparently different
from the Shakespearean one. Taking humanity as a whole, Shakespeare
conceived Hamlet but on the Indian Stage, in 1992, Salim Ghouse, the
actor-director produces “a transition man…. a bridge between the past and
the future… a Gorbachov figure, willing to take risks” (qtd. in Trivedi 72).
This play witnesses metatheatricality; characters are, as given in the article,
introduced by the player King and Queen. Though the attention is centred
on Hamlet, delay or revenge does not seem to be his concern. With
Shakespearean characters, he presents a different story. Hence, meaning is
continually changed and deferred and it’s a play of presence-absence. The
actor-director Salim Ghouse says:
I don’t have the burden of history when doing Shakespeare.
I’m not trying to imitate, rather trying not to be intimidated.
I am trying to tell a story from my position, in Shakespeare’s
words and my voice (qtd. in Trivedi 73).
Poonam Trivedi considers it an experimentation with the bard, which
however, excites the audience. Another production is Asit Bose’s Kolkatar
Hamlet (Calcutta’s Hamlet) which poses Hamlet as a Prince on the streets
than of any state like Denmark. The position of a royal and a noble King,
i.e. the Old Hamlet is destabilized. The Indian production is an immediate
reaction to the killing of playwright-actor Satyen Mitra on the Streets of
Calcutta. As Asit Bose conceives the situation of play, Satyen Mitra makes
a ghostly appearance:
…I conceived a situation where someone I had met and talked
to the evening before, is killed at midnight, and when I
discover and stand before the dead body the following
morning, Stayen-da stands up and challenges me, So nobody
did a thing, nobody said a word ! (qtd. in Trivedi 74).
Kolkatar Hamlet is described “as one who found a personal consummation
in the violence with which they challenged State and Society” (qtd. in
Trivedi 74). Shakespearean Hamlet dons upon madness to identify the
whole situation. The Indian production, however, failed to engross and
attract the audience for a long time as it lacks the reinforcement that the
original Hamlet possesses.
John K. Hale examines some of the recent film versions. He
discusses 1948 Olivier film on Hamlet. The staging explores traces of
Oedipal relationship between Hamlet and Gertrude. In Act One Scene two,
Gertrude in mainly concerned with affecting Hamlet’s opinion to stay at
Denmark instead of going back to Wittenberg, at once. She “kisses him on
the mouth with warmth” (Hale 108). Neither was it mentioned in the script
nor was it a cultural practice in Britain in 1940s. Thus Olivier suspects
signs of Oedipal relationship. The same scene is re-enacted in Zeffirelli
film of 1990 in a weird way. The difference lies in the attitudes of Hamlet
and Gertrude. This different attitude also indicates strands of Oedipal
relationship. As Hamlet agrees to stay with Claudius and Gertrude,
…, she embraces him; he sinks to his knees, and embraces her
waist from the position, eyes staring moodily. There is much
further bodily contact between mother and son in the so-called
Bedchamber scene (3.4) (109).
Hale offers further clarification of bed chamber, i.e. a scene in a closet—a
private sitting room and not bed room. In 1600, it was a practice with
queens to deal with visitors in their closet. Though it is copiously found in
film versions but traces of Oedipal relationship cannot be traced between
Hamlet and his father Hamlet Sr. as there exists harmonious ties. Hamlet is
full of devotion, love and adulation for him. Claudius stands out in stark
contrast to Old Hamlet. Hamlet dislikes his step-father. The moment
poignantly suggests the limits of psychoanalysis and the angle from which
Hale presents Hamlet-Claudius-Gertrude triangle in understanding and
channeling deep emotional urges. Hale protests:
How comes it, then, that the Oedipus complex has proved such
a beguiling idea for Shakespearean directors and other
interpreters? Why do they follow the slight, oblique
similarities between Hamlet and Oedipus in preference to the
obvious, salient differences? Discounting as unworthy
cynicism the thought that having cast a male and a female
megastar as Hamlet and Gertrude and paid them astronomical
wages, the director wants to get the biggest possible emotional
throb from their interactions, not least in the “Bedchamber”
scene, and discounting likewise, the thought that academics
can be reluctant to abandon a smart idea even in the absence of
hard evidence, I will state the residual appeal of the idea to an
open mind, before urging the more convincing position, that
the Oedipus idea has a bad effect on interpretation, because it
obscures so many more certain, more textually-evidenced
features of the prince’s personality (111).
There exists filial bond between the two, who are “close but have become
estranged” (113). This is evident from closet-scene in which both of them
rebuke each other one after the other though Polonius gets killed by
mistake but their battle of words continues rendering around family and
Hamlet Sr. and soon Hamlet reconciles by forgiving Gertrude for her
wrong deeds. “It is a moment of moral reconciliation, not an erotic patchup” writes Hale in “Hamlet and Oedipus: A Protest” (113).
He goes on to say:
It is also, in the end, a moment of pause, and calm, even
though tragically enough the calm lasts only for a few lines
and is over before the scene is. Still and all, it exemplifies
what Aristotle said about the most tragic plot, that it shows
people who are near and dear to one another doing terrible
things to one another and suffering them from one another
At last, he says, Aristotle’s peripeteia and anagnorisis underlie this scene.
The hermeneutics of Sir Lawrence Olivier’s 1948 film version
draws Freudian implications, particularly, in Hamlet’s famous soliloquy:
‘To be, or not to be’ in (Act III Scene I):
In the Freudian fashion, Olivier’s Hamlet depicts the symbolic
triple equation of ocean, the unconscious, and death. In this
scene particularly, Freudian dream symbolisms and Jungian
archetype coalesce: for both psychologists the ocean can
represent death (and rebirth) and the unconscious
simultaneously (Baumlin 43).
Hamlet Studies also presents Hamlet on feminist stage production.
Premiered in Budapest in May 1992, a feminist Hamlet has carved a space
for feminist theatre on the Hungarian stage. Rani Drew traces the trajectory
of Hamlet reconstructed on feminist grounds. Jacques Lacan’s theory of
socialization—a tool in giving it a desired shape. As the title suggests, the
feminist play covers three Acts of the Shakespearean play. While the
distinctiveness lies in creating a framework that places a Prologue before
every Act of the play (in the style of Pericles) and an Epilogue afterwards
(in the inner frame) in showcasing a female protagonist rather than the
male, unchained of prohibitions, breathing in a free air, with two selves
projected in the inner and the outer frame: text I and text II—the real self
and illusory, i.e. Ghost. In Derridean terms, she is also a signifier: “In the
feminist text, Ophelia becomes the seen signifier, in that she destabilizes
the whole patriarchal structure, shifting the power structures by making
them the object of her conscious gaze” (Drew 125).
Reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Hamlet” is not a grief-stricken character
with a feeble personality. Rani Drew endows her with qualities such as
subjectivity, creativity, consciousness of the Other, etc. that blossom her
personality; gear up the courage to enact the drama of social oppression
and the encouragement to recognize and reveal the emptiness of patriarchal
power that bases the male-female relationship on gender. In this context,
consider the feminist parody of Hamlet staged by Susan Triesman at the
University of Strathdyde, wherein Ophelia acquires a leading role. In “The
III Act Hamlet: a Feminist Extension/Reconstruction of Shakespeare’s
Hamlet”, the performance stage is a feminist stage where we find feminist
argument concerning gender difference. On the stage, are placed a bench
and a stool to be used by the actors but basically the bench “remains a seat
of male privilege” (127). Ophelia uses it in Prologues but the stool, which
is placed at “a diagonal angle downstage left” (126) for Ophelia and which
is never used by her. Even the music that is played also contributes to
gender orientation:
drum beat, military uniform and war for the male world; and
flute sound, child’s laughter for the non-linguistic dyad of
mother and child (127).
The Shakespearean Hamlet shows the Ghost of Hamlet Sr. to sound
Hamlet of the King’s death but in the III-Act Hamlet Ophelia is presented
as a Ghost to notice female oppression, and male hegemony in young and
old generation groups. She directs a dumb-show in which there is an
authoritarian father, a male child, a female child and their mother. When
the father shows strictness, the male child, at once “is terror-stricken. As
the father draws his sword and tries to threaten the child, his hand
immediately goes to his genitals in an attempt to protect them against the
advancing sword” (129). The female child on the contrary returns to the
mother. Even the male child also tries to return to the mother but the
mother shows helplessness and directs the boy to go to his father. Thus,
Ophelia observes:
It is in the moment of separation on a gender basis that
Ophelia gains the consciousness of how so early in life
prohibition and fear are put on the girl, and how the boy is led
away to serve the patriarchy with promises of power and
privilege (129).
Prologue II discusses the way young generation, i.e. Laertes liberates
himself from the paternal authority and the espionage against the young:
Looking back on her life she sees how Laertes’ desire to
escape his father’s grip to fun-seeking Paris motivates
Polonius to spy on him through a young servant (a short dumb
show is enacted here with Polonius and Reynaldo appearing as
backdrop to Ophelia’s lines), and all in the name of fatherly
love (130).
Even Hamlet is spied upon by Claudius. Hamlet sets up a counter-system
of espionage against Claudius, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern and Polonius
and he also uses child-actors. The Prologue II ends with these lines:
Mark, then, the players and the played,
The powerful and the weak, the old and
Young, and men against women and children—
The stuff of games, war and art (qtd. in Drew 131).
Rani Drew writes in Prologue III,
Ophelia distances herself from the man she loved. She sees
him-ruthlessly exploitative of the child actors he admired as
artists, brutally oppressive to the woman he loved, and
inhumanly bullying the mother he honoured (132).
“The Dame as Dane: A Comparative Analysis of Two Female
Hamlets” presents a distinctive study, that sex is not a barrier in
performing the role of Hamlet. Female actors can well-perform—actresses
such as Charlotte Crampton, Eliza Warren, Alice Marriott of eighteenth
and nineteenth-century received maximum applause and attention from the
critics. In the recent years, Dame Judith Anderson has very well-performed
the role at the age of seventy-two.
I don’t think of Hamlet as either male or female—the role is
asexual… Sure, I’m old, but I am sick and tired of you writers
who keep dwelling on that… . What I do on the stage is what
counts (qtd. in McCauley 113).
Judith was dressed to suggest a Danish look (black tunic, tights and boots)
in a two-hour production. She tries to imitate the original Hamlet, says
Dame Judith’s rich, deep voice was clearly projected and
immaculately phrased. She delivered the soliloquies and great
speeches slowly, deliberately punctuating them with long
dramatic pauses (113).
Her emotional display are: “O what a rogue and peasant slave am I!”
(2.2.544); “The play’s the thing/Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the
King.” (2.2.600-01); Even in a nunnery scene, Hamlet requests earnestly to
evince his ardent love to Ophelia. In 1982, Joseph Papp introduced a
thirty-year-old Hartford native—Diane Venora with an aim to produce a
noble, classical Hamlet. This youthful protagonist both in voice and body,
stands in starker contrast to Dame Judith Anderson. McCauley describes
Joseph Papp’s preparations:
Papp chose an elegant early nineteenth-century setting for the
production on the basis that a more modern style of pants
disguises an actress in a male role better than Renaissance
garb. Miss Venora wore a long, dark, close-fitting military
jacket with a high collar and ornate gold trim, a wide sash at
the waist, and boots, her hair in a boyish cut. The rich, elegant
costumes were appropriate for the grand acting area at the
Anspacher Theater at Papp’s Greenwich Village complex, The
Public (115).
Still, the critics and audience felt that she failed to sustain a well-defined,
unified concept of character. At times, she is childish in taunting Polonius
and girlish in weeping too often. In Sarah Berhnhardt’s view, the rationale
for casting female as Hamlet concerns his sexual identity; “I cannot see
Hamlet as a man. The things he says, his impulses, his actions entirely
indicate to me that he was a woman” (qtd. in McCauley 117), the article
ceases with the idea that projection of female actors as Hamlets is a new
area to delve in for the scholars. Besides Diane Venora, Joseph Papp’s
production showcases a marble world—where from walls to benches
everything is marbled. Also, there are silent characters such as Cornelius,
one of the ambassadors to Norway; a woman player who does not act in
The Murder of Gonzago but is present when the players arrive and listen
intelligently to Hamlet’s advice. The play is worth-seeing, as Bernice
Kliman says, just because of two principal women characters, sweetly
attractive Ophelia and dynamic Gertrude. Even in terror, Ophelia retains
her dignity. Though Hamlet is brutal to her, yet she remains at peace. She
adores Laertes and Polonius. On knowing Hamlet’s love for Ophelia,
Gertrude, the queen, looks at her appraisingly and returns Hamlet’s letter
to her. The relationship between Gertrude and Claudius is not enriched
with love, it rather becomes troublesome. After Polonius’ death, he
approaches Gertrude and she tries to make love and Claudius extends his
anger, but suddenly holds himself and starts embracing her. There is a kind
of simultaneous attraction and revulsion. As Hamlet’s mother, she is
passionate, intelligent and complex person. On the other hand, the
audience finds Horatio a coward as he doesn’t follow the Ghost, and
Hamlet a valiant man. Bernice W. Kliman sums up,
This production, by the excellence of most of its female actors,
hinted that a woman might indeed play Hamlet, particularly if
she had the physical presence to carry off the part so that she
would not have to look and sound like an adolescent boy
In their production, the Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival, players made
Prince Hamlet the Princess of Denmark and presented it at the meeting of
The Shakespeare Association of America (Cleveland, 1998). Robert F.
Fleissner has written about this production in “Hamlet Reworked as
Princess of Denmark” (Vol. 22). Robert L. Reid writes in A Response:
The production kept me thinking. Many of the changes seemed
to “work”, reinvigorating territory that is far too familiar—
especially in the way they provided a new range of meaning
and motivation within the Polonius family, and in the way they
revised the Ghost—Freud’s “Oedipal Complex” partly
replaced by more of a “Lear Complex” (with the ghostly father
actually lifting her up into the air at one point!) (126).
Furthermore, he suggests the possibility of a strong lesbian Hamlet
for “play’s universality, as well as its infinite adaptability to the changing
cultural idioms” (Reid 126).
The Warehouse Theatre produces “A Hamlet for Generation X”.
Now, Hamlet has been adopted on the postmodernist stage. Simple and
conversational English is being used accomplished by the elimination of
many scenes. Much of the play witnesses characters in contemporary
dress. James R. Andreas Sr. considers “Hamlet is clearly “the thing” in this
play,….” (130). The role of Hamlet is played by Trevor Anthony, a
postgraduate fellow of the Yale School of Drama. The context is more or
less the same—that he is disconcerted and denigrated by his father’s death
and mother’s remarriage. This has sapped his confidence and faith. He is
grief-stricken but he does not keep his grief to himself. There are outbursts:
He constantly steps from what Weimann calls the locus, the
castle and its courtly confines to the apron of the stage, the
platea, that bully pulpit of the people where he can speak in
his own voice, as opposed to the polite speech of the court,
directly to an audience he assumes will champion him as the
people ultimately do when he is banished to England
(Andrea 130).
The article on this production included in Vol. 20 (1998), makes one’s
gorge rise as the production is based on Mikhail Bakhtin’s concept of
carnival, wherein social hierarchies of everyday life—their solemnities and
pieties and etiquettes, as well as all ready-made truths—are overturned by
normally suppressed voices and energies. The opposites are united, for
example, fact and fantasy, heaven and hell; likewise, fools become wise
and kings become beggars. But, for Hamlet carnival is dead. We find that
neither they sense their son’s melancholy and oscillating conduct nor they
consider the betrayal of each other a nefarious means to achieve the crown
as a Gordian Knot. Hamlet of generation “X” is “irreverent, wisecracking,
and disrespectful” (131). Gertrude and Claudius are insincere and
treacherous. Polonius is sketched as a comic fool in his scenes with
Claudius and Gertrude. Robert L. Hobbs plays Polonius. Ophelia and
Laertes are dutiful loving children and their roles are played by Carolyn
Hembree and Michael Harding respectively. Hamlet’s antic disposition is
counted in terms of Ophelia’s insanity as her choice stands for self-
deception or malicious motive in the play. Heiner Muller translated Hamlet
for the people of Berlin for a staging at the Deutsches Theatre in Berlin.
Janet Savin describes the translation as “a six-page condensation of the
two-hundred page play” (107). Also, he opines that the translated Hamlet
resembles the original one only in substance and style. Hamlet is a lamp in
Muller’s hand that brings to light the inseparable past and future, the social
and political structures in Europe; the commencement of the electronic
age. After the nunnery scene, the second half of the play begins and the
first half ends. He presents the ghost as, says Janet Savin, “a new age
gladiator who carries a long sword and wears a tight-fitting silver helmet
which suggests both the head of an extra-terrestial creature and a skull”
(108). Ulrich Muhe plays the role of Hamlet and in many comic scenes
imitates Charlie Chaplin. Janet Savin explains Muller’s viewpoint
beautifully, “The very idea of heroic action in such a world is meaningless,
and the basic reference for Hamlet himself is appropriately enough, Charlie
Chaplin, that tragic comic opponent of both industrial and political
mechanization” (109). Claudius is presented as a tyrant and Ophelia as a
self-assertive woman. Besides this, he presents the Hamlet-ClaudiusGertrude triangle in the second half; Janet Savin finds Ophelia’s burial
scene set in Nazi Germany and the way it is set, reflects Germanic culture:
A black flat with a hexagonal hole in the center is placed in
front of a painted flat which fills the hexagon with the tops of
gravestones and trees converging on a patch of blue sky in the
kind of perspective given by a fish-eye lens. The image creates
the illusion that the theatre itself is a grave—and that the
audience is in deeper than the performers. The arrangement of
the flats allows the two clowns (the first played by the same
actor who plays Polonius) to step through the hole into the
grave as cabaret masters of ceremony, and to call up, as they
do so, other forms of popular entertainment, such as
melodrama and magicians’ shows, which are tinged with a
certain darkness. The two crack their jokes, philosophize with
Hamlet, brother and lover tussle over the body of Ophelia,
after which the Polonius actor does a quick check of her
pockets and her fillings – all to the intermittent strains of “Eine
Kleine Nachtmusik”, played presto, honky-tonk style (112-13).
These adaptations and imitations, have recreated Hamlet, thereby
keeping Hamlet alive. Hamlet is in the memory of stage/screen producers
and directors although their taste and approach may be different from
people of the past. Productions provide a new range of meaning as
different cultures dominate these productions. The transformation of
Shakespearean play into German, Arabic, Indian cultures, etc. illustrates
the high level reception extended to Shakespeare.
The BBC production of Hamlet showcases Hamlet in direct contact
with the audience. He comes out of the character in soliloquies as in
“rogue and peasant slave” (2.2.544) and comments on the action:
Screaming “Bloody, bawdy villain ! Remorseless, treacherous,
lecherous, kindles villain”, he draws his sword and strikes the
air as he observes both heaven and hell are prompting him to
his revenge (Champion 99).
Hamlet directs play-within-the-play as he moves in and out of the action
performing multiple roles. He asks Gertrude whether she likes the play or
not? After hearing her response—“The lady doth protest too much, me
thinks” (3.2.225), he rushes to Claudius and assures:
… there is “no offence i’th’ world” in it. He orders Lucianus to
cease posturing and to begin his speech, later exclaiming, as
the potion is poured in the Player-King’s ear, that the villain
“poisons him i’th’ garden for his estate” and soon will get his
wife (100).
Hamlet achieves a coherence of personality in the final act, i.e. Act V. He
is valiant and determined, prepared to face future with consistency,
possessing fire-eyed determination to knock down the king; a man with
undivided mind and philosophy ready to handle cruelly enigmatic issues.
Larry S. Champion encapsulates:
Jacobi’s Hamlet, in a word, underscores those elements in the
play in which Shakespeare forces the spectators from the role
of passive observer to active critic; they themselves must put
together the pieces of the puzzle in order to provide the
answers or assumptions which the play itself refuses to yield;
the “experience of the audience on the stage (which includes
all the dramatis personae) is shared by that in the theatre”
Distinctly different from the above-mentioned, this BBC Hamlet is a
television production that aims at making the play inconsistent as it is. The
producers earmarked bare space with a freedom in shooting style as a
proper set for the production. This bare set is highly suggestive of deep
kinship with Shakespearean stage. In the views of Bernice W. Kliman, the
BBC production is analogous to “pointillism of impressionistic
paintings…” (100). It is bereft of location and realistic sets, focus is not on
the play as a whole but on various scenes. Such as the ghost scene, the
“Mousetrap”, the nunnery scene, etc. and relationships such as HamletHoratio;
Guildenstern’s relation to Hamlet. The production makes allusions to
Olivier’s Hamlet and establishes the supremacy of TV production over
stage dramatization. It does not present Hamlet as mad, as it is assumed, it
rather comprehends his behaviour. Bernice W. Kliman accounts for
madness as the effort to absorb his suffering; Hamlet is shown as lonely
and isolated amidst multitude. Kliman reasons, “A man who seems to
choose solitude, Hamlet is all the more alone because of those around him”
(102). Rosencrantz and Guildenstern seem to have little interest in him
than in authoritative people. Horatio does put a comforting hand
occasionally. That Derek Jacobi plays Hamlet well is known to all:
Through nuance of gesture, through body movement, through
a face that is indeed a map of all emotions, Jacobi shapes a
Hamlet who loves his father too much to disregard his
command, yet who cannot hate his step-father enough to
attend it… There is no declaration of love, no concern about
Hamlet’s ascension to the throne (Kliman 104).
Kliman recapitulates the technique underlining this production:
All of this production’s richness and suggestiveness was
realized…. within the set’s spareness that acting could unfold,
an acting style that subsumes and transcends the “real”. This
production’s space tells us what is possible for television
presentations of Shakespeare the more bare the set, it seems,
the more glowing the words, the more immediate our
apprehension of the enacted emotion (105).
Shakespeare’s recognition is immense. Japan too witnessed
Hamlet’s adaptation. There are translations of soliloquy and the story of
Hamlet that Yoshiko Kawachi accommodates in her article; at first, “To
be, or not to be” was translated into broken Japanese by Charles Wirgman,
an English correspondent in 1875. then it was published in Shintaishi-sho
(anthology of poems). Again it was translated by Toyama as “Shinuruga
mashi ka, ikuruga mashi ka” (Which is better, to die or to live?) (Kawachi
94). Modified by Yatabe as “Nagaraubeki ka tadashi mata, nagaraubekini
aranu ka” (Should I live long, or not?) (94). Kabuki style is used in
translations. Tsubouchi translated it as “Nagarauru, nagaraenu (To live
long or not) (95) and in 1909 he changed the translation into “Yo ni aru,
Yo ni aranu” (To be in the world, or not to be in the world) (95). Tsuneari
Fukuda translated the same soliloquy into “Sei ka, Shi ka” (Life or death)
(95). Junji Kinoshita gives his own version, ““Konomamani atte iino ka,
attewa ikenaino ka” (To maintain the status quo, or to change the status
quo) Jiro Ozu puts it as “Yaru, yaranu” (To do, or not to do)” (96). Yushi
Odashima translates it as ““Konomamade iino ka, ikenaino ka, sorega
mondai da” (To maintain the status quo, or to change the status quo, that is
the question)” (96). For Yasunari Takahashi it is, “Suru ka shinai ka” (To
do, or not to do) (97) and for Kazuko Matsuoka it is “Ikite todomaru ka,
kiete nakunaru ka” (To stay alive, or to disappear from this world) (97). It
seems as if the emphasis is on homogenization of Shakespeare in Japanese
ideology. Kawachi in the article “Translating Hamlet into Japanese” writes
that from 1871 to 1970, Shakespeare has been much-discussed. He gives
Tsubouchi’s viewpoint that their “translations were faulty and that they
mistranslated the great passages” (95). Kawachi praises Tsubouchi:
While translating Shakespeare, he appears to have been
strongly conscious of the difference in dramaturgy between the
East and the West. He felt the necessity of establishing the
methodology of comparative drama in Japan, and sometimes
he compared Shakespeare with Monzaemon. Chikamatsu, a
representative playwright of Kabuki and Joruri. He was the
first to give serious consideration to what the Japanese people
should learn from Shakespeare and how the Japanese drama
should be improved by a study of Shakespeare’s dramaturgy.
He viewed Shakespeare from the standpoint of a Japanese
wishing eagerly to improve the drama of this country (95).
The article is divided into three sections and in the second section Kawachi
writes, “Translation is a verbal product as well as a cultural product” (97).
The adaptations, translations and stage performances of Hamlet have
enriched Japanese literature and enlightened Japanese public. 1903
witnessed the first performance of Hamlet. With the original title, Kayo
Yamagishi and Shunsho Doi present a nobleman struggling in his life. In
1905 a word-for-word translation of Hamlet was done by Koya Tozawa
and Hyokya Asano. An epoch-making production in the history of the
Japanese stage was that of Shoyo Tsubouchi’s Hamlet. In May 1911, he
revised his own translation that was performed by the Bungei Kyokai at
the Imperial Theatre in Tokyo.
Eventually, the play became novel in the hands of Japanese.
Kurōdiasy no Nikki (Claudius’s Diary) is Naoya Shiga’s psychological
novel appeared in a literary magazine, The Shirakaba in 1912. The
characters remain the same but there are changes in Claudius’s character.
He wants Hamlet to understand his passion. He wishes to be a good
husband and father respectively but Hamlet fails to understand. Hamlet’s
misunderstanding leads to Claudius’ writing a diary in which he asks
several questions. Several years later, Shiga wrote Hamuretto Nikki
(Hamlet’s Diary) that showcases Hamlet’s contempt for Claudius and
Gertrude and wonders if he is Claudius’ son. The description of an
unhappy home is found in Osamu Dazai’s novel Shin Hamuretto (“New
Hamlet”). Kawachi writes:
In this novel Hamlet is a nihilistic playboy, unreliable son, and
jester. He is skillful at fencing, riding, and composing poetry,
but he is not enthusiastic about anything. Gertrude is very old
and Hamlet thinks her remarriage is ridiculous. Hamlet regards
Claudius as a good and weak man, although he doesn’t like
him much. Claudius looks on Hamlet’s whims as youthful
follies and wants to be friendly with him.
(“Hamlet in Japan” 70)
Besides this, Claudius is a modern villain who murders his brother and
starts an illicit love affair with the brother’s wife. An astonishing fact,
neither Claudius nor Hamlet dies, rather Gertrude kills herself on seeing
that Claudius has murdered her husband in the play projected by Polonius.
Hence Claudius, says Kawachi “starts a war to camouflage his
predicament” (71).
Tsuneari Fukuda’s novel Horeisho Nikki (The Horatio diary) is
based on this supposition: love between Horatio and Ophelia. David Jones
plays the role of Horatio, and Isabel Ophelia. Due to Jones’ noble
character, Isabel is unable to seduce him on a night train. Albert is Hamlet
and loves Isabel. In his encounter with Albert, Jones learns about his love
and Isabel’s divorce. Shohei Ooka considers Hamlet a political drama. He
wrote a novel Hamuretto Nikki (The Hamlet Diary) in 1955 after
considering the film on Hamlet and Dover Wilson’s What Happens in
‘Hamlet’. The story begins: Hamlet knows about the marriage of Gertrude
and Claudius and considers it as the best way for safety but he believes in
vengeance; revenge on Claudius and Gertrude as he finds Gertrude lustful.
Hamlet meets Fortinbras and tells him about his banishment. Fortinbras
readily helps but refuses his token of thanks - a part of Danish territory
I have never complained that my uncle succeeded to the
Norwegian crown… . I am not as bent on revenge as you. My
aspirations are greater than yours (qtd. in Kawachi 74).
While dying, Hamlet hands his diary to Horatio and he sends it to his
friend living in Paris. He doesn’t view himself as a prince’s (Fortinbras)
advisor and companion. It may be unsafe to keep the diary as Fortinbras
forbids him from telling the truth; also a person is completely non compos
mentis while feigning madness as is evident from Hamlet’s life and
position. Kawachi finds both Hamlet and Horatio Machiavellian and
documents Ooka’s standpoint and attitude towards life:
Probably Ooka wished to express in this novel that modern
society is full of madness, wars, and political machination…
Therefore to live with one is important (75).
Besides this, in the last four paragraphs Kawachi frames a comprehensive
view of Japanese novels. Secondary characters have been highlighted and
diary as a form in writing the novels has been adopted to express hero’s
inner monologue/psychology. The novelists mirror Shakespeare’s Hamlet
in the light of Japanese thoughts, culture and language thereby making an
attempt to strengthen the social and cultural ties between Elizabethan
England and present-day Japan. It has also been thought that the
limitations in Hamlet led to the adoption of novel as the form of
The Tokyo Globe Company’s Hamlet is named as The Kabuki
Hamlet. Here, Hamlet is translated into classical Japanese. Besides
background instrumental music to express various situations and moods,
there is striking of wooden clappers (tsukeuchi) to indicate important
moments in the action. Various additions mark the difference between
Kabuki and the original Hamlet says R.W. Desai:
Claudius was visited by his brother’s ghost; overwhelmed, he
bowed down and confessed his crime; in the closet scene, the
ghost didn’t appear to Hamlet but the picture of his dead father
burst into flames instead; at the end, Hamlet was not killed by
Laertes but committed ritual suicide, which Laertes also did.
Gertrude’s death throes were so prolonged that one wondered
from where she derived so much energy (92).
Prof. Desai observes the duel between Hamlet and Laertes with actual
rapiers—symbolic and graceful dance. Similarly, Peter Brook turns Hamlet
into an epic play, entitles it as Quiest La and calls it a mosaic. His prime
objective is to frame a paradigm:
The selection of material from Shakespeare’s play is
influenced by Brook’s desire for a text which can be
understood with relative ease and by the emphasis on acting
and rehearsal which was part of the directors’ project from the
beginning (Savin 121).
Nineteen scenes in all, are framed by prelude and epilogue; eliminating
many scenes and characters such as Reynaldo, Voltemand and Osric. It
does include play-within-the-play. Some passages have been extracted
“from the writings of Artaud, Brecht, Gordon Craig, Meyerhold,
Stainistavsky and Zeami as well as lesser known twentieth-century
directors” (qtd. in Savin 120). After the first player’s speech follows
Hamlet’s “O what a rogue and peasant slave am I!” (2.2.544), Brook
exhibits the depth of her relationship with Hamlet. Savin deems the French
translation to be:
A meditation upon the theatre and upon Hamlet rather than an
attempt to interpret Shakespeare’s play. It is unfortunate that
the text will probably never be published (124).
A French production of Hamlet by Patrice Chereau for the Avignon
Festival and the Theatre des Amandiers unfortunately failed to fulfill the
expectations aroused by Chereau’s reputation. He presents the ghost on
horseback. Janet Savin says “The low light glints on the armour and waves
over the translucent cape of the ghost, making the rolling breakers and
screaming gulls on the soundtrack almost visible” (Patrice Chereau’s
production 109). Claudius is more absorbed in Gertrude; Ophelia is tall
and strong-boned, energetic and volatile. Savin speculates that Chereau,
somehow, is deficient in coordinating the stage production with
Shakespeare’s dense text:
The pyrotechnics of horse and rider, who almost run Horatio
down, contradict his subsequent characterizations of the
ghost’s “solemn march” and “countenance more in sorrow
than in anger.” They also unfortunately steal the first scene
between Hamlet and his father. At least Chereau does allow
the two an initial moment of contact. Hamlet enters from the
same position as the ghost in the preceding scene, upstage left,
then freezes, his attention on horse and rider who are
temporarily stationary downstage right (109).
The metaphysical questions such as that of mutability and death are
inexplicable. Moreover, originality is not the hallmark; it is rather
destroyed by excessive stage business.
David William’s production of Hamlet is a poetry of the play with
focus on language. Colm Feore, a star acts as Hamlet and presents the
character as youthful through physical activity. Unlike other productions,
the play does not take the audience to new interpretive flights. It runs for 3
3/4 hrs and is shortened by cutting lines rather than scenes or dialogues
judiciously. For example, Priam and Hecuba speech is missing. Three
silent characters are introduced, two torturers and their victim, played by
Hume Baugh, Jim White and Geoff McBride respectively. Joanne Craig
observes that this indicates Claudius’ fear of dangers of Hamlet’s freedom
(4.3.2) and concludes:
William’s production raises the possibility that the riddles of
the play remain inscrutable because Shakespeare inherited
them from a tradition that goes back through Belleforest and
Saxo Grammaticus to folklore and made them the occasion for
his poetry. In its literalness and simplicity, and inspite of some
undeniable shortcomings, William’s production succeeds in
holding the mirror upto art (90).
There are two Toronto productions directed by Clarke Rogers and
Guy Sprung at Passe Muraille and Toronto Free Theatre respectively. They
are categorized as low budget productions. The Passe Muraille Hamlet
(1983) is historically framed and demonstrates self-referentiality. Its
improvised acting-out of psychic events and abstract jazz sound-scape
present it as a “dauntingly ambitious project” (100) says G.B. Shand in
“Two Toronto Hamlets”, Vol.13 (1991). Nearly thirty roles were
performed by eleven actors—an indication of heavy use of doubling, and
better than others was done by Booth Savage, as Bernardo, Claudius’
ambassador to Norway, the Ghost, the player King, Fortinbras and so on.
On the other hand doubling is quite light in Guy Sprung’s Hamlet (1986).
It’s a melodrama with new units of action modifying or denying
Shakespeare’s Five-Act format.
A Prelude to Hamlet by Samuel Sussman was probably produced at
New York City U.S.A. As the play starts Hamlet and Ophelia know each
other and their love blossoms while he is in Wittenberg. Fortinbras is a
Laertes-like figure and his sister, Cassandra is Ophelia-like. She is also the
intended bride of Hamlet. His uncle recovers from illness to announce at
the Danish Court about Fortinbras’ visit to Poland to collect “back taxes”
for Denmark. Later on, for Hamlet’s continued absence, Cassandra
commits suicide. The Old Hamlet is named as Horvendile (borrowed from
Saxo Grammaticus) who is rash, ruthless and a pirate who lives by
conquest. Claudius is a scholar and a reasonable man and not corrupt as in
Hamlet. Hamlet’s disposition is analogous to that of Claudius in the
Prelude. Though Claudius pours poison in the Horvendile’s ear yet is
goaded by a determined Gertrude:
Gertrude had drugged Horvendile to make the killing possible
for the weaker Claudius, whose position had become untenable
after he had openly disobeyed Horvendile in failing to fetch
Hamlet home from Wittenberg (Kliman 96).
Bernice W. Kliman considers these changes trespassing in the Prelude.
A cultural adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet in U.S.A. is Penny
Marshall’s Renaissance Man (1994) wherein he emphasizes Renaissance
values. Neither is it based on Hamlet nor does it have a story like Hamlet.
Shalini Sikka says, “I find that the film offers an entertaining and edifying
mix of Shakespeare and youthful rowdiness” (254). The film is about an
English teacher inculcating Shakespearean values in his students. The
students are young army recruits. The whole thrust of the film is:
If physical training prepares them for war, knowledge of
Shakespeare prepares them for life; Shakespearean values cut
across racial/military/civilian barriers and become
comprehensible to blacks, whites, Hispanics, anyone and
everyone (Sikka 257).
Hamlet’s soliloquy “To be, or not to be” (3.1.56) has been reworked in
America by Isaiah Thomas. Neil L. York gives Willoughby’s consent that
its parody “…could be used to ridicule one’s political enemies” (qtd. in
York 40). The parody appeared in August, 1770 issue of The
Massachusetts Spy. Neil L. York gives a full view of the parody in the
article Hamlet as American Revolutionary in Vol. 15:
To print or not to print – that is the question.
Whether ’tis better in a trunk to bury
The quirks and crotchets of outrageous fancy,
Or send a well-wrote Essay to the press.
(No matter which, whether on timid cowardice or courage)…
A second parody of Hamlet is also penned by Isaiah Thomas wherein the
theme of conspiracy against American liberties permeates:
Be text, or not be text, that is the question:
whether ’tis nobler in our minds to suffer
The sleights and cunning of deceitful statesmen,
Or to petition ’gainst illegal taxes.
And by opposing end them? —
To live, to act, no more, and fast asleep,
To say we and Assemblies and the thousand
Liberties that Englishmen are heirs to,
’Tis a determination directly to be crush’d:
To live, to eat, perchance to be all SLAVES,
Aye, there’s the rub—
For in that tax of—[tea] what slavery may come (43).
McCarter Theatre Company, New York introduced Hamlet in 1982.
Nagle Jackson, the director projects Hamlet as a Romantic Hero. Harry
Hamlin represents Hamlet superbly. He delivered speeches with clarity as
well as with prosodic features such that it sounds as a live spontaneous
speech. Gordon Ross Smith’s review tells that many of the scenes,
conversations with Polonius, Claudius, Laertes have been cut in order to
reduce it to three hours playing time. He briefly describes Claudius as
“neither oily nor efficient” and Gertrude as “regal and distant” (Smith 107)
but not affectionate. Hamlet has been seen as frustrated and loathing. The
story has not been told, he rather encapsulates various scenes. Furthermore
the stage is bare and schematic: “three moving panels to suggest walls, a
big sky at the back, and a trapdoor for the ghost. Now and then a double
throne”. Smith praises Harry Hamlin for his superb participation: “He was
far better than Jacobi in the recent BBC version, and better than Olivier in
his cinematic version of thirty years ago” (106, 108).
Robert F. Willson Jr. enunciates that the University of Arkanas
presented a production of Hamlet based on a pared text, i.e. to say
shortening of multisyllabic words, i.e. from four to three syllables and
omission of selected scenes and lines of dialogue. In addition, Hamlet
accepts death heartily thereby unleashing his anger; other characters such
as Claudius and Gertrude are formal and mechanical in their style; Laertes
is fragile whereas Polonius is forgetful and pontifical. Most importantly,
the stage floor distributes columns as that of a chess board to represent the
soaring ambition of Claudius’ court. Special music composed by director
Roger Gross illustrates the vehemence of Ophelia’s nunnery and the
madness scenes.
His Majesty’s Theatre (Johannesburg) corroborated Afrikaans
translation of Hamlet in 1947. In the words of Anna Neethling-Pohl, the
co-director, this production is neither an improvement nor it is something
different. It is rather an attempt to let living Shakespeare speak in a
foreign language. It is a drive to imperpetuate British domination and
validate Afrikaner culture in the struggle for revival of Afrikaner
nationalism. Andre Huguenet who plays Hamlet is a wronged man. He
owes a piece of land in the Orange Free State which is a subject of dispute.
David Haynes played Hamlet in a production of Hamlet (1969) directed by
Robert Mohr, head of Drama Department at the University of Cape Town.
Mohr tries to gauge the persuasion of budding youth pin the great classic:
…I think contemporary thing—that students, such as the
people who are playing these parts, are concerned about the
world around them more than the previous generation were,
that the generation gap, the young people like Hamlet,
Ophelia, Laertes, young Fortinbras, the terrible twins,
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, are baffled and confused by the
politically and morally corrupt state which is Denmark, and
they are in revolt against it, each in their own way, or some of
them go along with it for personal reasons, each as his
character dictates, and this seems to be receiving the emphasis.
To me, it is fascinating and it’s a voyage of rediscovery of the
play rather than superimposing a new interpretation of it (New
Trend) (qtd. in Quince 146-47).
South Africa witnessed lot of boycotts [anti-apartheid] in 1980. In 1981,
Phyllis Klotz directed a theater-in-education production of Hamlet with a
black actor named Toko Scott. Black actor playing the role of Hamlet
formed the context of the play:
… usurpation of black Hamlet’s rights by the white Claudius,
aided and abetted by his white advisers. Although Hamlet has
the support of the people, he is outmatched in terms of power
by the white king. He is betrayed by his white lover and his
white friends. Although the emphasis on Christian versus
traditional revenge morality may be seen as a dilution of the
political thrust of the production, the focus on the
action/inaction crux certainly placed the play firmly in the
South African context (Quince 149-50).
Amongst others Louis Henry (1784-1836) occupies a prestigious
position. His shows were staged at various places: Vienna, Venice, Naples
and Milan, etc. The first production of Hamlet under a nick name, Le
Shakespeare de l’ entrechat” was staged at the Theatre Porte-Saint-Martin
in Paris (1816). Thereafter, shows were staged at Vienna in 1822 and
Venice in 1828. The original Hamlet remains Prince but never becomes
King. In Henry’s Hamlet, Gertrude has got the central role to play (as that
of a King). Old Hamlet and Claudius do not share brotherhood. Claudius is
a scheming usurper to the throne and Ophelia’s father. Gertrude an
unscrupled woman is declared guilty for her evil deeds and that she
confesses before Hamlet. He employed Italian style to dramatize Hamlet:
Pantomime techniques, use of machines and elaborate scenery and above
all dances in ceremonial and even battle scenes. Italy has witnessed the
staging of ballets. Henry’s ballets present a full-fledged view of Italian
style. William E. Sheidley indites, “…His ballet, Hamlet won the constant
and general approval of the discerning Milanese public” (qtd. in Sheidley
55). Henry presents Hamlet as calm and rational rather than a Hamlet with
antic disposition; Holding a bloody sword, he first dances on the stage.
Eugene Scribe and C.G. Delestre-Poirson presented a parody, Hamlet de
M. Public at Théâtre du Vaudeville. Thé Journal de Paris acclaims
In subjecting to the rules of choreography one of the gloomiest
subjects Shakespeare treated, M. Henry undertook a very risky
venture; but his audacity has brought him complete success
(qtd. in Sheidley 62).
Madame Queriau, the first rank dancer and pantomimist at both the Opera
and the popular theatres performs as Gertrude. Henry’s and Queriau’s
stylized movements and postures conveyed specific emotions, moods and
attitudes and also distinguished emotions like jealousy, anger, upbraiding
and threat, meditation, etc. Sheidley accentuates the emotional
expressiveness in a pantomime and its kinesthetic beauty.
Hamlet was staged in Cairo, Egypt around 1893 by Tanius Abodh.
Though the title is the same, Mahmoud F. AL-Shetawi mentions that it is a
shortened and revised version, with the emission of whole scenes, major
passages and addition of songs and Arabic love poetry. He cites an
Hamlet’s remarks to Ophelia, “Lady, shall I lie in your lap?”
(3.2.105) is revised as follows: “Allow me, O Lady to sit at
your feet, for I am afraid that the arrows of your eyes might
smite me” (Shetawi 79).
In the end Abdoh’s Hamlet gains victory over his enemies. Besides this
production, Khalil Mutran and Sami AI-Juraidini translated Hamlet in
1916 and 1922 respectively. Another Arabic stage production with three
acts and two intermissions was directed by Sayyed Bedir at Cairo Opera
House and translated by Sami AI-Juraidini. The leading role of Hamlet
was played by Karan Mutani. Mahmoud F. AL-Shetawi critically examines
the emendations and opines that these have weakened the dramatic
structure of the entire play. Mohammed Subhi presents a collage of Hamlet
with only two Acts. In the performance, he uses epic theatre tools and
narrative techniques. Mahmoud F. AL-Shetawi remarks:
Arab interpreters have generally conceived Hamlet as
representing the dilemma of the divided individual who is torn
between his desire to take revenge and the fear that the ghost
could be an evil spirit which is tempting his soul to fall into an
abyss of darkness. Subhi, however, creates a revolutionary.
Hamlet who rebels against corruption and tyranny and dies in
pursuit of justice. In Subhi’s view Hamlet has been aware of
the opposition against him, especially that his quest to attain
justice may back-fire. However, he accepts the consequences
of his choice, and he dies in the process, entrusting the legacy
of his tragedy to Horatio in the hope that he will reveal it to all
future generations (83).
A production that presents everything African—the hero, the setting,
colours, etc. is produced in Iraq and suits the taste of local audience. Salah
Al-Qasab directs it, gives his own meaning to Hamlet and Mahmoud F.
AL-Shetawi terms it as an innovative stage production as various themes
have received his valuable consideration. Herein Hamlet is somewhere in
Arab and “embodies the archetypal meanings of rejection and rebellion
vis-à-vis race & color” (Shetawi 84). On the contrary, in Jawad Al-Asadi’s
production Hamlet a La Mode, he is a “messiah being crucified to redeem
humanity”. A Syrian production highlights Hamlet “fighting Claudius not
just for personal grievances (e.g. revenge), but rather for the cause of
justice and moral duty” (84, 85).
Hamlet has influenced Arabic literature, particularly poetry and
drama. Four poems namely “As Spoken by Hamlet” (Ala Lisani Hamlit),
“Shakespeare without Hamlet” (shakisbir bi-Duni Hamlit), “Hamlet and
Ophelia” (Hamlet wa Ofiliya) “Hamlet Laments Ophelia” (Hamlit Yarthi
Ofiliya) have been composed by Ahmed Shawqi, Mujahid Abdel-Mun’im
Mujahid, Mohammed Yusuf, and Mohammed Abdul-hai respectively.
Shawqi presents Hamlet’s distress whereas Mujahid creates an anti-hero in
contrast to Hamlet who is not at all audacious to compete with the world
and hence gets subjugated:
What can I do O Hamlet and I
Fall dead on his corpse, killed,
But with no poison poured into
My ears or a bullet in my heart (qtd. in Shetawi 88).
Mohammed Yusuf presents Hamlet as a melancholic character thereby
reflecting predicament of mankind:
I cry for my weakness
I cry for the split inside myself
I cry for my lost paradise (qtd. in Shetawi 89).
Abdul-hai’s poem highlights Hamlet’s true love for Ophelia:
I behold thee, O Ophelia
A willow that blooms in Spring (qtd. in Shetawi 90).
Two Arabic plays are based on Hamlet namely Solyman of Aleppo and
Hamlet Awakens Belatedly by Alfred Farag and Mamduh Udwan
respectively. Farag depicts social degeneration and political corruption in
Egypt in the nineteenth-century during Napoleon Bonaparte’s campaign
against that country. Udwan highlights “the dilemma of the Arab
intelligentsia relating to the Arab-Israeli conflict and to the decadence of
Arab societies” (93). Farag presents Solyman as a Syrian student pursuing
his theological studies. In delineating the character of Solyman, Farag
follows Hamlet’s character. In Udwan’s play “Horatio assumes the role of
narrator, thus fulfilling Hamlet’s request that he should tell his story to the
people”. Ophelia is presented as a “whore enjoying carnal pleasures ” (93,
94). Thematic-consideration conforms to the original Hamlet.
One of the articles registers disc recording of Hamlet: ‘Modern
Recordings of Hamlet in English’ by Glen D. Hunter. Sir John Gielgud’s
radio adaptation is considered the first modern recording. Gielgud acts as
Hamlet and his shockingly patriarchal voice presents him older than his
parents. Hunter finds the music unimpressive but on the whole the
adaptation is exceptionally clear. Gielgud’s next interpretation is a fulllength studio recording performed by Old Vic Company. The emphasis
being on sound effects and narration it lacks newness and surprise. Hunter
is full of applause for Gielgud’s presentation of “To be, or not to be”.
When Gielgud delivers the “To be, or not to be” soliloquy
here, it is as if Shakespeare’s most eloquent word-music meets
its ideal, most masterful interpreter (79).
The third recording brought a sharp rejoinder from Hunter:
They have edited, shifted, and ruthlessly arranged the speeches
with a new design in mind. One might call this the
schizophrenic Hamlet. Three actors each are required to play
the roles of Hamlet, Polonius, Ophelia, Claudius and Gertrude
—fortunately the album includes the altered text—and the
whole effect is that of a choral reading. The voice of the young
actors are well orchestrated, and the abstract sounds in the
background dramatize the mood and pace of the individual
scenes. The tri-character concept brings alive the speeches in a
dimensional manner, and lines repeated for highlight effect
sometimes convey a startlingly new impact. Especially
effective and creative are the “Get thee to a nunnery” scene
between Hamlet and Ophelia and the tripartite treatment of the
great soliloquies. I particularly like the “To be or not to be”
reading (qtd. in Hunter 79).
The fourth modern recording is the Dublin Gate Theatre Hamlet that
features MacLiammoir as Hamlet, Edwards as Claudius and the ghost.
Nancy Manningham as Gertrude, Maureen Toal as Ophelia and so on.
Gertrude is shown as an emotional character after the closet scene but
Hamlet is neither in despair nor is he conscious of Ghost’s presence. Sir
Michael Redgrave is Hamlet in the 1961 Living Shakespeare version, the
fifth modern recording. He is dispassionate. Hunter writes in the article:
He delivers the “To be, or not to be” speech rather blandly,
and in the nunnery scene becomes properly overwrought but
twice—when he says “monsters” and “the rest shall keep as
they are”. When Hamlet confronts Gertrude in her closet,
Redgrave becomes aroused quite belatedly, barely in time for
the arrival of the ghost. Curiously, he delivers both “It hath
made me mad” and “I must be cruel only to be kind” with
great sensitivity, for immediately before making these
remarks, his character has seemed neither mad nor cruel. He
finally gets relatively stirred up in his challenge to Laertes at
Ophelia’s grave-side and closes on an impressively majestic
note, interpreting “The rest [PAUSE] is [PAUSE] silence”
Hunter praises this version for the significant performances by the actors:
Its Claudius and Polonius come across as adequate but no
more, its Ophelia offers a most appealing voice but does not
pass the test of the insanity scene, and its Gertrude speaks too
deliberately and thereby seems affected, though this trait
serves her well when reporting Ophelia’s death (82).
Hunter finds the obtrusive background music significant in the Living
Shakespeare Hamlet: “waves slapping against the boat”; Dripping water at
the ghost’s revelation; echoing of the words such as “revenge”, “murder”,
“foul”, “strange” and so on; “laughter, heartbeat-simulating drums at the
arrival of the players” (82); drumbeats at Ophelia’s funeral. It seems as if
background music sounds marvelously apt to Hunter. A full-length fine
disc recording is the sixth recording wherein “the stage directions for the
dumb show are read” (83). It is directed by the editor of The New
Clarendon Shakespeare Hamlet—George Rylands who employs the text
edited by Dover Wilson. Patrick Wymark is Claudius, Margaretta Scott is
Gertrude. Jeanette Sterke plays the role of Ophelia. Hunter, however, was
dissatisfied with background music here. The eighth modern recording, i.e.
1964 Broadway Cast Recording is under the directorship of Geilgud
wherein Hamlet is presented as multidimentional. Richard Burton enacts
Hamlet and Linda Marsh as Ophelia. Hunter describes Burton as:
… though Burton is generally very good, there are quite a few
lines in which he seems unnatural. At times he appears to have
become a bit bored and to have started playing with the part
somewhat–assuming an antic disposition, as it were. He shows
a tendency to pause before words he wants to emphasize,
especially in the second half of the play, as in “Now might I do
it [PAUSE] pat!”; “who was in life a foolish, prating [PAUSE]
knave”, “a thing of no [PAUSE] thing (87).
About Linda Marsh’s personality, Hunter says:
The amazing thing about Linda Marsh’s achievement is how
well she continually shifts emotional gears. Although her full
and somewhat boyish voice is not ideal for the first part of the
play, these qualities work very nicely in the insanity scene, and
she carries out Gielgud’s suggestions to perfection (86).
Hunter tells that the nineth recording, i.e. Hallmark Hall of Fame version
presents Hamlet as sarcastic, vitriolic as well as volatile. Consider his
saying: “These tedious old fools!” and “Thrift, thrift, Horatio”. He is found
His goodbye to Polonius, in which with strong emphasis the
prince calls the just-departed lord chamberlain a fool, is totally
unsympathetic. He says “a king of shreds and patches.” so
caustically that it sounds more like “badges”. He revels in
saying “Hide fox, and all after”, after which he runs off
playfully. He also delights in telling the king to go to hell in
order to look for Polonius (88-89).
Apart from the characters, the 1970 Hallmark Hall of Fame version also
presents impressive background music impressive, but at places it obtrudes
and is incongruous. Further Hunter critically examines the 1980 BBC
production and explains its failure:
For any interpretation of Hamlet to be successful, Hamlet and
Claudius must come across as exceptionally quick on their
mental toes, but in this BBC production neither seems
especially brainy. By contrast, the ones who come across as
the most mentally alert in this production are Gertrude and
Laertes, played better by Claire Bloom and David Robb,
respectively, than I have seen either part played before. Lines
in the play also clearly establish that Polonius has had his own
day as an astute politician, but as played by the Eric Porter in
the BBC production, Polonius merely comes across as a
pathetic busybody (90).
Hamlet Quarto 1 was produced in Summer 1992 and was enacted by a
little troop of seven Medieval Players with their strolling acts: fire-eating
and stilt walking and some astonishing doubling feats: “Gertrude appears
as the First Gravedigger’s wife or Second Gravedigger, and Ophelia who is
raving mad in Act 3 appears as the Priest at the funeral in Act 4 and then as
Osric” (Bradbrook 115).
“Hamlet on the Hindi Screen” incorporated in Vol. 24 registers
Shakespeare’s presence in India. The idea of Hamlet on the Hindi screen
seems incredible but screen adaptations by Raja Athavale (1928), Sohrab
Modi (1935) and Kishore Sahu (1954) have made it memorable. Since it is
an epitome of cultural adaptation, the Hindi version of the play is produced
with considerable changes from the original. Hindi cinema favours the
presence of songs and dances and Mehdi Hasan’s Khoone Nahak (Unjust
Assassination) proves the point. Besides change, Rajiva Verma says:
The Parsi theatre therefore should be of great interest to
Shakespearean scholars as an example of a theatre that
reproduces many of the conditions and features of Elizabethan
theatre including the practice, in its earlier phase, of using
male actors for female roles (83).
The names were Indianized. Although Hamlet was on the Hindi screen but
the coalescence of Muslim-Indian and Elizabethan styles were used for
costumes and set designs. Modi’s film was shot at Saraswati Studio at
Poona with no previous rehearsals or elaborate camera angles, opening
with an invocation song. While in Kishore Sahu’s film the names remain
the same, The Murder of Gonzago shifts to the end of the play. It
resembles Khoone Nahak also. The Hindi version of “Frailty, thy name is
woman”! (1.2.146):
Bewafai aur behayai tera naam aurat hai — afsos mere baap ki
maut ko kuch muddat bhi na guzar pai ki toone shaadi rachai
— khushi manai, our who bhi kis-se — jo mere baap ka bhai
— ai aurat, ai harjai — tumhe yeh soorat kyon pasand aai —
jin haathon ka waram bhi na utarne paya ki uspar mehndi ka
rang charhaya —O! — kahan woh sultane adil, kahan
shaitane na-kabil — kahan noor — kahan naar — kahan
phool kahan khaar …Uthenge ab na zulm-o-sitma assmaan
ke/Hum bhi kabr mein soyenge chadar taan ke.
(Unfaithfulness and shamelessness thy name is woman. Alas,
hardly had my father died when thou didst celebrate thy
wedding — made merry — and with whom? — With him who
is my father’s brother — O, thou wanton woman — how
couldst thou ever come to like that face? — To put henna on
thy hands before their sores had healed? — What likeness
between that just king and this worthless villain — between
that glorious light and this fire of hell, that flower and this
The tyranny of the skies we’ll no longer bear
But sleep in our graves without any care.
(qtd. in Verma 87-88).
In the film, quotations are taken from Bahadur Shah Zafar and Mirza
Ghalib. Rajiva Verma considers the three films as versions of
Shakespearean play and not creative reinventions.
Basavaraj Naikar discusses Kuvempu’s successful attempt in
translating Hamlet linguistically and culturally. The cultural translation of
Hamlet is entitled as Raktakshi, published in 1932. Naikar writes:
Cultural dissimilarity poses a great challenge to the translator
who, when s/he cannot find exact equivalents in the target
cultural codes has to make minor changes in the plot or
structure, characters and texture to convey the essential vision
of the source cultural codes in a manner acceptable to the
readers and spectators of the target culture (110-11).
Keeping in mind the Hindu philosophical belief that woman has power or
say Sakti, the play is named after a woman instead of a man. Naikar says
that to be in line with the cultural requirements of the story Kuvempu
chooses a historical story of a “Virasaiva royal family of the Keladi
kingdom in seventeenth-century Karnatka” (112). The characters are
Basavappanayaka, Claudius as Captain Nimbavya; Queen Gertrude as
Rani Cheluvambe and Hamlet as Prince Basavayya. The emendations
made therein are pertaining to characters and scenes. Consider Nimbayya
(Claudius) who is neither a legitimate king nor a husband. This is in
accordance, says Naikar to “Hindu culture which is a hiding culture against
the exhibitive culture of the West” (112-13). Kuvempu has not retained
play-within-the-play and Polonius eavesdropping or Hamlet’s conversation
with his mother. Rudrambe (Ophelia) is not warned but rather “asked by
her father, Minister Linganna, to entertain Prince Basavayya and ease the
burden of his soul’ (115). Further, Kuvempu creates rival of Basavyya:
Sivayya who pushes him over the edge of the valley after diverting his
attention towards Nature. The next moment Basavyya is dead. Hyder Ali
(father of Tippu Sultan) at Shivamogge suspects chaos as he receives from
Minister Linganna the letter that, prince Basavayya had handed over to
him before dying. The story moves on. Naikar opines that the alternations
make the play suitable to the cultural context of Karnatka. Naikar finds the
character of Rudrambe energetic and full of liveliness:
She requests the three-eyed Lord Siva to burn her as He burnt
Kama; she invokes Lord Bhairava to inspire her and to spark
off an untimely thunder and to enable her to fulfil her lover’s
wish. She also prays to the Lord not to shake her faith in Him
Throughout the article Naikar compares and contrasts Kuvempu’s play to
that of Shakespeare. The article is divided into four sections and in the last
section he discusses Kuvempu’s creative genius in transplanting an English
play like Hamlet into Indian and Hindu cultural setting and transforming
the character of Hamlet into Prince Basavayya who is relatively more firm
and clear in his attitude to life than Hamlet. Furthermore, Kuvempu also
uses imagery but in the Indian and Hindu cultural codes:
The images of snake, snake-hole, kiss of a snake, the Kalakuta
poison of Lord Siva the sepulchral sky, funeral pyre, dark
night, sunya (void) hell, the planet Sani’s (Saturn’s) adverse
effect, Karma and Yama’s servants create an atmosphere of
corruption, disorder, unhappiness, tragic death and futility
Raktakshi has been appreciated by twentieth-century Kannada readers and
spectators. Above all, it highlights the alchemy of Kuvempu’s imagination.
A unique production highlights Hamlet as a Bengali but his make-up
conformed to the English tradition. The names were Indianized: Hamlet as
Jehangir, Horatio as Akhtar and Ophelia as Meharbanoo.
The Second Act introduces new characters to Shakespeare: Suleiman,
Wazirzada, etc. Regarding story, it can be said that an English play’s story
is woven in Indian cultural context. R.E. Vernede writes:
Not only was his Queen Mother marrying her husband’s
murderer, but she was remarrying; and to a Hindu Hamlet a
widow’s marriage would justify any outburst. The Queen’s
action represented shamelessness and passion or was supposed
to; but none of the women in the play showed any emotion
comparable with that of the men. It would not have been
proper, or, presumably, like real life (103).
J.F. Laldailova, an Army Officer in the Indian English Army
translated many Shakespearean plays including Hamlet into Mizo
language. Vikram Chopra opines that he does so with “a view to
assimilating Shakespeare in the cultural ethos of Mizoram” (119). A group
of actors belonging to the Redemption Theatricals in Aizwal, the capital of
Mizoram performed the adapted version of Hamlet. ““When Hamlet came
to Mizoram:” A Film on Hamlet” (1989) hinges on the excerpts from the
play as acted by these actors. These actors have shown their emotional
affinity with the characters:
The actor playing Hamlet is even more sentimentally involved
in the role. He is moved by the “anguish and disappointment”
of Hamlet. Hamlet’s nature of not revealing himself directly,
appeals to him. The actor says that he is so deeply absorbed in
the character that he often tends “to slip into his role and
behave in life as Hamlet would have.” Like Hamlet, he too has
started distancing himself from the people and he no more
expresses his emotions, expectations and sentiments directly,
“I often feel I live in the play itself”, says he (Chopra 120).
Similarly Mizo youngsters’ and Laertes’ fury at the death of father is the
same. Vengeance is in their mind as it is in the mind of Laertes. Vikram
Chopra draws lines of similarity between Hamlet and Mizo life and culture
found in the film. Hence the Film’s success is reflected in its appreciation
by the people.
Teator ITD produced The Dogg’s troupe 15-Minute Hamlet (1982)
in Zagreb, Yugoslavia which was directed and designed by Zlatko Bowrek,
translated and adapted by Damir Munitic. The production is remarkable for
the use of puppets and Tom Stoppard’s use of Dogg’s language thereby
establishing a connection with Shakespearen play. It had a comic effect
while preserving its tragic tone. Vesna Pistotnik writes,
The puppets had glossy, painted faces (Hamlet, Claudius and
Polonius were black-faced; Ophelia’s red face had white
clown-like make-up), and were colourfully dressed in
predominantly black and bright red costumes, with white ruff
collars… A series of well developed, distinguishing details
brought life and individuality to the characters (97).
Puppets and a fine blend of tragedy and comedy gave a carnival look to the
play. Characters as Opehlia posed seductively with her red, stocking legs
and Laertes expresses grief while touching his forehead. Yorick is a skull
on a stick; the Ghost and the dead actors in standing positions. The two
black cushions on downstage left and right were two graves. Music played
an important part in creating the atmosphere needed for the action.
Ivan Dobchev directed a production (1988) in Bulgaria that is
tragical, comical, historical, pastoral as well as political. It is the unity of
opposites such as mad/sane, delicate/brutal, etc. that has been turned into a
method of interplay between artificial reality and real artificiality. It
captures the imagination of the audience and stirs them thoroughly. In the
case of Hamlet, truth is drawn from a false reality. He is on the island of
freedom and sanity with a weird costume of a Jester, fouled yellow
stockings, a pair of shackled shoes around his neck. He is in his own world
of dreams, insanity and art—disconnected from reality. Hamlet’s victory
over Claudius in the Mousetrap is enjoyed in a drinking and singing party
held by the actors also inviting the audience to join. Even after interval the
party is in full swing. Dobchev considers this as the supremacy of Art over
Reality. The Danish prince is a Bulgarian intellectual of the 80s. Morality
gains prominence in a corrupt society but no deep moral issues are dealt
with. Also, the play is given modern touch. The Norwegian prince comes
“in a modern pilot’s outfit, to the sound of passing helicopters, jet-planes
and tanks” (Todorov 94). In the final scene we see:
Hamlet and Laertes in snow-white modern fencing-suits with
electric rapiers (we are reaching the present), and an expert
Osric, leading the fight in technical French. After the four
deaths, here comes the future—Fortinbras in his pilot’s outfit
takes over. The curtain closes upon his ironical synthesized
‘laughter’. Reality triumphs once more upon the search for an
ideal (95).
Georgi Todorov comments that although the story is distinct, there is hope.
Horatio becomes a real hero—an idol for someone. Besides its being an
intellectual production, the exceptional blend of the tragical, comical,
pastoral, historical and political—lends it “a timeless quality, running with
ease across ages and styles, genres and methods” (95). But there are a few
shortcomings also. Another article of Georgi Todorov: “A Critique of
Practical Hamlet: Post War Productions of Hamlet in Bulgaria”. Todorov
senses all these productions as an implicit criticism of the play and
This practical criticism (i.e. theatrical practice viewed as
criticism) has a special relevance, being direct, productive,
theatrically professional, artistically (not academically)
motivated, comprehensive exhaustively detailed, socially
representative and statistically processable. It offers an unique
opportunity to approach the text from the inside, from the
author’s perspective, to see it in the making, and as part of a
continuous individual and social creative process (97).
Todorov begins his investigation of the seven post-war productions of
Hamlet on the professional stage in Bulgaria. In his view, dissatisfaction
with Shakespeare’s play and to achieve artistic effectiveness in front of the
audience is the root cause of these productions. Considering textual
manipulation an important factor, Todorov investigates that reordering of
pieces of the text is not so prominent as the subtraction of many lines from
the play: “The minimal range is 1205 lines in Vili Tsankov’s production in
Varna (1956-57), and the maximum is 1642 lines cut by Nedialiko
Yordanov (in Bourgas, 1979-80)” (98). He classifies the text as: viz., the
regularly-cut V the regularly-spared units and draws the percentage. “1355
specific lines out of 3911 are voted out by this procedure, i.e. 34.6% of the
text–including 249 lines cut by all the producers” (98). This divides the
text into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ lines thereby reshaping the play. Not only the
minor characters but also the centrifugal plot-lines are done away with.
The episode with the pirates or part of Norwegian theme with the plot-line
of Fortinbras, are all cut. This leads to simplification and the focus is
primarily on the main conflict. Many productions have removed Ophelia’s
songs, some others have preserved these and some have reduced it to two
to three quatrains. Besides this, there are other ineffective digressions that
are discarded; whole scenes or subscenes in 2.2; “the text of the ‘MouseTrap’ play in 3.2; …small introductory and exit-pieces at the beginning of
4.1; 4.2; 4.3; 4.5;” (99) Glorious quotation, aphorism, wise old saw are
also cut, but the regularly-cut passages are the one’s with topical allusions
and reflecting differences in cultural context particularly concerning the
Ghost theme. The character of the Ghost is an impasse for producers
because it is deeply rooted and cannot be omitted by textual manipulation.
circumvention in their respective versions; Varna (1967-68), Sofia (198283) and Bourgas (1979-80):
In Georgiev’s version the words of the Ghost are put in the
mouth of Hamlet by means of a hidden microphone.
Tsankov… explains what the Ghost is–a life-size portrait of
Hamlet Senior carried in silence by the black guards of
Claudius… in Bourgas (1979-80), where the Ghost turns out to
be Claudius himself in disguise, trying to tempt Hamlet
“toward the flood” (Todorov 100).
However, the audience probably failed to comprehend, because of
methodological short comings or lack of textual support. The addition of
textual material to the play automatically uses devices such as ballet or
pantomime. The productions zoom in on Hamlet and his mind engrossed in
the issues of moral and political system. He is against the evil political
system in which he has to live. Fortinbras and Claudius join the evil
political system. Todorov compares Shakespeare’s drama to Bulgarian
In Shakespeare the Court is a combination of people quite
relevant to the main conflict—the impersonal Voltemand and
Cornelius, the decorative Attendants, the ridiculous Osric, and
the purely functional Lord or Gentleman. Instead, in the
modern Bulgarian productions there is a purposeful
disciplined, omnipresent, anonymous and negative political
force (101).
In Yordanov’s version Ophelia’s sexuality is manifested; she becomes
mistress of Claudius. Producers add to or delete from the play just to make
Hamlet theatrically more effective to the modern Bulgarian audience.
Todorov seems to be discontented as he says that ideas develop naturally
and self-imposed limitations such as textual additions and use of devices
are barriers to the rich development of ideas.
Conclusively, a TV production or a cultural adaptation is exemplary
of a new design in mind, obviously with an altered text of Hamlet. It seems
as if an exciting sense of theatricality prevails. Viewers are whirled up in
the world of productions and in these cultural adaptations the objective is
to entertain people and let Shakespeare speak in a foreign language.
However, the originality is interrogated, i.e. to say Where is the original
Hamlet? Originality is destroyed by excessive stage business: in many
productions characters like Voltemand & Reynaldo, etc. have been omitted
and many scenes have been elminated; while in others there is a heavy use
of doubling—one actor performs for three or four characters; Characters
have been transformed. Besides , Five-Act format has been modified: the
adaptation is either a play in the poetic form or the story is unlike the
original Hamlet. Hamlet’s famous soliloquy has also been reworked: Its
parody could have been used to ridicule one’s political enemies. Apart
from this, the main features of the productions/adaptations are shortening
of multi-syllabic words, narrative and pantomime techniques, use of
puppets & dog’s language and also music with songs and dances. Thus, the
original Hamlet, so-called the Monalisa of English Literature is almost lost
in the modern-day productions.
Cultural appropriations obliterate the real text and make their own
text to suit their own purpose. Cultural appropriations are attributed to
Shakespeare but they cannot be termed as Shakespearean. They are the
abridged, reshaped, trimmed or transformed versions—with a pick and
choose, adhere here digress there approach.
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