[left.htm]

 


Performance

Ahrends, Günter. "Word and Action in Shakespeare's Hamlet." Word and Action in Drama: Studies in Honour of Hans-Jürgen Diller on the Occasion of His 60th Birthday. Ed. Günter Ahrends, Stephan Kohl, Joachim Kornelius, Gerd Stratmann. Trier, Germany: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier, 1994. 93-105.

HAMLET / METADRAMA / PERFORMANCE

While contending that Hamlet "is a meta-play dealing with fundamental principles of the art of acting," this essay analyzes the play's didactic presentation of word and action: "the verbal and the mimic-gesticulatory forms of expression are equally significant signs which have to be put into a balanced relationship with each other" (93), otherwise "they degenerate into deficient signs" (94). Through the player's excellence with the Hecuba speech and Hamlet's reaction to it, Shakespeare's "most famous tragedy contains not only a theory of mimesis but also a concrete example of how theoretical principles can be translated into practice" (98). Hamlet understands the principles of the art of acting, as he demonstrates in his advice to the players, and his insight motivates The Mousetrap. While The Mousetrap succeeds in provoking Claudius, the closet scene is "a continuation of the play within the play in so far as it is now Gertrude's turn to reveal her guilt" (100). Hamlet's initial effort with his mother fails because he "proves to be a bad actor" (101), but the son eventually remembers his own advice to the players and matches action with word; "It is exactly by making Hamlet's first attempt fail that Shakespeare turns the bedroom scene into a further example of how the principles of theatrical representation have to be transformed into practice" (100). Hamlet, like Claudius and Gertrude, "appears as a dissociated human being" for most of the play because his words and actions are unbalanced; but he distinguishes himself from the others with his knowledge "that the art of theatrical representation makes it possible for man to overcome the state of dissociation by not tolerating the discrepancy between action and word" (102).

[ top ]

Ashley, Leonard R.N. “The Observed of All Observers: Hamlet on the Stage.” Hamlet Studies 24 (2002): 39-55.

 PERFORMANCE

 This article purports that “Hamlet always was and still remains a resounding theatrical success, through good productions and bad” (46). Shakespeare’s tragedy “has been performed in practically every language [. . .] and it has been subjected to every trend” (46). The “simple process of undergoing drastic transformation, generation after generation, in order to fit the tastes of the time” allows Shakespeare and his Danish prince to achieve timelessness (47). The lead role being performed in a myriad of types (i.e., heroic, romantic, revolutionary) and a favorite for actors (47) also keeps Hamlet “very much alive” (46). With productions influenced by various forces, particularly scholarship (48) and politics (50), Hamlet “as cultural icon and directors’ and actors’ plaything suffers many a sea-change rich and sometimes strange” (51). “History seems to suggest that this play about the intellectual loaded with a burden he cannot bear [. . .] will last for a long time more”; “It likewise appears that Hamlet will undergo manipulations currently unimaginable” (55). But perhaps as George Bernard Shaw once optimistically suggested, “after directors had totally exhausted every harebrained scheme for mistreating Hamlet, in the long run they would have to seek originality by doing it right” (55). “What is right will, of course, as in everything else, depend entirely upon where and when” (55).

[ top ]

Barrie, Robert. “Telmahs: Carnival Laughter in Hamlet.” New Essays on Hamlet. Ed. Mark Thornton Burnett and John Manning. Hamlet Collection 1. New York: AMS, 1994. 83-100.

AUDIENCE RESPONSE / CARNIVAL / DECONSTRUCTION / NEW HISTORICISM / PERFORMANCE

This essay approaches Hamlet “as his own Fool,” who “can be seen to subvert Hamlet so thoroughly as to reduce to laughter the very idea of serious tragedy” (83). A review of concurring critics (e.g., Levin, Graves, McGee, Wiles, Bristol) provides some basis for this argument. Theater history suggests changes in theatrical conventions to explain why Hamlet’s laughter has been subverted: while Elizabethan audiences were encouraged to “participate,” modern audiences fear making a faux pas and suffer from the social constraints of an elitist forum (91). Perhaps Elizabethan audiences would have perceived Hamlet’s “insults to the groundlings” as “rough intimacies” (92), laughing at the ritualistic sacrifice of the fool in carnivalesque style and at Horatio’s suggestion of singing angels (94). Hamlet “appears to erase itself not merely through metadrama or other linguistics-based critical theory, but through the laughter of Death, which is not satirical laughter but the inclusive, absolute, all-affirming, feasting, social laughter of the folk (all the people), the laughter of carnival” (97).

[ top ]

Brooks, Jean R. “Hamlet and Ophelia as Lovers: Some Interpretations on Page and Stage.” Aligorh Critical Miscellany 4.1 (1991): 1-25.

AUDIENCE RESPONSE / HAMLET / OPHELIA / PERFORMANCE

This essay asserts that “Getting Ophelia right involves, by implication, Hamlet’s love relationship with her, and a re-examination of the question, in what sense they can be considered as ‘lovers’” (1). While literary scholars frequently get Ophelia wrong, actors and directors (e.g., Olivier, Jacobi) also make mistakes, such as altering the “To be, or not to be” soliloquy and negating textual evidence of Ophelia’s chastity. Actors also tend to stereotype Ophelia, whether as the “unchaste young woman” (e.g., West) (8) or as “more child than woman” (e.g., Mirren, McEwan, Tutin) (10). In actuality, the text purports “a well-disciplined Renaissance woman,” “a young woman, not a child, with her ‘chaste treasure unopen’d’ but at the peak of sexual attractiveness, because the key to the nunnery and play scenes lies in the difference between what the audience sees on stage and what Hamlet sees in his mind’s eye” (12-13). He projects “on to the innocent and—as the audience can see—unpainted Ophelia the disgust he feels at his mother’s sexual sins” (13) and the self-disgust he feels for inheriting “original sin” from his parents (14). But his ordering of her to a nunnery “suggests a kind of love that makes Hamlet wish to preserve Ophelia’s goodness untouched” (15). Ultimately, “it is Hamlet who rejects Ophelia, not Ophelia who rejects Hamlet” (15-16). But her “constant love gives positive counterweight, for the audience, to Hamlet’s too extreme obsession with the processes of corruption” (17). The “good that Ophelia’s constant love does for her lover, from beyond the grave, is to affirm his commitment to the human condition he had wished to deny” (21). Beside her grave, Hamlet belatedly testifies to his love for Ophelia, acknowledging “the good in human nature that Ophelia had lived for, and that Hamlet finally dies to affirm. Given the tragic unfulfilment of the human condition, could lovers do more for each other?” (23).

[ top ]

Brown, John Russell. “Connotations of Hamlet’s Final Silence.” Connotations 2 (1992): 275-86.

AUDIENCE RESPONSE / FINAL SCENE / HAMLET / PERFORMANCE

This article responds to the criticism leveled at John Russell Brown’s “Multiplicity of Meaning in the Last Moments of Hamlet,” particularly the charge of failure “to show how the wide range of meanings in the single last sentence was related to the whole of the play in performance” (275). This article insists that the Hamlet actor’s presence on stage and enactment of events provides the audience with a physical knowledge of Hamlet, void of the psychological dimension that ambiguous language camouflages. Hamlet’s wordplay is “an essential quality of his nature,” which remains intact during the process of his dying (275). While the original article’s dismissal of the “O, o, o, o” addition (present in the Folio after Hamlet’s last words) received negative responses from Dieter Mehl and Maurice Charney, this article argues that doubts of authenticity, authority, and dramatic effectiveness justify this decision. The physical death on stage and the verbal descriptions of Hamlet’s body also negate the need for a last-minute groan. Ultimately, the “stage reality” co-exists with words yet seems “beyond the reach of words”; hence, in Hamlet, Shakespeare created “a character who seems to carry within himself something unspoken and unexpressed . . . right up until the moment Hamlet dies” (285).

[ top ]

Brown, John Russell. “Multiplicity of Meaning in the Last Moments of Hamlet.” Connotations 2 (1992): 16-33.

AUDIENCE RESPONSE / FINAL SCENE / HAMLET / PERFORMANCE / RHETORICAL

Given that a tragedy excites an audience’s interest in the hero’s private consciousness, this article asks, “Has Shakespeare provided the means, in words or action, whereby this hero [Hamlet] comes, at last, to be ‘denoted truly’?” (18). Throughout Hamlet, the protagonist speaks ambiguously. His linguistic trickery only heightens the audience’s anticipation of resolution (and revelation of Hamlet’s inner thoughts). Yet the last line of the dying Prince—“the rest is silence” (5.2.363)—proves particularly problematic, with a minimum of five possible readings. For example, Shakespeare perhaps speaks through Hamlet, “telling the audience and the actor that he, the dramatist, would not, or could not, go a word further in the presentation of this, his most verbally brilliant and baffling hero” (27); the last lines of Troilus and Cressida, Twelfth Night, The Merchant of Venice, and Love’s Labor’s Lost suggest a pattern of this authorial style. While all five readings are plausible, they are also valuable, allowing audience and actor to choose an interpretation. This final act of multiplicity seems fitting for a protagonist “whose mind is unconfined by any single issue” (31).

[ top ]

Dawson, Anthony B. Hamlet. Shakespeare in Performance. New York: Manchester UP, 1995.

PERFORMANCE / RECEPTION THEORY

This monograph provides “some sense of the performance history of Hamlet, differences among interpretations, and the multiplicity of possible ways of reading and enacting this most famous and slippery of plays” (3). Chapters are divided into periods of importance (e.g., post-WWII), transitions in theatrical styles (e.g., 1920’s), and innovations with performance mediums (e.g., film). A primary goal “is to suggest, however tentatively, some of the links that may exist between how the theatre gives Hamlet meaning and produces Hamlet’s subjectivity and how the culture generally approaches problems of meaning, value, and selfhood” (22). Although primarily confined “to the Anglo-American tradition of Hamlet performance, concentrating on those canonized performers who have a legendary relationship to Shakespeare’s most famous role,” this monograph utilizes its last chapter, “Translations,” to explore Hamlets on “‘foreign’ stages” (224).

[ top ]

Dickson, Lisa. “The Hermeneutics of Error: Reading and the First Witness in Hamlet.” Hamlet Studies 19.1-2 (Summer/Winter 1997): 64-77.

AUDIENCE RESPONSE / CLAUDIUS / HAMLET / PERFORMANCE

While occasionally using Hamlet productions to describe the potential audience experience, this article posits that Claudius and Hamlet “are engaged in a border conflict where power is linked to the ability to control the dissemination of information, the passage of knowledge across the boundary between private and public” (65). While Hamlet “is about the hermeneutic task,” its “circles within circles” of overt and covert interpreters, of stage and theater audiences (65), displace “Truth” “along the line of multiple and multiplying perspectives” (66). Using his “wit and word-play, to deflect the hermeneutic onslaught, Hamlet mobilizes his own interpretive strategies under the cover of the antic disposition, where madness, collapsing the categories of the hidden and the apparent, allows him to hide in plain sight” (67). Likewise, Claudius attempts “to hide in plain sight” by providing the court with a reading of recent events “that he hopes will neutralize [and silence] Hamlet’s threat and control the dissemination and reception of the facts” of his own crime(s), as evident in act one, scene two (68). Although Claudius and Hamlet struggle to maintain the “borders of silence and speech, public and private, hidden and apparent,” they inevitably fail (69-70). In the nunnery scene, in which Hamlet is aware of the spies behind the curtain in most productions (e.g., 1992 BBC Radio’s, Zeffirelli’s, Hall’s), he attempts to hide behind his antic disposition, but the seeming truth in his anger suggests an “explosion” and “collision” between his “inner and outer worlds” (71). Claudius “suffers a similar collapse”: “his hidden self erupting to the public view out of the body of the player-Lucianus” (73). Claudius and Hamlet are also alike in their problematic perspectives: Hamlet’s “desire to prove the Ghost honest and justify his revenge shapes his own ‘discovery’ of Claudius” (74); and Claudius’ “reading of his [Hamlet’s] antic disposition is complicated by his own guilt” (72). “Within the circles upon circles of watching faces, the disease in Hamlet may well be the maddening proliferation of Perspectives on Hamlet, where the boundaries constructed between public and private selves collapse under the power of the gaze” (75).

[ top ]

Dollerup, Cay. “’Filters’ in Our Understanding of Hamlet.” Hamlet Studies 13 (1991): 50-63.

AUDIENCE RESPONSE / PERFORMANCE

This article argues that although any treatment of Hamlet (e.g., performance, reading, interpretation) reflects individual views, the act of filtering is “an integral and indissoluble part of Shakespeare’s play” (50). For modern audiences, some filters prove involuntary, such as the loss of historical relevance and of dramatic anticipation. Some prove necessary, like the cutting of lines and scenes for performance. While textual modifications can alter Hamlet’s characters (e.g., Polonius), themes (e.g., death, love), emphasis (e.g., revenge), and imagery (e.g., botany), each individual’s decision can lead to new insights, experiences, and interpretations. Ultimately, “as receptors of the artefact, as editors, critics, as directors and actors, as audience or readers, the artefact forces us to take a stand on a number of points on which we simply cannot reach an agreement”—and perhaps Shakespeare never expected/intended us to (63).

[ top ]

Edelman, Charles. “‘The very cunning of the scene’: Claudius and the Mousetrap.” Parergon 12 (1994): 15-25.

CLAUDIUS / MOUSETRAP / PERFORMANCE

This article hopes to resolve the “apparent inconsistency” of the ineffective dumb show in The Mousetrap “in a manner which takes audiences more deeply into the text, while enriching both the theatrical power and thematic significance of The Murder of Gonzaga” (15). Although generations of critics and editors have attempted to define the stage business during the silent prologue, they mistakenly “assume that Claudius’ guilt is ‘proclaimed’ by some outward display of emotion when Lucianus poisons the Player King a second time” (19). Instead, arguments could be made that The Mousetrap, in its entirety, is a methodically drawn out processes of imposing pain/discomfort. For example, the dumb show is similar to a dentist’s extraction of the first tooth in that Claudius can endure the experience and his suffering; The Murder of Gonzaga, the pulling of a second tooth, proves more difficult to bear; the verbal exchanges between Claudius and Hamlet may even constitute the figurative removal of a third and a fourth to a weakened tolerance. But how does Claudius react to The Mousetrap? A hysterical departure or a passive retreat seem unlikely. Rather, textual evidence suggests that Claudius expresses disgust and defiance, when he tells Hamlet, “Away” (23). Aside from the “theatrical power” and climactic energy of such a staging, this reading permits consistency in Claudius and the play because “the advantage is with Claudius” after The Mousetrap (24).

[ top ]

Goldman, Michael. “Hamlet: Entering the Text.” Theatre Journal 44 (1992): 449-60.

AUDIENCE RESPONSE / METADRAMA / NEW HISTORICISM / PERFORMANCE

While suggesting “that drama may provide, at least in some respects, the more illuminating case of the encounter with writing,” this article explores Shakespeare’s treatment of the person/text “negotiation” in Hamlet (449). Through “the dynamism of performance, script and actor become inseparable” (450) because “scriptedness” and “improvisation” merge on stage (450). This “interplay of script and improvisation” underlies the call to revenge in Hamlet: the Ghost “seems to provide a clear cut script for his son,” but Hamlet’s “path to revenge is tortuous, filled with improvised diversions and digressions” (452). While “the play explores” the “necessary relation” between “scriptedness” and “improvisation,” it is also “concerned . . . with what’s involved in entering into a script” (452). Hamlet “regularly reenacts the basic scene that takes place when an actor prepares or performs a part,” the “entry into the text” (453), such as the replaying of a situation (e.g., Old Hamlet’s murder) (453). While such a metadramatic “acting exercise” (453) suggests one method of entering the text, “a concern with the stability and instability of texts runs through the play” (454). Hamlet’s sense “of a tense and uncertain relation to a text, which exacts both commitment and risky departure, may have had a special relevance to the circumstances of Elizabethan dramatic production” (455) because the performance of an Elizabethan play momentarily “stabilized the uncertain mix of possibilities contained in the playhouse manuscript” (456). The play’s exploration of “play-acting and the relation of texts and scripts to performance may also be reflective of “the larger problematic of human action” that Hamlet experiences and, ultimately, comes to terms with: “human action itself, like the performance of an actor, is an intervention, an entry into something very like a script, a text of interwoven actions, an entry that, though it raises the central questions of human choice and responsibility, can never be made in full knowledge or confidence about the ultimate result of that choice” (457). This article recommendation is “to conceive of this critical relation . . . of reader and text, in a way that acknowledges something of that importance which is felt by all who are drawn to literature—as a relation of commitment, a relation of responsibility, a relation certainly requiring the focus of one’s full bodily life on something which is not oneself, a relation constrained by time and history and the need for choice, but above all a relation of adventure” (460).

[ top ]

Gorfain, Phyllis. “When Nothing Really Matters: Body Puns in Hamlet.” Bodylore. Ed. Katherine Young. Knoxville: U of Tennessee P, 1993. 59-87.

HAMLET / PERFORMANCE / REHTORICAL

By “calling attention to the astonishing energy of reflexive puns,” this article focuses “on how they reflect on the problematic relationship between the intellectual production of meaning and the physical body through which ideas must be expressed in precise social situations in the world of Hamlet” (60). While puns in general are probed within the article, puns voiced during social greetings and farewells merit attention because “these encounters are occasions for formulaic performances” (e.g., handshake, bow, embrace) (60). For example, at the beginning of The Mousetrap, Hamlet responds to Claudius’ greeting with puns in order to disrupt the social relationship and social form. Like every pun in Hamlet, the actor’s physical performance (e.g., posture, gesture) and body become factors, possibilities for meaning. Hamlet also uses puns “to undo, through language, the finality of death,” as his response to Polonius’ accidental murder demonstrates (76). The transport of Polonius’ dead body “places the real gravity of the body centrally next to the consoling rites and puns that would reinterpret death for cultural recuperation” (77). By the final scene, “the question of how to ‘take up the body’—physically and morally, verbally and symbolically—has been so thoroughly complicated by the puns on bodies and how and where to ‘take’ them, that no stage, just as no political realm, whatever its embodied metaphors may be, can fully contain the body’s dispositions” (80-81).

[ top ]

Greenblatt, Stephen. “Remember Me.” Hamlet in Purgatory. By Greenblatt. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2001. 205-57.

GHOST / NEW HISTORICISM / PERFORMANCE / THEOLOGICAL

While continuing the monograph’s historical exploration of “the afterlife of Purgatory” and of remembrance of the dead in England (3), this chapter begins by examining Hamlet’s “shift of spectral obligation from vengeance to remembrance” (207) and by analyzing how Shakespeare “weirdly and unexpectedly conjoins memory as haunting with its opposite, the fading of remembrance” (218). It then approaches the core argument of the monograph: “the psychological in Shakespeare’s tragedy is constructed almost entirely out of the theological, and specifically out of the issue of remembrance that . . . lay at the heart of the crucial early-sixteenth-century debate about Purgatory” (229). Although “the Church of England had explicitly rejected the Roman Catholic conception of Purgatory and the practices that had been developed around it” in 1563 (235), the Elizabethan theater circumvented the resulting censorship by representing Purgatory “as a sly jest, a confidence trick, a mistake . . . But it could not be represented as a frightening reality. Hamlet comes closer to doing so than any other play of this period” (236). Through “a network of allusions” to Purgatory (e.g., “for a certain term” [1.5.10], “burned and purged” [1.5.13], “Yes, by Saint Patrick” [1.5.136], “hic et ubique” [1.5.156]), as well as Hamlet’s attention to (and brooding upon) the Ghost’s residence/source (236-37), the play presents a frightening-yet-absolving alternative to Hell. The play also seems “a deliberate forcing together of radically incompatible accounts of almost everything that matters in Hamlet,” such as Catholic versus Protestant tenets regarding the body and rituals (240). The prevalent distribution of printed religious arguments heightens the possibility that “these works are sources for Shakespeare’s play”: “they stage an ontological argument about spectrality and remembrance, a momentous public debate, that unsettled the institutional moorings of a crucial body of imaginative materials and therefore made them available for theatrical appropriation” (249). For example, Foxe’s comedic derision of More’s theological stance “helped make Shakespeare’s tragedy possible. It did so by participating in a violent ideological struggle that turned negotiations with the dead from an institutional process governed by the church to a poetic process governed by guilt, projection, and imagination” (252). “The Protestant attack on ‘the middle state of souls’ . . . did not destroy the longings and fears that Catholic doctrine had focused and exploited”; instead, “the space of Purgatory becomes the space of the stage where old Hamlet’s Ghost is doomed for a certain term to walk the night” (256-57).

[ top ]

Hapgood, Robert. Hamlet Prince of Denmark. Shakespeare in Production. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999.

PERFORMANCE / RECEPTION THEORY

Cross-referencing eye-witness accounts, performance reviews, promptbooks, rehearsal logs, as well as memoirs, biographies, and autobiographies of major actors and directors, the introduction to this Hamlet edition provides “a chronological survey of the main productions of Hamlet from Burbage to Branagh” (ix). Productions are examined “in a cultural context that includes developments in theatre history and literary analysis” (ix). Although the survey reflects the contemporary emphasis on the role of Hamlet, “the historical record is full enough to give as well a sense of whole productions” and the people involved (e.g., supporting actors, directors, designers) (ix). This seemingly-extensive study of Hamlet’s performance history introduces the play text, footnoted with staged theatrical variations of productions (e.g., cuts, additions, verbal annunciation, directions of directors).

[ top ]

Hirsh, James. “Shakespeare and the History of Soliloquies.” Modern Language Quarterly 58 (March 1997): 1-26.

HAMLET / NEW HISTORICISM / PERFORMANCE / “TO BE, OR NOT TO BE” SOLILOQUY

This article declares that the “To be, or not to be” passage was originally staged as “a feigned soliloquy, spoken by Hamlet to mislead other characters about his state of mind” (2). The Shakespearean canon provides evidence that Shakespeare, perhaps more than other playwrights, “explored the potential consequences, comic and tragic, of the fact that human beings do not have access to one another’s minds” (9). He was able to do so because Elizabethan theatergoers were not required to distinguish “soliloquies that represent speech from those that represent thought” (7). In Hamlet, when a suspicious Hamlet “arrives at the location designated by his enemy, sees Ophelia, and draws the obvious conclusion that she has been enlisted in a conspiracy against him, he also sees an opportunity to turn the tables on the conspirators” (12). He does not mention his real concerns: the Ghost, Claudius, and The Mousetrap. And, departing from his other soliloquies, Hamlet never refers to “his personal situation” or uses a first-person singular pronoun (12). Although the “To be, or not to be” passage “was originally staged as a feigned soliloquy” (14), the closing of the theaters in 1642 broke the “English theatrical tradition” (15). When they reopened in 1660, preferences had changed: “Restoration playgoers lacked the taste for elaborate eavesdropping episodes that had so fascinated Renaissance playgoers” (15). A historical survey charts the results of this “profound change in taste,” such as the misapplication of the term soliloquy and the obliteration of any “distinction between the representation of speech and the representation of thought” (17). Unfortunately, the “erroneous belief that the ‘To be’ soliloquy represented Hamlet’s thoughts and the erroneous belief that soliloquies of all ages typically represented the thoughts of characters became mutually reinforcing” (22). If critics continue to operate with a “blind adherence to untenable orthodox assumptions,” then this “most famous passage in literature, countless other episodes in plays before the middle of the seventeenth century, the history of dramatic technique, and the history of the construction of subjectivity will all continue to be grossly misunderstood” (26).

[ top ]

Malone, Cynthia Northcutt. “Framing in Hamlet.College Literature 18.1 (Feb. 1991): 50-63.

GHOST / HAMLET / METADRAMA / MOUSETRAP / PERFORMANCE

With the goal of bringing “the self-effacing frames of Hamlet into focus” (50), this essay examines “the particular theatrical frame in which Hamlet was first performed, the Globe theater” and considers “thematic and formal issues of framing in Hamlet, positioning these textual issues within the discussion of the theatrical space” (51). The performance space “cannot be contained completely by the theatrical frame; it seeps outward: before [e.g., “extruding limbs or bodies of actors”], behind [e.g., actors’ “holding place ‘behind’ the stage”], between [e.g., “sites of transition” between spectacle and spectator or inside and outside], above [e.g., the Globe’s open roof], below [e.g., the Ghost’s voice from beneath the stage]” (52). While the theatrical frame simultaneously defines and questions the boundaries of the performance space, “Hamlet plays out a sequence of dramatic frames that mirror the theatrical frame and double its doubleness” (53). For example, the Ghost provides the pretext for the revenge plot but “functions at the outermost edges of the play” (53), seeming “to inhibit the very borders of the dramatic world” (54); in The Mousetrap, “Revenge drama is enacted within revenge drama, with the players of the central drama as audience, and stage as theater” (57); Hamlet exists inside and outside of The Mousetrap, enacting the roles of both chorus and audience (58). But Claudius’s interruption of the play-within-the-play “begins the process of closure for the configuration of frames” (58), and “All of the frames in the play undergo some transformation in the process of closure” (59). For example, “the framing Ghost of Hamlet” is internalized by the son when Hamlet fully appropriates his father’s name (59): “This is I, / Hamlet the Dane” (5.1.250-51); Hamlet transforms into the avenger, murderer (Claudius’s double), and victim (Old Hamlet’s double) (59). Ultimately, he passes “from the world of speech to the world beyond”; in comparison, Horatio “is released from his vow of silence, his function is transformed from providing the margin of silence surrounding Hamlet’s speech to presenting the now-dumb Prince” (60). As Hamlet’s body is carried away, “a figured silence closes the frame and dissolves into the background of life resumed” (60).

[ top ]

McGuire, Philip C. “Bearing ‘A wary eye’: Ludic Vengeance and Doubtful Suicide in Hamlet.” From Page to Performance: Essays in Early English Drama. Ed. John Alford. East Lansing: Michigan State UP, 1995. 235-53.

AUDIENCE RESPONSE / METADRAMA / PERFORMANCE

This essay explores how audiences and readers “find themselves engaged in judging and interpreting Hamlet, Prince of Denmark” (235). For example, in the final scene, how does Hamlet stab and poison Claudius? In what manner? Does he balance “reason and passion” during the act(s) (241)? Actors and directors must judge and interpret the ambiguous stage directions, as must audiences and readers. Fortinbras interprets the dead Hamlet to be a potential soldier in order to convert “his claim to the Danish throne into a political fact” (245); and Horatio interprets events “for reasons that are at least partly political”: “to avoid social and political disorder” (245-46). By ending with these “acts of interpretation and judgement,” Hamlet holds up “a mirror in which those who experience the play—in performance or on the page—can see the processes of interpretation and judgement in which they are themselves engaged” (246). Ophelia’s questionable demise provides one facet of this mirror, as several characters (e.g., grave diggers, priest) “impose certainty of judgement on what is ‘doubtful’” (248-49). “Hamlet is profoundly concerned with the specific judgements and interpretations one comes to, but it is also concerned, at least equally, with the processes by which they are reached” (250).

[ top ]

Pennington, Michael. Hamlet: A User’s Guide. New York: Limelight Editions, 1996.

CLAUDIUS / GERTRUDE / GHOST / HAMLET / HORATIO / OPHELIA / PERFORMANCE / POLONIUS

Framed by introductory and concluding chapters that narrate personal experience as well as insight, this monograph “is only in the slightest sense a history of productions”—“really imitating a rehearsal” (22). The first chapter focuses on the action by following the script “line by line” in the style of “a naive telling of the story” which can “often provoke a discovery” (22). As in “most productions,” the “script” is an “accumulated version”: a combination of elements “from the Second Quarto and the Folio and any number of later versions, with occasional mischievous forays into the First (‘Bad’) Quarto” (24). Act and scene designations are replaced by days to avoid confusion and “to draw attention to the fact that, while five separate days of action are presented, Shakespeare’s manipulation of ‘double time’ is so skilled that you can believe that several months have passed by between the beginning and the end” (23). The chapter on Hamlet’s characters comes second because one should not “make assumptions about character until the action proves them” (22). Characters are approached in groups, such as “The Royal Triangle” (Claudius/the Ghost/Gertrude) and “The Commoners” (players/gravediggers/priest). Then attention shifts to Hamlet. After discussing the demands of casting and rehearsing the role of Hamlet, the second chapter describes the excitement of opening night and the energizing relationship an actor shares with the audience. Although challenging, playing the role of Hamlet “will verify you: you will never be quite the same again” (193).

[ top ]

Portillo, Rafael, and Mercedes Salvador. “Spanish Productions of Hamlet in the Twentieth Century.” Four Hundred Years of Shakespeare in Europe. Ed. A Luis Pujante and Ton Hoenselaars. Newark: U of Delaware P, 2003. 180-95.

PERFORMANCE HISTORY / RECEPTION THEORY

This essay outlines the history of Hamlet (performance and print translations) in Spain, beginning with the first stage production (Ramón de la Cruz’s in October 1772) through to the last Spanish production of the twentieth century, “Teatre Lliure” (by Joan Sallent, July 1999). Although “Hamlet first became important in the Spanish theater repertoire in the late nineteenth century, once the romantic mood was finally accepted,” “there is, as yet, no distinct national tradition in its stage representation, as companies have mostly relied on what has been done abroad. In fact, they imitate French and Italian adaptations first, then British, German, or even American productions, and eventually, film versions of the play, especially Olivier’s” (192). “Hamlet is not yet Shakespeare’s most popular play in Spain, perhaps because both plot and characters are still relatively alien to Spanish taste and culture. This would explain the continuous rewriting of the original text” (193). Another objection “that Spanish theater companies may have had to the play was that its female roles were not important enough, at least, when compared with that of Prince Hamlet”; hence, some leading actresses (e.g., Torres, Xirgu, Espert) have “dared to play the title role,” despite the occasional “hostile criticism. Since the role of women in theater circles is substantial now, it is not unlikely that an all-female cast Hamlet will be seen in one of the Spanish professional playhouses in the near future” (193).

[ top ]

Rosenberg, Marvin. The Masks of Hamlet. Newark: U of Delaware P, 1992.

AUDIENCE RESPONSE / CLAUDIUS / GERTRUDE / GHOST / HAMLET / HORATIO / LAERTES / OPHELIA / PERFORMANCE / POLONIUS

Combining literary scholarship with interpretive performances, this monograph promises "a way to listen to and grasp the complex tones of Hamlet and the other characters" (x). Chapters follow the chronological order of the play, pausing to "discuss the important characters as they appear" (12). For example, the first chapter explores the opening scene's setting and events, as well as the variations staged in performances; the examination of this scene is briefly suspended for chapters on Horatio and the Ghost but continues in chapter four. This monograph clarifies dilemmas and indicates "the choices that have been made by actors and critics," but its actor-readers must decide for themselves (xi): "I believe this book will demonstrate that each actor-reader of you who engages with Hamlet's polyphony will uniquely experience the tones that fit your own polyphony" (x).

[ top ]

Shand, G. B. “Realising Gertrude: The Suicide Option.” Elizabethan Theatre XIII. Ed. A. L. Magnusson and C. E. McGee. Toronto: Meany, 1994. 95-118.

FEMINISM / GERTRUDE / PERFORMANCE

This article uses an “actorly exploration” of Hamlet “to account for how an apparent subtextual subversion of the script [Gertrude’s conscious act of suicide] might actually have its birth not in wilful actorly or directorly self-indulgence, but in close and honest realisation of the textual evidence” (99). Gertrude exists in a male-dominated world, where she is commanded by males and offered no privacy. Her limited ability to speak does not reflect ignorance, as several critics have contended, but the Renaissance’s expectations of the female gender. These social constraints produce in Gertrude “an impacted condition, a state of painfully ingrown pressure to react” (106). Meanwhile, an astute Gertrude begins to recognize her sin in an incestuous marriage, as well as her inadvertent responsibility for the murder of Hamlet, Sr. and all subsequent events (e.g., Polonius’ death, Ophelia’s madness). The Mousetrap guarantees consequential guilt, which appears evident in the closet scene. While Polonius’ murder suggests her association between guilt and death, Gertrude’s description of Ophelia’s drowning marks a personal desire for death. This alert Gertrude cannot miss the development of an alliance between Claudius and Laertes, the charge of murderer-with-poison against the King, the tension among the males, nor the tainted cup offered to Hamlet during the duel. She consciously drinks the poisoned wine after having been “denied virtually any other independent action from the beginning of the play” (118).

[ top ]

Takahashi, Yasunari. “Hamlet and the Anxiety of Modern Japan.” Shakespeare Survey 48 (1995): 99-11.

NEW HISTORICISM / PERFORMANCE / RECEPTION THEORY

This essay traces the history of Hamlet’s reception in Japan: “the whole labour of assimilating Hamlet, from the beginning down to the present day, could be seen as the mirror up to the nature of Japan’s modernization since 1868” (101). With a “grand rationale of modernization-as-westernization,” Japan was eager to appropriate works like Hamlet (100-01). But such a transplanting required “acclimatization” of the play and kabuki, the traditional Japanese theater (100). For example, in the first Tokyo production of Hamlet (1903), all soliloquies were cut because the expression-of-inner-thought style “was something unknown to kabuki,” and the tradition of onnagata (only male actors on stage) was challenged by a female’s playing the role of Ophelia (104). In 1907, Shoyo Tsubouchi attempted a more accurate production (e.g., Western costumes, original character names, “To be” soliloquy), “using a translated (not adapted) text,” but his “sensibility had been nurtured too deeply by the old kabuki tradition to allow him to be ‘absolutely modern’” (106). His second attempt in 1911 similarly failed. While his later production marked the end of adaptation and “the beginning of an age of faithful translation,” it also confirmed “the impression that Shakespeare was ‘old-fashioned’” (107). Shakespeare was replaced by Ibsen and other European avant garde playwrights, while “shingeki, or ‘new drama’ (in Western-style)” was displacing “forms of traditional drama” (107). Between 1913-1926, the play “ceased to be the battleground of creative experiment in theatre” (107). Part of this stalling resulted from the perception of Hamlet as “the ‘safest’ play to avoid being targeted by the secret service police” (107-08). After the war, Hamlet made “a comeback to the forefront of the theatrical scene”: Tsuneari Fukuda’s 1955 production “was a two-fold critique of the limitation of shingeki and, more broadly, of the modernity of Japanese culture” (107). Currently, Japanese dramatists (e.g., Ninagawa, Suzuki) liberally strive to “make Shakespeare feel contemporary” (109). Until “the anxiety of modernity has been overcome by the ‘ludic’ spirit of post-modernity,” new Hamlets “must and will keep emerging, embodying the perennial and specific anxieties of contemporary self” (111).

[ top ]

Thompson, Ann and Neil Taylor. William Shakespeare: Hamlet. Writers and Their Works. Plymouth: Northcote House, 1996.

AUDIENCE RESPONSE / BIBLIOGRAPHIC / FEMINISM / NEW HISTORICISM / PERFORMANCE / RHETORICAL

This text begins with a questioning of Hamlet's status within the canon. Although other Shakespearean tragedies (e.g., King Lear) have threatened to displace Hamlet in the past, its position currently seems secure. The section titled "Which Hamlet?" discusses the Folio/Quartos debate, as well as how understanding of the play's meanings and values vary "according to the reader, the actor or the audience" (17). The third chapter examines Hamlet "as a self-contained fiction which takes history and politics as part of its subject matter" and "as a late-Elizabethan play which can be seen in relation to the history and politics of its own time" (23). The next section explores rhetoric in the play, such as how all of the characters seem to speak in the same linguistic style and how some quotes from the play "have passed into common usage," creating challenges for performers (33). The chapter on gender examines the history of female Hamlets, questions of Hamlet's sex/gender, the play's female characters, and feminism's influence on the study of this tragedy. "The Afterlife of Hamlet" discusses how editors, actors, and directors "have added to the multiplicity of Hamlets by cutting and rearranging that text" (52), how the drama has been adapted to popular mediums, and how it has been appropriated for political purposes in various countries. The conclusion foresees an optimistic future for Hamlet, and assortment of illustrations and a select bibliography round out the monograph.

[ top ]

Trivedi, Poonam. “‘Play[ing]’s the thing': Hamlet on the Indian Stage.” Hamlet Studies 24 (2002): 56-80.

PERFORMANCE HISTORY / RECEPTION THEORY

In addition to providing a detailed listing of Hamlet productions in India between 1775 and 2001 (75-78), this article proposes that the “play[ing] of Hamlet [. . .] is the thing wherein [. . .] to catch the conscience of the Indian stage” (56-57). “Indians came to know Shakespeare first through the English language [. . .]” (57), on stage and “via academia” (59). In this “earliest period (1850-1890), Hamlet was seen as the disempowered man paralysed into inaction” (58); Hamlet, “in translation and on stage is more central to the ethos of this period which is of an interaction with the West” (57). “Political implications may also be seen in the second, assimilative and universalizing phase of Shakespeare performance in India. Now we see the Indian literary and theatrical languages attempting to measure up to the might of the master. Three well known versions of Hamlet in Marathi, Bengali and Tamil respectively are representative of this period” (63). During “the middle phase (1890-1920)” Hamlet “became the prince burdened by the duty of righteous revenge” (58). “After the 1920s with the rise of nationalism there was a marked decline in the translation and performance of Shakespeare, and more so of Hamlet, the more quintessentially Western thought-provoking play” (67). “After independence there was a resurgence interest in Shakespeare translation and performance” (68). The “productions of Hamlet have been fewer than those of either Othello, Macbeth or Lear, but more acutely representative of their times” (68). During this period, Hamlet “has represented successively, the sensitive Dane, a misfit, an emblem of existential, social and political angst and a seeker after truth” (58). In “the new post-colonial experimental climate attempts have been made to make Hamlet more truly our own” (70). While this “sampling of the fortunes of Hamlet on the diverse stages of India over more than two centuries reveals a protean range of incarnation” (e.g., canonical, populist, translated, indigenized, adapted, appropriated, deconstructed), it also suggests “that it is Hamlet, not Othello—as is usually held—which presents a site for critical and political intervention both in the colonial and post-colonial periods” (74).

[ top ]

Whitehead, Cintra. “Construing Hamlet.” Constructive Criticism 1.1 (Mar. 1991): 33-100.

PERFORMANCE / PSYCHOANALYTIC

This article begins with sketch reviews of Freud’s, Jones’, and Lacan’s psychoanalytic readings of Hamlet as well as Mairet’s Adleian interpretation. “Although the psychoanalytic and Alderian theories are diametrically opposed in many ways, they both might be called content theories in that they look at the content of the mind rather than the operation of the mind as construct theory does” (39-40). This article outlines the basic tenets of the Kellyan construct theory before following “the action of the plot chronologically, construing character through events” (41) and entertaining the hypothesis that Hamlet “is man-the-scientist who experiences the universal need to predict and control” (40). It also offers suggestions for performance techniques, such as methods to “emphasize the poignancy” of the final scene, when the British ambassadors have come too late (97). This article concludes that Hamlet is “a tragedy of knowing vs. not knowing, but of knowing with the emotions and the will as well as with the intellect. The personal construct theorist will suspect that the play’s unrivaled position in English drama results from its dramatization of the human need for all of us, like Hamlet, to be man-the-scientist who must decide when to trust intuition and emotion . . . and when and how to state and test hypotheses about life and the universe in order to predict and control life events” (99).

[ top ]

Wood, Robert E. Some Necessary Questions of the Play: A Stage-Centered Analysis of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Lewisburg: Bucknell UP, 1994.

HAMLET / PERFORMANCE / RHETORICAL

Using a stage-centered approach, this monograph represents “if not a unified theory of theatrical expression at least a series of ‘necessary questions’ about the structural considerations that make possible the multiplicity of contemporary approaches to Hamlet” (21). It “begins with an examination of Hamlet’s use of real space and time as elements of a narration which is in part about a protagonist’s perception of space and time” (17). Its second section deals with how Hamlet’s use of “wit and soliloquy disrupt the normal language of drama” and of Hamlet, but the plays’ final act “marks the end of this dislocation and, significantly, the end of Hamlet’s distorted perception of space and time as well” (18). The last section “examines expectations we bring to the theater: our focus on the body as the locus of our attention, and our understanding of the generic framework which orders our experience” (18).

[ top ]

Yoshioka, Fumio. “Silence, Speech, and Spectacle in Hamlet.” Shakespeare Studies 31 (1996): 1-33.

HAMLET / PERFORMANCE

“This study aims to analyse and interpret Hamlet on the premise that the tragedy opens in silence, with a sort of dumb-show” (4-5). Like most early modern play texts, Hamlet’s opening scene “is not furnished with elaborate stage directions,” but the two watchmen most likely do not “embark on conversation right upon their entrance” (6). During this silent posturing, Francisco approaches Barnardo, creating “an instant shift of balance”: “the one who watches is suddenly transformed into the one who is watched” (6). This blurring of watcher/watched initiates “the inseparable and insoluble questions that the play continues to pose” through double spying and The Mousetrap, for example (7). In addition, Barnardo’s groping in the night anticipates Hamlet’s struggle with “darkness,” “blocked vision and invisibility” in the Danish court (7-8). The scene’s dark lighting, suggesting night, eventually relieved by the dawning sun, also creates a binary of black/red that bears “psychological implications” (10): the protagonist “hesitates at the entrance of the grim world of black and red, black for revenge and red for blood” (11). For example, the “initial section of ‘Priam’s slaughter’ is portrayed conspicuously in black and red,” while Hamlet calls for a drink of “hot blood” (3.2.381) and for bloody thoughts (4.4.65-66) after gaining confidence with The Mousetrap (12). The opening scene’s first lines foreshadow the ensuing play: “Who’s there?” and “Stand and unfold yourself” (1.1.1-2). While the first suggests Hamlet’s silent question to the people around him and to himself, the latter highlights the lack of answers, the rift in communication (23-24), and the drive to uncover mysteries—all concerns that consume the play (27). The cemetery scene “unfolds the ultimate phase of human nature and existence to the protagonist” (28). The Prince discovers “spiritual tranquility” but only briefly (29). At the play’s end, a dying Hamlet declares, “the rest is silence” (5.2.359), and the muted funeral procession that follows “is the last of a string of dumb-shows whose theatrical eloquence has served to tell so much of the tragedy” (30).

[ top ]

This website is for educational purposes.
All information Copyright © 2002-2007 Harmonie Blankenship
Contact the author at h.blankenship@hamlethaven.com