On the first performance of “Hamlet”

[content_band inner_container=”true” padding_top=”0px” padding_bottom=”10px” border=”all” bg_color=”#efefef”]This is an accidental post: a writing assignment for the course on “Hamlet” on FutureLearn.com I am taking (by the way, it’s a great place to learn). The assignment is to pretend to be an Elizabethan who has just been to see Shakespeare’s Hamlet for the first time ever. They asked to write as a blog post, and I decided the topic is quite fitting for my “Studio Journal”, especially because I just saw the old BBC production with Derek Jacobi… [/content_band]

I’ve been meaning to write down my thoughts on a new production of Hamlet — I saw it yesterday — but the only thought that’s floating in my head right now is that I couldn’t be more thoroughly confused.

The public — me included — seemed to expect a remake of Kyd’s Hamlet we remember from a few years back: an honest revenge play. We should have known better: one can always trust Shakespeare to introduce confusion, and befuddlement, and a heap of questions instead of answers and straightforward action.

It’s not that there is no action at all: everyone dies by and by; but — at first at least — most of its happens off-stage and to wrong people (the main villain is also killed eventually, but not before he has managed to bring about the deaths of almost everyone else, Hamlet included).

But otherwise — I felt as though we are witnessing not what is actually happening, but what’s going on in Hamlet’s head (interchanging madness and reason, without any warnings). First of all — what is this Ghost? Is he real or is he an illusion? The soldiers and Horatio see it, too — but then, why doesn’t the queen, in a later scene?

And where does it come from? From what he says it seems like he resides in Purgatory (“for a certain term”, if I remember correctly) — but don’t we, in our enlightened age, already know that Purgatory is a vile invention of Papists? What might Shakespeare possibly mean with this? And then Hamlet talks of death as of a country from whose bourn no traveller returns — and yet he seems to take the Ghost quite seriously (if not without some mistrust — quite justifiable, by the way, if you ask me).

Is Hamlet mad? He himself seems to think that he just “puts it on”, that he is “mad in craft”… But isn’t “putting it on” madness in itself — all it seems to do is to arouse the king’s suspicions, so Hamlet is constantly being watched — not the best way to accomplish his revenge, if that’s what he has in mind. It looked to me as though he has just found a pretext (for himself, if for nobody else) to let his inward storm of madness out — I know firsthand how tempting it might be when the whole world seems to crumble around you.

Why doesn’t he kill his uncle right after the play, when he is finally sure that the Ghost was telling the truth? Does he really believe that a murderer and a villain will go to Heaven? Or is he just more interested in having his say with his mother? Or maybe he just doesn’t like to kill (no wonder here)?

As I said, I am befuddled. All these questions just keep boiling in my head, as though I have become a bit of a Hamlet myself…