Rewriting Hamlet? If Only.

No secret that Hamlet is a whinging git. I loved teaching the play when I was a middle school teacher, but in depth character analysis is a bit difficult with grade seven’rs.

I once was treated to a patronizing lecture designed to dissuade me from my Hamlet dismissing tendencies by a rather learned historian at a summer workshop I attended in my more youthful days.

But though I appreciate some of the dodgier aspects of the play now that I am older, I still think that Hamlet is a big baby, and the play is best when presented in its abbreviated form – kind of like Melville’s Moby Dick, tell the fish story and leave off the color white.  Brevity and wit’s soul and all that.

9 responses to “Rewriting Hamlet? If Only.

  1. I once saw the ‘reduced Shakespeare company’ perform all Shakespeare’s plays in 2 hours. They ended with a 1 second rendition of Hamlet, which basically consisted of all the of the cast screaming then collapsing onto the flaw – with the cast member who ‘played’ Ophelia throwing a bucket of water over his head. It was hilarious!

  2. I never read Hamlet when younger, but now I love the story. Can’t say the same for Moby DIck: the full Moby Dick made me wish for the first time that I had not read (or listened to) the unabridged version. (I agree with Stephen King that “abridged” versions are abominations.)

    Moby Dick had rafts of unnecessary verbiage and even a complete story within a story about a mutiny on a different ship entirely – and a complete sermon, too.

    Also, the story embodied in Shakespeare’s Hamlet is much older than that, and goes back in history – Shakespeare just gave it life and brought it to the stage.

  3. That’s a difficult text for seventh grade.

    Growing up in the UK, my school (and I think the national curriculum as a whole) designated certain plays as being appropriate for different age groups so you’d look at the more complex and difficult works as you progressed through the years.

    At the equivalent of seventh grade we looked at “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.

    At about 13 / 14 it was “Julius Caesar”.

    For GCSE (15 – 16) it was “Macbeth”

    For A-level (17-18) it was “Othello” and “The Tempest”.

    It wasn’t until I was an undergrad that I studied “Hamlet”.

    • I found kid friendly versions of Hamlet, Macbeth and a few others and then we watched them (yes, I showed films – Shakespeare is really meant to be heard and seen. They are plays after all). Kids do fine with the language. They are much less freaked out about it than adults. And the trick to Shakespeare is to know the plot in advance. His own audiences would have been very familiar with the stories that inspired his plays. It’s not like 16th Englishmen walked about speaking in verse after all.

  4. While volunteering in a prison – teaching toastmasters [public speaking skills] someone gave a book report on Hamlet- how he killed his father and slept with his mother.
    Their response: “Wow, it sounds like material for Jerry Springer.”
    how true.

  5. Do you know who else is a big baby? Holden Caulfield. When I was young, I was all, “Oh, Holden, I feel your pain,” but now that I’m an adult I think he’s just a over-privileged little shit. Times change.

    • Catcher in the Rye is one of those books you read when you are a teen and just nod and agree, but if you read it as an adult or re-re-read it, you just shake your head. It’s like finding out that the angst that fueled Kurt Cobain’s music stems from the fact that his parents divorced and that he grew up in white suburbia. WTF? Really?

      There are people in the world with real problems or problems that they are completely unable to do a single thing about but it’s the Holden’s and the Hamlet’s – privileged white boys – who get the stage.

      • just as a friendly aside, kurt cobain actually suffered intestinal problems which triggered excruciating bleeding ulcers which plagued him most of his life. it wasn’t just the suburban white whining. great article on hamlet! i think shakespeare wanted him to be a melodramtic baby, so that it was nearly impossible to actually like him, but he is still an annoying brat.

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