Wow. Two performances of Hamlet: in motion down!
I’m picturing the next performance this Sunday evening. I’m hoping for and epic and excited audience, ready for the theatrical ride of a lifetime in Jerusalem’s Bloomfield Gardens. Hopefully they’ve come because it’s…Hamlet. You know, “To be or not to be,” and some many other iconic lines and speeches, many of them said by (you guessed it) Hamlet.
“Come, give us a taste of your quality. Come, a passionate speech,” says Hamlet (who never stops saying stuff), to one of a troupe of traveling ‘players’. The player obliges and Hamlet listens, enthralled by the “…motive and cue for passion” that the player has. Those desires – for life, for love, for vengeance of his father’s murder, and even for being King of Denmark one day in the far off future – lie deeply within Hamlet’s soul. He longs to release them without the fear of seeming unhinged or ‘mad’ in any way.
The big ideas of Hamlet are those larger philosophical and existentential questions of life that we allow ourselves to ponder only after a stiff scotch, or in the darkest of night, when we’re alone with our thoughts. “To be or not to be,” or even better, right before Hamlet fights Laertes and dies, “If it be now, ’tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now…The readiness is all.”
We thrill to hear those words even as they pass through our consciousness into the breath and breeze of the park each night. We shudder at the body count at the end of the show, wondering how Hamlet’s very wonderings – so honestly human – could have ended so badly?
Hamlet is a modern-day-Romeo, all grown up and in search of the right Juliet. Sort of. He’d have split up with that Juliet had they met as teenagers. He left home for school and upon discovering that he had a knack for scholarship, put aside his lingering concerns that he was a hapless prince, forever in the shadow of his impressive father, Hamlet senior.
But he yearns for love, setting his thoughts down in remembrances given to Ophelia, “words of so sweet breath composed…” that turn to dust when he spurns her cruelly, setting her on an unhappy, downward spiral. He wants to show himself as able and adult, this while grief-stricken after his father’s death as well as angry at his mother and uncle for remarrying so soon and seemingly having a good time together in bed – the ultimate insult to an angry man-child.
‘Adulting’ for Hamlet brings new concerns when he discovers the truth of his father’s murder at the hands of his uncle. How should he act? How can he truly avenge his father’s murder and show himself as capable…of anything. If it’s murder, will it make him feel any better? And what should he do about the two women in his life, Ophelia and Gertrude, as well as his would-be friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. The truths they reveal to him – or hide – in difficult conversations show his insecurities as well as his attempts to put things together, to make the personal discoveries he needs to make in order to move forward and leave the past behind, regardless of his success at love, vengeance, or leading his country.
Maybe most millennials aren’t dealing with such heavy matters of ‘should I be king or not’, and ‘did my uncle murder my father’, but life always offers complicated issues to ponder, some heavier – politics, religion, sexuality, violence – some lighter (in theory), like happiness, finding love, and making a living. Finding one’s way through the mess and muck of life is what Hamlet is truly about, while searching for meaning in a world – personal and communal – that seems confusing and messy.
Hamlet’s tragic end is the success of his taking control. Of standing up to his uncle the King and Laertes, and their crudely planned, would-be murder. Ophelia’s and Gertrude’s deaths are more cloaked in mystery – does Ophelia take her life willingly or almost by accident? Does Gertrude drink from the King’s chalice suspecting he might have poisoned it as part of a plan to murder Hamlet?
Questions we’ve enjoyed pondering as we’ve prepared for opening night of Hamlet: in motion in Jerusalem. Join our voyage of personal and collective discovery, Shakespearean style.