Hamlet by William Shakespeare
first published 1603, first performed in early 1600s
Ophelia [reporting to her father]:
My lord, as I was sewing in my closet,
Lord Hamlet, with his doublet all unbraced;
No hat upon his head; his stockings foul'd,
Ungarter'd, and down-gyved to his ancle;
Pale as his shirt; his knees knocking each other;
And with a look so piteous in purport
As if he had been loosed out of hell
To speak of horrors,--he comes before me.
observations: Shakespeare’s contribution to Clothes in Plays.
The hot ticket in the London theatre at the moment is Benedict Cumberbatch (the modern-day Sherlock Holmes) playing Hamlet at the Barbican. I was lucky enough to see the performance recently, and last week wrote a piece for the Guardian books section about crime writers’ penchant for taking book titles from the play – blog entry, with link to the Guardian, here.
I thought the performance and production were both wonderful, extremely well done, and Cumberbatch has the true charisma of a great actor.
One thing that struck me was that Cumberbatch played Hamlet as if he was on the Asperger’s spectrum: he was very convincing as a young man who cannot see the world through others’ eyes. (Given that the actor is nearly 40, he was also amazingly real as someone not much more than half that age.)
In fact, in a most unlikely development, as I watched I was reminded of Sheldon Cooper from the American TV sitcom Big Bang Theory. (Horatio made a good Leonard, and Rosencratz and Guildenstern were Howard and Raj.) Hamlet’s separation from everyone else, his lack of understanding with women, his conviction that it was the world that was out of step, not him – all this smacked of Sheldon. Even the fort, and a general childishness.
While I’m making unlikely and unconvincing connections – I got quite excited by this line in Act 1:
Upon the platform twixt 11 and 12
One of the book titles had to be dropped for lack of space (and because it was doubly fictional, and wasn’t a crime story): Radio 4’s wonderful fictional character Ed Reardon wrote just one novel and the title is Who Would Fardels Bear? – a phrase from the To Be or Not to Be speech, following on from the bare bodkin that gave Cyril Hare a title. Anyone who knows of Ed Reardon at all would know that he wouldn’t be a bit surprised that he was dropped.
In the piece I mention No Wind of Blame, a Georgette Heyer crime story with a Hamlet name. In her Envious Casca – title from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar – one of the characters objects to the investigation of the terrible murder that has been committed at Christmas:
‘as he is dead there is nothing to be done about it, and it will only create a great deal of unpleasantness to pry into the affair. Like Hamlet,’ she added. ‘Simply upsetting things.’Envious Casca is my favourite, and much the funniest, of the Heyer crime books – blog entry here, with link to another.
Another blog-featured book revolving round a performance of Hamlet is Simon Packham’s The Opposite Bastard – blog entry here – with a most unusual production planned at Oxford University.
And while I was looking at potential booktitles – there’s that great line:
the funeral baked meatsI have always thought there must be a cookbook in there somewhere….
Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.
Pictures show a 19th century version of Hamlet, Benedict Cumberbatch, and two versions of Ophelia.