“Hamlet” (A)

“Hamlet” (A) August 18, 2019

 

An old portrait of William Shakespeare
This man, one Will Shakspear of the old white European town called Stratford-upon-Avon, is traditionally regarded as the author of such Elizabethan-period white male poems and dramas as “Hamlet,” “Othello,” “King Lear,” “Julius Caesar,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Macbeth,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “The Tempest,” “The Merchant of Venice,” “Richard III,” “Henry V,” and the “Sonnets.”

 

Many have already said so but, for me and my wife, the high point of this year’s Utah Shakespeare Festival was its production of Hamlet, which we saw on Friday afternoon.  The direction was fresh, strong, and original, the cast was excellent, and Quinn Mattfeld was a powerful Prince of Denmark.  Polonius, by the way, was (well) portrayed by Armin Shimerman, who will be familiar to many from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

 

I was shocked, incidentally, to see quite a few empty seats at this year’s Utah Shakespeare Festival.  I don’t know why that should be so; perhaps ticket prices have gone too high.  In any event, there were even empty seats for Hamlet, which I found shocking.  This ought not to be so.  The Festival is one of the cultural treasures of Utah and the West.

 

I’ll offer here just a few random observations about the play, in no particular order.

 

***

 

There are innumerable great passages in Hamlet.

 

Here’s one, indicating a remarkably high appreciation of “Man” at the same time that it expresses Prince Hamlet’s disenchanted view of human frailty:

 

“What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form, in moving, how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?” 

 

Here’s another, expressive of how life looks to somebody — in this case, Hamlet himself — who is depressed and without hope:

 

How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!

 

This passage, too, stands out, reflecting the sense that, even with our free choices, there is an overruling providence that guides what happens:

 

There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, 
Rough-hew them how we will.

 

Shakespeare’s use of language is intoxicating and rich.

 

***

 

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

 

The audience laughed at that line.  However, it’s not intended to be funny and the audience’s reaction was both predictable and inappropriate.  They laughed at it because it’s become a cliché.  But it wasn’t a cliché when Shakespeare wrote it, and the fact that it has now become a cliché is, in a way, its own tribute to his greatness.

 

Posted from St. George, Utah

 

 

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