Monday, January 19, 2009

I've Looked at Hamlet From Both Sides Now

This past Saturday five intrepid Oberon members braved the weather ("The air bites shrewdly; it is very cold"-Hamlet, Act I, scene 4) to attend a double-feature at the Hilberry Theatre in Detroit.

First up was Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead, then after a leisurely dinner it was off to Hamlet (by Shakespeare). It was a most enjoyable day. 

Stoppard's play is quite funny in its way. It is a kind of retelling of Hamlet from the point of view of the "minor characters" of R & G, in which they become the main characters with a large part also for the Players, while the "major characters" of Hamlet are relegated to "walk-on parts". It's kind of like being with R & G "offstage" during a performance of Hamlet, so that whenever they are supposed to appear in a scene of Hamlet, the other actors "come on" and do the scene (or a part of it) with them. In the interim, R & G talk among themselves or to the Players and muse about life, death, and other things. It's very "existential".

The main idea in the Stoppard play is that R & G are kind of "lost" and have no idea really why they are around or what they are supposed to be doing (shades of Waiting for Godot). They are kind of thrust into things beyond their control. This is summed up at the very end of the play by Guildenstern (or is it Rosencrantz?-sorry I couldn't resist that-it IS Guildenstern) when he says "There must have been a moment. at the beginning, where we could have said-no. But somehow we missed it."

This kind of thing is very entertaining, but it is not truly the R & G we know from Hamlet. In that play, they are quite aware of what they are doing (and it's no secret to Hamlet either). They are playing the game of court intrigue very well (although they lose out in the end). Of course, the audiences of Shakespeare's day would pick up on this right away (especially in the performances at court for which I believe this play was intended) and the author (Edward deVere) would have been well aware of this sort of thing himself (more than would be a "local yokel"). There is this kind of court intrigue in virtually all of Shakespeare's plays.

Anyway, I recommend the Stoppard play to all of you. There is also a film adaptation of it available (with screenplay by Stoppard himself) starring Tim Roth and Gary Oldman as R & G and featuring Richard Dreyfus as The Player.

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