Hamlet Blog Entry
I am currently taking an online class about the history of Hamlet and one of our assignments was to post a blog entry, written from the perspective of an Elizabethan theatre patron seeing Hamlet in its original run with Burbage playing Hamlet. How might the play have seemed to people seeing it for the first time? Did it meet the expectations of those who were familiar with revenge tragedies like Kyd or of the ancient legends that created the story of Hamlet? Did it disappoint or exceed their preconceived ideas of the story? How might they have liked the cast?
Here is my entry:
Had a most delightful experience at the theatre last night. It seems that the Mr. William Shakespeare has found himself another hit by perusing the pages of old history books and stories of ancient mythologies. What that man lacks in original plots he more than makes up for with his dialogue and characters.
Having studied some folklore I was somewhat familiar with the story of Prince Amleth, who feigns insanity to avoid being killed by his murderous uncle like his father was. I went into the show with some expectations of how things would play out, only to have those expectations dashed.
I went in expecting something a bit more straightforward, your standard Kydian revenge story with a Danish twist. But what I got was something much more. The play ran quite long, but it had just enough vulgar humour and blood to keep the groundlings from getting too restless. This Shakespeare really knows his audience; he managed to keep everyone entranced. He leads with a ghost, the story of a murder, and the hint of a love story. In between beautiful and lengthy speeches about the nature of life and death, revenge, and religion he throws enough quick paced puns, innuendo, and the threat of war to keep everyone’s attention. Just when I thought some of the longer soliloquies might be putting the commoners to sleep, there would be a bit of fun had at the old fool Polonious’ expense or the hint of imminent war.
Performances by all the actors were superb; it hardly needs to be said that Burbage was amazing as the suffering, conflicted, angry and disturbed Hamlet. I was so captivated that I couldn’t hold back tears when Burbage spoke his last words on stage. Shakespeare himself made a brief cameo as the ghost of King Hamlet. It is a shame that man doesn’t have enough time to write AND act because he sent shivers down my spine as the tortured ghost of the murdered king. His description of the afterlife of someone who dies without confession made me say an extra prayer that night.
The parts of the play that really made it shine were the parts that broke from the legend of Amleth and from the revenge plays of writers like Mr. Kyd. In the original story of Amleth, the prince is in imminent danger from his murdering uncle, but in this play it seems that Claudius has no intention of killing Hamlet until Hamlet kills Polonious. This puts a heavier burden on Hamlet, as he is truly debating murderous revenge and not simply self-defense and self-preservation.
Sometimes I wonder how Shakespeare gets these plays past the censors, with the talk of suicide, the arguing with priests, and the levity with the dead in the graveyard I am surprised this play was able to be staged in the first place. The puritans were certainly out in full force on the streets condemning the play even though they undoubtedly haven’t actually seen the thing.