Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Hamlette and "Hamlet"

Today is Shakespeare's birthday, supposedly.  We don't know for sure, we just figure it was probably today cuz he was baptized on the 26th, and at that time, babies were baptized when they were 3 days old.  So his birthday is probably today.  Happy birthday, Bard of Avon!

Today is my actual birthday, no supposedly about it.  I love sharing a birthday with Shakespeare (and Sandra Dee, Sergei Prokofiev, and Shirley Temple).  I'm 33 today, and Shakespeare was 36 when he wrote Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, which really has nothing to do with anything except that I've been feeling like writing about why I love that play, so this seems like as good a time as any.  I think today I'll post about how I discovered it, and go into deeper stuff about themes and characters and identification another time.
I bought this journal on Etsy a few years ago -- real leather and so gorgeous.

I first read Hamlet when I was 17, nearly half my lifetime ago.  A year or so earlier, I had attended a presentation with some other homeschoolers staged at a local community college, a presentation about Shakespeare.  Get the kiddies excited about the classics, that sort of thing.  Well, my brother and I were obsessed with exceedingly fond of classic Star Trek at that time, and at this Shakespeare presentation, they recited some of his most famous lines and speeches, including several from Hamlet.  And Johnnycake and I recognized a whole bunch of Trek titles!  Like "The Conscience of the King," "Dagger of the Mind," "The Undiscovered Country," "By Any Other Name," and so on.  I decided that I would read through all of Shakespeare's plays, searching for titles and lines used in Star Trek.

Yes.  I started reading Shakespeare because I love Star Trek.  See where good pop culture can lead you?

Okay, so I got this massive, red, gilded, leather-bound copy of The Complete Works of Shakespeare out of the library.  I began at the beginning of the book, I think with Two Gentlemen of Verona.  I toted it everywhere, even to the bowling alley at one point.  I read and read and read, searching for those Star Trek references.  And falling under Shakespeare's spell at the same time, of course.

Eventually, I ran out of renewals on that copy and had to return it.  I'd only read five or six plays!  I remember Measure for Measure and Romeo and Juliet and Love's Labour's Lost were among them.  What to do?

I went and bought my own copy, of course.  Paperback, weighs a ton, onionskin pages with teeeeeeeny print.  I had to break the binding in order to read the words on the inner edges of the pages.  Eventually, I got to Hamlet.

At this time, I was also obsessed with exceedingly fond of the word "dream."  Any song that had the word in the title or used it a lot in the lyrics, I'd memorize the lyrics.  Bought journals, t-shirts, bookmarks with the word "dream" on them.  And guess what word is used eleven times in Hamlet?  By the time I'd finished reading it, I was hooked.  I memorized the entire "To be or not to be" soliloquy.

But I really didn't understand the play as a whole until I saw it performed.  The first version I saw was Franco Zeffirelli's 1990 movie starring Mel Gibson and Glenn Close and Helena Bonham Carter and Alan Bates and Ian Holm.  I convinced my parents to tape it off TV, and oh my goodness, it was obsession at first viewing.  Revolutionized my whole way of thinking.  I don't know how many times I watched that version in the year or so before I went to college -- probably half a dozen.  Would have been more, except no one in my family wanted to watch it with me very often.

In college, I studied the play in two different classes, though both with the same professor.  My senior year, I also got to help teach it in a class called Poetry and Drama that was part of an internship I did.  I got to write and grade the tests on it, which was thrilling.  Truly.

And here you see where my obsession has led me.

Okay, not all of these are "Hamlet."  But most are.
These are the versions I like well enough to watch over and over.

I've seen ten versions on DVD/VHS, but I've seen it performed live only once so far.  That once was on Broadway, with Jude Law in the title role, so I can't complain ;-)   (Read what I thought of it here.)  I have lots of Hamlet-related things, I've devoted a Pinterest board to it, I read all kinds of essays and critiques of it... and I'm constantly seeing different parts of it in a new way.  It never gets old for me.  Or, at least, it hasn't in the last 16 years, so I'm kind of guessing it never will.

I have this as a magnet on my fridge.  He still hasn't shown up, though.


  1. Happy birthday!

    I love that you have something like this that you love so much. I was trying to remember if I had any such thing, and I suppose it would be Jane Austen. I haven't read all the books unfortunately, but I think I've seen all the adaptations multiple times (well, apart from Northanger Abbey from the 80s which I could never finish) and I've read multiple sequels to her novels. Really, I never tire of any story from the Regency era or any period drama. :)

    And can I also say how awesome I find it that Star Trek introduced you to Hamlet? I love it! My mother has always been a fan of of Star Trek, and while I haven't seen all the seasons of every show, I've seen quite a few of them and loved them myself. Yeah for Trekkies! :D

    1. Thank you!

      My husband says I put the "fanatic" in the word "fan," as I get very enthusiastic about a lot of things. But, even for a person of many passions, the whole Hamlet thing goes above most of my other obsessions. It's probably second only to the Bible in terms of how deeply I connect to it.

      Trekkies unite! I've seen nearly every ep of the original series, a few of TNG, and none of the other shows, but I did like the new movie a lot (Chris Hemsworth! Chris Hemsworth!) and am looking forward to this summer's too (Benedict Cumberbatch!).

  2. Ah, to be 33 again!! Well, at least to be 33 again, knowing what I know now. NOT doing it the same way again!

    Anyhow, I hope your birthday marks the beginning of a wonderful new year of life.

    While I don't have a Hamlet (or Shakespeare) obsession, I admire the fact that it has been a passion for you for nearly 2 decades. Many of us get interested in one thing or another, but within a year or two we've tossed that aside and are on to something else. I think it's awesome that Hamlet has been such a mainstay in your life.

    By the way, are you a homeschool graduate? I homeschooled my kids all the way through high school. I loved it!

    1. Thanks!

      When I fall in love with something, truly madly deeply, I tend to stay in love with it. I've had the same favorite movie since I was two. Only a year or so ago did I finally realize that the book that had been my favorite since I was seven was now really my third-favorite. John Wayne has been my favorite actor since I was probably twelve or thirteen, and Maureen O'Hara my favorite actress. I may not spend as much time on a beloved movie/book/show as I did when I first discovered it (I no longer watch 1 or more eps of my favorite show every week like I did when I was fourteen), but it takes a lot to bump something out of my heart. When I'm passionate about something, I stay passionate about it. Which either means I'm really loyal, or a stick-in-the-mud.

      And yes, I was homeschooled K-12, as was my brother. I loved it too! I'm now homeschooling my 3- and 5-year-olds :-D

  3. Hamlette you have me wanting to read Hamlet now. You have me buying movies and books...LOL Actually, I don't mind at all. I love to read and watch movies. Amazon loves me for that too.

    I see that Netflix has a movie called Hamlet starring Ethan Hawke. It was made in 2000. Is that one of the Hamlet movies you saw?

    When I get a passion I am obsessed too. For me it is North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell (The movie & the book) and my spiritual books. I have to add blogging to the list. I love blogging and take it VERY seriously.

    1. I love the Ethan Hawke version! It may be my overall favorite. It definitely has my favorite Laertes ever (Liev Schreiber), one of my favorite Ophelias (Julia Stiles) and possibly my favorite Polonius (Bill Murray). And my favorite Ghost (Sam Shepard). It's a modern adaptation, set in NYC, so don't be expecting doublets and capes, lol.

      The only thing I dislike about it is the person playing Horatio, who is my least-favorite Horatio yet, but his part has been trimmed a bit too, so he's not around much to detract. I whole-heartedly recommend that version. (It's also my best friend's favorite version -- she finds Hawke's portrayal to be the closest she's ever seen to what she envisions for the role.)

      I'm going to get "North and South" from the library soon -- maybe next month!

      But I'm sure you can find the text of Hamlet for free online, or download it to your Kindle/Nook for free if you're into those. No need to buy this one!

      Writing in all sorts of forms has been my passion for a long time, and blogging is one manifestation of that for me too :-)


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