This production was performed in the summer of 2019 at Chapel Theatre in Milwaukie, Oregon. If you missed it, here’s the full video of the performance.
“Things aren’t just black or white. Things are grey. And grey is a lot more interesting.”
Steven Rogers, Screenwriter
When I was first introduced to Hamlet… many moons ago, I saw it as this big epic event. Hamlet is arguably the greatest piece of literature in history; it’s certainly the most quoted, and that in and of itself was something that stirred a lot up in me. While I was captivated by the musicality and beauty of the language, as well as the complexity and richness of the story… something else was going on. In the back of my head, something troubled me. I thought to myself, Hamlet’s father was a monster. The script of Hamlet is vague about some things, but one thing it’s not vague on is the backstory of Hamlet’s father. It’s made very clear that he started a war with Norway, killed a man (and possibly others), and caused a great deal of pain and suffering to a nation. And I thought… why should we care about him? Over the years, other thoughts came to me as well. Gertrude hastily remarrying can be seen as pretty awful, but given her station in society, does she really have a choice? And the script makes clear that Claudius manipulated and seduced her. So, is she really a character that deserves to be vilified that much? Furthermore, Hamlet is the hero of the play… but again, in the back of my head, some things about him troubled me. He says and does some pretty unconscionable things. Over time, something occurred to me. Not everything is going to be resolved in life the way you want it. Not everything is clear to you and spelled out. And your heroes are human beings and human beings make mistakes. To me, Hamlet opened my eyes to many of these truths because these are things that happen in the play. Theater, as well as any art form, is meant to be a reflection of life. It can communicate a message, but more importantly it makes us think critically about things and thus relate it to our own lives. This is what makes Hamlet so refreshing. Hamlet is clearly a man with the sins of the father on him. He seems to have a sense of shame for the imperialistic actions of his father, and even shows admiration for Fortinbras. But at the same time, he does love his father and has a duty to him and Denmark. Therein lies a tough question: how do we handle it when the people we love do bad things? How hard is it to still love them—and be loyal to them? What’s more, a lot of anger is shown to Gertrude from Hamlet. But again, Claudius is a manipulator and given Gertrude’s station in life, she pretty much doesn’t have a choice but to remarry. This isn’t acknowledged by the characters in the play and if it is, we as audience members are robbed of this journey of discovering it. Furthermore, Hamlet is not a perfect person. We have to accept this of our heroes. The point is, Hamlet teaches us life lessons, as all art does. You can analyze so many parts of the story time and again, and make new discoveries about it. There’s always another layer. It resonates with people in different ways and for different reasons. What I’ve stated is, among other things, what this play has done for me.
What does it do for you?