Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Isaac's Performance Analysis (now in technicolor)

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This is now my favorite performance of Hamlet. If I ever end up teaching high school, this is definitely the adaptation that I will show to my students. It captures the feeling and the nuance of Hamlet, while including humor, emotion, and extraordinary stage choices. I will remark on what I saw as the most significant of these choices.

The first choice that stood out to me was the connection between the first and last scenes. In the first scene, everyone is clothed in white, with white hides draping the table and white flowers hanging from the ceiling. These white elements could symbolize life (in flowers) and death (in hides and antlers on the table). However, Hamlet, placed in the center of the table, is clothed all in black. He is the "angsty teenager" in this scene, brooding over his father's death and his mother's marriage. By contrast, in the last scene (shown above), everyone is clothed in black, except for Hamlet, who is clothed in radiant white. I could see this choice being read in two ways: 1) The white in the first scene is an ironic reading, showing how everyone thinks they're innocent but are really complicit in the murder of King Hamlet, except for Prince Hamlet himself, who is starting to see the corruption. This reading would suggest that in the end, Hamlet is the guilty one (of causing so much death and destruction), thinking he is innocent. This would also mean that everyone else is innocent, at least of the slaughter that has happened since Hamlet sees the ghost of his father. 2) The other way to read this would be to say that Hamlet is in mourning and trapped in inability, signified by the black, until the last scene, when he changes his character and decides that he will no longer sit in the den of indecision, but will fight. Either way, it is telling of how Hamlet changes during the play in relation to the rest of the cast.

Another choice (that has been touched on in others' posts) is in regards to time. Time is played with in many different ways during this production. Time slows down when Hamlet gives his soliloquies, showing how his thoughts race in real time while being surrounded by others. Time speeds up many times in between scenes (accompanied by a large musical bass element that gives a melancholy, intimidating feeling). These variations of time lend the most meaning to the play itself when Hamlet claims that his parents have been married for two hours. When questioned on this, he says that he has lost all concept of time. The choices of this production to use variations of time could be read as Hamlet's own experiences with time, that it slows down and speeds up as he experiences his grief. It could show how overwhelmed he is and how mad he is actually becoming.

Other things to remark on:

  • Some productions portray Ophelia's madness as simply madness--numbness to reality--complete disjunction with what is happening in life. This production shows how she is mad but how that grows out of her grief for her father. I appreciated this connection to life and how she's not a completely different person. It becomes more sorrowful for me.
  • The shadow on the wall of Hamlet considering murdering Claudius as he prays. It showed the actual dark powerful potential of Hamlet, although he never actually acts on that potential. 
  • I thought it was interesting that they skipped the first scene. I didn't know what to make of that choice. 

Overall, it was a masterful performance by the actors, by the director, and by the stage manager. I'm glad that I was able to be exposed to this performance.


  1. I appreciate your pointing out the reversal of colors in the first and last scenes. I didn't connect the two but I think that is very interesting. I don't necessarily agree that Hamlet is to blame for all of the deaths, but I do think it is significant. I wonder if it could also show the isolation that Hamlet constantly feels, he is unable to really connect with those around him always feeling differently even compared with those he is closest to. This isolation and solidarity is reflected in his dismal thoughts. In the beginning he ponders suicide and yet feels so much turmoil about it that he is unwilling to face death in this or any form. And yet, by the end of the play he has come to grips with death, he hasn't completely ruled out suicide, but he doesn't entirely embrace it. Instead, he seems to eagerly accept the duel as an opportunity for fate to deal the cards as she would. I think this could be another way of looking at the contrast of black and white as worn by Hamlet in the first and last scenes.

  2. Wow, Isaac, that is a really good analysis! I didn't notice the contrast between Hamlet and the other characters. I'm not sure Gaylie, I do think Hamlet is responsible for every death in the play besides Hamlet sr. He may have done it unwittingly (stabbing a curtain he cannot see through) but he chose to kill and then felt little remorse (almost parallel to Claudius). That's the tragedy to me. Hamlet's quest for revenge ultimately destroys the people he loves most. Which is why the different colors is so fascinating. Because white doesn't actually symbolize purity, just like Hamlet's noble choices to avenge his father is actually destructive to all of Denmark.