Of all the plays that Shakespeare wrote, Hamlet is arguably the best known. Many consider it the greatest tragedy ever penned. Many quotes we still use today come from Shakespeare, and many come from Hamlet. I saw the play Friday night at Atlanta’s New Shakespeare Tavern, located on Peachtree, on the border of midtown and downtown Atlanta. It’s playing in repertory (June 9, 13, 15, 21 & 23) alongside two other plays based on Hamlet, giving you a special chance to see what this great play has spawned in other authors.
Rotating with Shakespeare’s Hamlet is Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (June 8, 14, 16, 20 & 22). Following that is a presentation of Fortinbras by Lee Blessing, playing June 29 to July 14, 2013.
I’ll describe the three plays below, but first a few brief comments on last night’s performance. This lengthy play (it needs two intermissions!) hangs and falls on the strength of the title character, played by the exceedingly handsome Jonathan Horne. While he did occasionally allow the character to become maudlin and whiny, one must admit this is a difficult trap to avoid completely with the indecisive Hamlet and his numerous soliloquies. In all, a solid performance. Exceptional performance by Kelly Criss who portrayed of Ophelia’s crazy phase particularly well. Jeff Watkins’ Polonius could be counted on for a side long glance and other facial expressions that added much humor that can’t be found in the text alone. Laura Cole, a veteran of Shakespeare Tavern, portrayed Gertrude as a more bawdy, and less innocent, Queen than most, adding depth and complexity to the role. Sound is always a problem in plays, and I felt it was mastered well, except when the music and sound effects drowned out the words of the ghost, played by Matt Nitchie. The costumes are very well done, though I always think that after crafting such elaborate dress, the Tavern should take more care to iron out the creases of the hemlines when they let them down.
But it is always easy to be a critic. This is a solid play and I believe we are lucky to have this unique venue, America’s only Shakespeare Tavern, An Original Practice Playhouse® with a British-Pub menu available before each performance.
Here’s a brief synopsis of each play and how they are connected:
Hamlet takes place in Denmark. Hamlet’s father, the king, has died and his uncle, Claudius, has (all too hastily) married Hamlet’s widowed mother, Gertrude, and taken over the throne. The ghost of Hamlet’s father tells Hamlet that Claudius murdered him and he expects Hamlet to avenge his death. He eventually does kill Claudius, but most of the principle players die in the end, including Hamlet (struck by a poisoned blade); Gertrude (who drinks poison intended for Hamlet); Hamlet’s girlfriend, Ophelia (drowned after going mad because Hamlet “accidentally” stabbed her father, Polonius, to death) and Ophelia’s brother, Laertes (in a duel with Hamlet). Did I mention this was a tragedy?
The hilarious inverted tale of Hamlet is then seen through the eyes of the two minor friends of the Dane. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were summoned in by the King and Queen in Hamlet to gently spy on Hamlet and report back. Near the end of the play we are told “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead.” This is an absurdist, existentialist tragicomedy by Tom Stoppard, first staged at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1966. The two courtiers Rosencrantz and Guildenstern exist in a bumbling, surreal, existential world while the plot of Hamlet plays out in the background.
I have not seen Fortenbras, so will quote Drama-Logue: “…FORTINBRAS, a comic interplay of wry literary criticism and contemporary wit which takes up where William Shakespeare’s Hamlet left off. As inescapably relevant to today’s political scene as the classic from which it is drawn, FORTINBRAS cannot help but raise questions about authority and leadership, yet with its mocking (and loving) reverence for Shakespeare’s vision, Blessing’s play comes closer in tone to Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead—sexy, inquisitive, and ultimately satisfying to the revisionist theater-lover. Chosen by Time magazine as one of the year’s ten best plays for 1991, calling it “Lee Blessing’s splendid musing on the most influential play in the English language…” “This comedy serves up a yuppie, postmodern Fortinbras, a bewildered Horatio, a blossoming Osric and lots of tasty ghosts.” —LA Times. “…only Blessing would possess the nerve and the talent to undertake such a task…Where we suffered and wailed at the consequences of Shakespeare’s tragedy, we can laugh along with Blessing at what follows in its wake…Shakespeare himself would have loved it.”
Quotes from Hamlet, still in everyday usage:
- All that lives must die
- Frailty, thy name is woman
- The primrose path
- Neither a borrower nor a lender be
- This above all: to thine ownself be true
- To the manner born
- More honored in the breach than the observance
- Something is rotten in the state of Denmark
- Murder most foul
- The time is out of joint
- There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy
- Brevity is the soul of wit
- Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t
- There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so
- What a piece of work is a man
- An old man is twice a child
- To be, or not to be: that is the question
- What dreams may come, when we have shuffled off this mortal coil
- Get thee to a nunnery
- O, woe is me
- The lady doth protest too much, methinks
- Hoist with his own petard
- Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio (the Horatio is often replaced with the word well, a common misquote)