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TOPIC: Research for Hamlet as an Actor

Research for Hamlet as an Actor 3 years 1 month ago #6632

  • Aaron
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Hello everyone,

I am playing Hamlet next spring which I am extremely excited for(obviously). I am looking for some good articles/books/interviews to read/watch. Any advice from you Hamlet-lovers out there would also be appreciated.

Also a GOOD podcast of Hamlet as I'd like to listen to it during work, the one I'm listening to now is pretty bad.

Short start to a hopefully long thread. Just looking to do an excellent job as Hamlet and not crossing any options off the list for help.

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Re: Research for Hamlet as an Actor 3 years 1 month ago #6633

Heh. Well, the first obvious thing to come to mind is Marvin Rosenberg's The Masks of Hamlet, which would give you pretty much every possible interpretation of every possible line. But it's 900 pages, so you probably don't have time.

I'd suggest avoiding Harold Bloom's book on the matter, given that he can't stand the theatre.

There are so many ways of playing Hamlet that it's difficult to think of advice offhand, but these few do come to mind. They are less flippant than they may seem:

1) Learn your lines. People will notice if you fluff them.

2) Don't freak out too much about it, though; there are always cuts.

3) Except for 'To be or not to be'. That one you'll want to get right, because the whole audience will be speaking along with you.

4) Don't get too hung up on creating an inner narrative. The audience will accept strange shifts and may not even notice them, because after all, it's always you up there, and that's a powerful tool. So long as you say the right words, they'll probably accept it.

5) Remember: Hamlet is a jerk a lot of the time. Whether this is deliberate or if he's genuinely unaware of the fact depends on the performance, but don't forget it yourself.

6) Do try to avoid dry-humping Gertrude in the closet scene. It's both embarrassing and a cliché.
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Re: Research for Hamlet as an Actor 3 years 4 weeks ago #6634

  • Aaron
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Well besides the condescending tone to your reply, I appreciate the advice. I will definitely look up the Masks of Hamlet. I have well over 6 months, which should be more than enough time to read 900 pages.

Obviously memorizing lines, that doesn't worry me. The inner narrative IS what I am interested in. I'm not looking to just get by and do the bare minimum. This job could lead to many others.

And frankly, I'm against the oedipal complex that other productions have played up on in that scene. It just doesn't need that sort of lewdness for it to be a great scene. I would even say that it takes away from it, if it is played up too much.
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Re: Research for Hamlet as an Actor 3 years 4 weeks ago #6635

Didn't intend to condescend, sorry. Apparently it's just how I sound. My point was that often people get so tied up in producing a coherent inner narrative that the play actually suffers, because the actors ovethink it. Remember, Burbage probably had all of a week to learn the role before he first played it. The play will survive if not everything is perfectly tied together with a little bow. (I'm sounding condescending again, aren't I? Sorry.) Essentially, I was hoping that you wouldn't feel overwhelmed by playing HAMLET.

Anyhow, at this point it's hard to give advice until we get a slightly better sense of which direction you (and your director) want to go in. A Hamlet who's deeply pissed off because he wanted to be King and the court decided to elect Claudius instead is going to lead to completely different choices than one who's too devastated by his father's death to even notice what Claudius is up to. A very political production, with a court divided between Hamlet and Claudius, and later Laertes, with, say, the conservative branch hoping for Hamlet to restore his father's warlike ways while Claudius's supporters approve of his choice of diplomatic methods, will be different from one where the focus is on the famil dynamics. And that's without even getting into the question of how mad (or not) he is.
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Re: Research for Hamlet as an Actor 3 years 4 weeks ago #6636

Some extra thoughts:

The best way to start is probably by a few general questions, particularly involving Hamlet's relationship with Claudius and Polonius respectively. Offhand I actually find those two the most fascinating characters in the play, in terms of the variety of ways they can be played. So some food for thought:

1) Is Claudius an evil moustache-twirling villain, or a decent man who's done one bad thing? (Admittedly, killing your brother is a pretty bad thing.) Or somewhere in between.

2) Whether or not he's an evil human being, is Claudius a good King? Would Denmark really be better off with Hamlet on the throne?

3) Is Polonius a doddering old fool or a shrewd politician? Is he a shrewd politician who plays the doddering fool? Can Hamlet tell th difference?

4) Are either of those two as stupid as Hamlet thinks they are? Hamlet clearly thinks he's the brightest bulb in the box; is he correct in this assumption? When Polonius questions him and Hamlet treats him like a fool, is Hamlet correct in doing so, or is Polonius actually much more incisive than the prince thinks? Does Hamlet underestimate his adversaries?

5) Likewise, Osric has been called Claudius's subtlest messenger, because he himself is too dim to be aware that he's fooling Hamlet. Is the prince taken in? Does he realise that Osric is inviting him into a trap? If so, why does he accept the duel? After all, by then he knows that Claudius wants to kill him and that Laertes isn't exactly happy with him. Why take the risk? Is it pride? Self-confidence? Lack of caring?

6) Is Hamlet self-aware, or is he deluded and merely thinks that he is?

7) Has Hamlet always hated his uncle?

Obviously, these are mostly questions to which Hamlet himself can't know the answer, but they can help find a way of playing him. (Personally, I have a fondness for the theory that Gertrude was cheating with Claudius from day one and that Hamlet is actually Claudius's son. But that's just me.)
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