The first thing I usually say when I talk about the work I'm doing is that it's based on Shakespeare's plays, and the first thing people usually say in response is that they hated Shakespeare when they read it in school, and then we're both forced to stand there in awkward silence until I laugh and say, 'Ah, I guess it's not for everyone, ha ha.' I don't know if they're hoping I hold the secret to loving Shakespeare's canon, but I do know that I undeniably, irrefutably love it. To most people in my life, my love of Shakespeare has been one of my most defining traits since sixth grade, where it all began. Let me paint a picture for you, dear reader.
It was the Charyl Stockwell Preparatory Academy production of Much Ado About Nothing. I was eleven years old, and in order to prepare myself for auditions, my mom let me watch the 1993 film adaptation with Kenneth Branagh as Benedick and Emma Thompson as Beatrice. Never before had I seen so many naked strangers running around on-screen than in the first ten minutes of that movie, but more importantly, I watched it and was dead-set on playing Dogberry. During my audition, they gave me his little monologue to read, I started crying, and I got cast as the friar instead. Still, I was in two more productions after that, as Peter Quince in Midsummer Night's Dream and as Toby Belch in Twelfth Night. I would be Peter Quince again in college, as well as Doctor Pinch in Comedy of Errors, Lady Macbeth in a handful of scenes for class, and for the same class, finally, my boy Hamlet. I also cried during that last roll, but it was mostly from the stress of having my Polonius faint on stage and being taken to the hospital traumatizing me a little from having to 'kill' him again when we did the presentation over in a week. There's a lot to unpack, but that's a story for another time.
Point is, I love Shakespeare, it has followed me my whole life, and I have no good argument for why anyone else should be as obsessed with it as I am. And I am indeed obsessed. I have several copies of most plays, and over fifty copies of Hamlet alone, my favorite play. Aside from the two I'm using to prop up a light for my plants right now, the collection looks a little something like this:
It turns out, most used book stores sell them for a dollar or less, so I took to buying every single copy available, confusing several cashiers along the way when I set down three of the same edition on the counter. Some of my favorites are the old red one just left of the clock, and an old Signet Classics edition wherein the reader left a bunch of notes--they weren't useful notes, either, just a lot of personal hatred for Ophelia? This poor kid from 1970 was going through some serious lady problems, I guess, which was somewhat of a charming discovery.
I'd like to justify this collection a little bit more, yet it's mostly just a fanciful thing I have in my room. The most I can say is that I was recently browsing several different editions to look at how some soliloquies are worded, how the ghost operates and what not. Since Shakespeare's stuff was published after his death and there weren't very many rules for re-printing material for distribution, there's a lot of leeway as to what the 'true' version of the text is meant to be. What's more, Shakespeare's version of Hamlet was based on an Old Norse poem that probably exists and its later translations into Latin, all of which were about a pretty violent lad named Amleth. The original version has him taking wives and burning the whole castle at Elsinore to the ground, which is, in a way, comforting to me as an artist looking to loosely adapt the work into my own version.
At the end of the day, my work, Hamlet is Okay, is a modern re-telling that isn't intended to follow Shakespeare's original plot to a T. In fact, it combines both my favorite tragedy, with my interpretation of the prince of Denmark, and my favorite comedy, Twelfth Night, which is where we find the original version of our dear protagonist, Cesario. The similar themes of loss and finding oneself are what draw the material together for me, and I've always wondered how many Shakespeare fans out there share my sentiment. Cesario (in the play, Viola), is struggling with the loss of a brother, just as Hamlet is struggling with the loss of a father, just as Shakespeare himself was struggling with the loss of a son. By synthesizing all of it, I'm attempting to explore the connections that can come out of suffering.
Even if that person that approaches me hates Shakespeare, they at least approached me to tell me that. If I'm lucky, they'll at least give my work a quick once-over, a flip-through, and if I'm even luckier, they'll see a funny joke I made on page ten and decide that maybe this version is for them. Maybe it gets them just as interested into the ravings of an old dead playwright as I am now. That would be some extreme stroke of luck! Feel free to sound off in the comments about your own personal journeys into getting to know the Bard, or maybe tell me what your favorite version of Hamlet is, written or performed! And if you work at the Folger library in DC, can I have a tour? I'm pretty sure you have more copies of Hamlet than me...