This above all: my eternal obsession with ‘Hamlet’ | ET REALITY


In Hawke’s “Hamlet” and Mel Gibson’s visceral, sensual 1990 “Hamlet,” I first realized how often directors use female characters as stand-ins for fatalistic, taboo love. (That’s why I also enjoy genre-crossing Hamlets, whether in the form of theater pioneer Sarah Bernhardt in 1899 or Ruth Negga in 2020.) Queen Gertrude is stupid, selfish, or promiscuous, blinded by her untamed lust. Many productions opt for a physical staging of Act III, Scene 4, when Hamlet approaches his mother in his bedroom. Hawke’s Hamlet grabs her mother in a black robe and then presses her against a closet door. Gibson’s deranged Hamlet also fights and clings to Gertrude, as does Andrew Scott in Robert Icke’s 2017 London production. Thomas Ostermeier’s wild “Hamlet” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music last year emphasized Gertrude’s sexuality to the extreme, making her slither and move as if she were overwhelmed by sexual energy. The text implies that a woman who is too free with her affections digs her own grave.

That includes, of course, Hamlet’s eternally doomed love interest, Ophelia (commemorated on my right forearm with a skull and pansy). I used to dismiss her as a fragile female stereotype and longed for a production or adaptation that could give this character agency (any kind of agency) within the space of his grief, his madness, and her death.

Kenny Leon’s disappointing “Hamlet” at the Delacorte this summer did just that. Solea Pfeiffer played an Ophelia who matched Hamlet in wit and sass, who spoke with a wisdom and rage that elevated the character from her 17th-century home to the present.

This duality in Ofelia – between sincerity and acting, delirious madness and clear, articulate rage – is welcome. It is a duality that many directors literalize in their productions in general, some using mirrors as nods to Hamlet’s constant reflections at the expense of the action, others resorting to hinting at the division between presentation and truth.

But as much as “Hamlet” may serve as a character study, for me the story extends far beyond the conceptualization of a production of a lost prince with a divided ego. This is a story that begins and ends with pain.

I have a tattoo for Hamlet and his dearly departed father: a jeweled sword piercing a broken skull into a crown. Having lost my father almost a decade ago, I am familiar with the feeling of being haunted by a father who may not be a literal king, but perhaps simply a patriarch who takes the same cheap shots from beyond, as Pap in “Fat Fat” by James Ijames. Ham.” In the play, a black, queer version of “Hamlet” in conversation with Shakespeare’s original text, Hamlet is not only bound to his father by a sense of filial obligation but also by guilt, regret and shame. In Pap I saw my own father’s flaws: the resentment, the prejudice, the toxic masculinity. It made me wonder how much of Hamlet’s pain is for his father and how much is for the stability that his father symbolized.

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