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Shakespeare & Beyond

Losing the name of action: Hamlet reconsidered


Photograph by Lizzie Caswall Smith of Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson as Hamlet. Folger Shakespeare Library.

During this global pandemic, when the whole world is quarantined to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Hamlet seems like a character perfectly suited to our present moment. He’s also stuck at home, unable to return to school, despondent after suffering great loss, and so distraught by governmental change and the behavior of family members that he’s unable to accomplish simple basic tasks like killing his uncle.


Hamlet or no Hamlet, your penultimate paragraph makes an important point that I find quite inspiring.

Tony Dwyer — June 10, 2020

Eliminating over half of Shakespeare’s lines, Olivier was presenting the public with Highly Reduced Shakespeare without advertising it as such. His cuts and other changes (“To be or not to be” takes place on a cliff rather than in a hallway with Ophelia praying in the background) allowed Olivier to “prove” his prologue was right without acknowledging he rigged the evidence. We have been stuck with the result ever since.

Gary Baughn — June 11, 2020

The best starter version for most people is the Mel Gibson movie (1990). Inviting us outside the stale confines of the castle infuses enough fresh air and sunshine to detect the scent of death within its walls. Luring Hamlet onto the castle ramparts by night permits his murdered father to bequeath his son a death mask for breathing indoors until the very end.

Stephen Treacy — September 19, 2021

[…] are almost too numerous to mention, and Hamlet, according to Laurence Olivier, is considered (inaccurately, I think) to be the “tragedy of a man who could not make up his […]

"Woeful tragedy," indeed - Shakespeare & Beyond — September 28, 2021