Even the self-professed Shakespeare-loather might recognize a few lines from Hamlet…to be or not to be…and so on. The biggest role in the Bard’s canon is also his most famous (next to those famously ill-fated young lovers, of course). It’s even a Disney cartoon!
As a former student of theater, I think its safe to say I’m familiar with the great Dane. I’ve grown quite close to Hamlet, having analyzed his many trials and tribulations for nearly 6 years now. How cool is it that I can see the same play over and over, study it, perform it, and suddenly see one production and experience an entirely different twist?!
For decades, perhaps centuries, scholars and high school students alike have debated whether Hamlet’s lunacy is faked, as the character explains in an early act, or real, madness actualized as the traumatic events of the play unfold around him. Is he nuts, or is it all really a big act intended to fool his treacherous family?
I was always stubbornly on the side of fakery. I would point to Hamlet’s line about “an antic disposition” and say to my opponents “See! He tells everyone he’s going to act crazy”. However, after seeing the Barbican Theatre’s production, broadcast live through the amazing work of National Theatre Live, my mind has been prodded open to new ideas.
There were lots of nuances I was familiar with in this version. And I believe it was that familiarity that allowed me to see new touches and choices the company made. The way Hamlet’s experiences were dealt with was so unique to any other production I’d seen before.
In Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet, madness was not in his moments of “acting”, but in the moments in between, when his constantly fluctuating mood and overextended energies gave him an instability I had never seen in the character before. By the final act, I was convinced: this poor man had been driven insane by grief.
I was so thrilled to have my mind changed by a singular performance. To me, this just further proves how powerful storytelling can be in changing and stimulating the imagination. Theatrical possibilities are endless with this kind of thinking…