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Monday, October 09, 2006

Hamlet

Hamlet was the first Shakespeare play I ever saw performed. My high school literature class took a trip to Ann Arbor where we saw the play. I don't recall now whether it was the university performing it or some local group coming through.

I do remember that I was rather bored by it.

In fact, despite plays being my favorite form of literature even in high school, I didn't start out as a fan of Shakespeare. I didn't have the patience to read him slowly or out loud. It wasn't until years later when my husband began to read Shakespeare to me and then to perform in his plays that I realized how incredible the Master Dramatist really was. Since then, I've fallen completely in love with his works and try to see as much of it as I can.

It helps that my husband regularly performs in the state Shakespeare festival and that as a local theater reviewer, I get to attend many performances.

So while I typically see anywhere from three to five productions of Shakepeare each year, I hadn't seen Hamlet since that first production twenty years ago. That is, not until last year.

The 2005-2006 theater season was definitely my year for Hamlet. Through the course of the season, I saw four different productions of Hamlet, some of them more than once. Each production had its own interpretations, underscoring what very rich text this best of all Shakespearean tragedies is.

It began last fall when a colleague of my husband invited us out to see him perform the title role at Grand Valley State University. It was a stunning production, one accompanied by chamber music and that included everything—including Polonius’ spy and all of the Fortinbras material.

A month later, my husband and I headed out to Kalamazoo to see the identical twin of that same colleague perform the same role. The play was cut differently and performed in a more intimate setting, but it was an incredible experience to see two such excellent performances so close together and by people who looked so much alike.

Then, partly inspired by a visit from the colleague mentioned above, the fifth and sixth grade Montessori students that my husband teaches begged to be allowed to do Hamlet for their end-of-year production. Who is going to turn down a request like that? So they performed Hambits—Scenes from Hamlet.

Finally, this summer my husband performed in a production of Hamlet for the Michigan Shakespeare Festival, playing the roles of Bernardo, Player Queen, and various others. We brought our Montessori students to see the show in a one-day camp experience.

Unlike my first experience which left me listless, each of these performances were stunning and each one brought the text alive to me in some new way. I understand now why Hamlet is considered Shakespeare's best work and I hope that it will continue to be a part of my life throughout the years.

If you haven't read it or seen it since high school (assuming you've already left those hallowed halls), consider taking another turn through it. It might surprise you how it improves with age (yours, not its).

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