Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Sin in Hamlet

The day after we saw Hamlet at the Stratford Festival, my wife Susan and I were walking along the charming streets of Stratford talking about the production. Susan made an astute observation that had somehow eluded me. She said how in the play one sin spreads through the characters like the plague leading to still more sin.

Claudius kills the father of Hamlet who then seeks revenge. In his so-called madness, Hamlet kills Polonius. The murder of her father by her boyfriend leads Ophelia to madness and death. Prompted by Claudius, Laertes seeks Hamlet’s death to revenge his father, and by the end of the play all the main characters are dead. They don’t call it tragedy for nothing.

One of the reasons Hamlet is so relevant today is that the characters ring true. Hamlet knows and admits his sinful nature to Ophelia.

I am myself indifferent honest; but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me: I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offences at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act them in. What should such fellows as I do crawling between earth and heaven? We are arrant knaves, all;
Even Claudius has a moment of honesty when he is alone.

O, my offence is rank it smells to heaven; It hath the primal eldest curse upon’t, A brother’s murder.
O wretched state! O bosom black as death! O limed soul, that, struggling to be free,
Yet Hamlet knows that man, despite his sinful nature, is God’s greatest and special creation.

What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form, in moving, how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals!
When speaking to his mother, Hamlet realizes the wickedness of sin and the redeeming power of forgiveness.

Confess yourself to heaven; Repent what's past; avoid what is to come;

Hamlet encourages us to get rid of whatever in our lives is sinful. (And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out.)

        O Hamlet, thou hast cleft my heart in twain.

       O, throw away the worser part of it, And live the purer with the other half.

Laertes proudly states that he will risk damnation for his revenge. When he leans Hamlet has killed Laertes’ father, Claudius asks:
What would you undertake
To show yourself your father's son in deed
More than in words?
Laertes answers, To cut his throat i' th' church.

To which Claudius replies, Revenge should have no bounds.

Murderous revenge, ambitious coveting, and despair are all rife in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Humans are sinful creatures. My wife is right. In Hamlet sin begets more sinning. Hamlet is a great play for the very reason that we can learn from it.

Stephen Gaspar's books can be found on Amazon

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Taming of the Shrew at the Stratford Festival

One of the great performances at the Stratford Festival this year is Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. This Battle of the Sexes comedy is performed admirably by the husband and wife team of Deborah Hay and Ben Carlson who I had also seen as Beatrice and Benedict in Much Ado About Nothing. In The Taming of the Shrew, Hay and Carlson have some great interaction, much of it physical. She even gets to slap her husband and spit in his face in every performance.

Practically every character in The Taming of the Shrew has a comedic role and they are well played in this production.

The play itself may draw criticism from some groups who think Petruchio is only trying to break the spirit of Katherina and bend her to his will, but what would these same groups think if it were a play about a woman trying to tame a loud-mouth boorish lout to be a gentleman and husband.

Though some might think that Petruchio is only trying to make Kate obedient, he is actually showing her how churlish and uncouth she is being. He does this by out-shrewing the shrew.

Basically, Kate is a bully, and we all know the public’s attitude regarding bullies. She bullies her family and anyone who comes within reach of her. Kate has boughten into the axiom that one must be strong, overbearing to dominate people to her will. She does not know what love is. Kate does indeed have passion, but it is misdirected.

Only when Kate is broken of all her shrewish passions can she then love. Her speech at the end of the play is magnificent.

 Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper, Thy head, thy sovereign; one that cares for thee, And for thy maintenance commits his body To painful labour both by sea and land, To watch the night in storms, the day in cold, Whilst thou liest warm at home, secure and safe; And craves no other tribute at thy hands But love, fair looks and true obedience; Too little payment for so great a debt. Such duty as the subject owes the prince Even such a woman oweth to her husband; And when she is froward, peevish, sullen, sour, And not obedient to his honest will, What is she but a foul contending rebel And graceless traitor to her loving lord? I am ashamed that women are so simple To offer war where they should kneel for peace; Or seek for rule, supremacy and sway, When they are bound to serve, love and obey.

Is there a man alive who wouldn’t cherish such a woman and devote his entire life to her?

To paraphrase Hamlet:

Give me that woman
That is not passion’s slave, and I will wear her
In my heart’s core, ay, in my heart of heart.

Stephen Gaspar's books are available on Amazon

Monday, August 3, 2015

Hamlet at the Stratford Festival (part one)

My wife and I just returned from a another great season at the Stratford Festival. One of the shows we saw was Hamlet, perhaps the greatest English plays ever written. The title role was well performed by Jonathan Goad. The role is quite demanding since the title character is in practically every scene, and though I believe the play was edited a bit, the total production was about three and one half hours long.

I was expecting a bit more of a melancholy Dane, and found Goad’s Hamlet smiled a bit too much. Goad seemed to lack that seething unrest that lies just beneath the surface even when he is trying to be happy.

Tom Rooney was excellent comic relief as Polonius, while Geraint Wyn Davies and Seana McKenna were good as Claudius and the ghost, and Hamlet’s mother respectively.

The scene that caught my attention and stayed with me most was Adrienne Gould as the mad Ophelia. Her transformation from innocence to madness was poignantly tragic and heart wrenching.

The sets were minimalistic consisting of different size black blocks. The big ones reminded me of the black monolith from 2001 A Space Odyssey.

I’ll talk more about Shakespeare’s Hamlet in my next blog.

Stephen Gaspar's books can be found on Amazon