This is a psychological Hamlet, not in the sense that it analyzes the character or the situation; in fact, it assiduously avoids analysis in favor of action. It is psychological because what is deconstructed, quite literally, is Hamlet.
In the moment when the intimations of his prophetic soul prove to be mere nothings in comparison with reality, the Ghost speaks to Hamlet on the ramparts and he goes into shock. That shock catalyzes his inability to know what to do in the face of his grief, his fear, and his anger. Hamlet fractures into warring identities, each with his — her — own worldview. Hamlet becomes an internal battlefield struggling for clarity, struggling to purge both an inner chaos and the chaos of the world. How does one make decisions when he is plagued by so many informing voices? How does one make decisions when the question begging for action might better be left unanswered? What does one do first?
The world of the play is largely the subjective world of Hamlet’s opinions, perceptions and memories. We are in his mind along with seven manifestations of himself: the Scholar, the Adolescent, the Prince, the Romantic, the Mad Man, the Man of Action, and the Theater Maker. Sometimes at each others throats, sometimes in collusion, sometimes persuasive, and sometimes coercive, the seven Hamlets actively take on the identities of the Queen, the King, Ophelia, Polonius, Laertes, Horatio, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, etc., in order to convince the other Hamlets of the proper course of action.
Hamlet makes four decisions in the course of the play. They are: to take on the madness that insures privacy but also reflects a true state; to use theater to test reality; to murder; and, to accept his own death (which might be read as suicide — or not). Hamlet Deconstructed is divided into four movements that depict each of these decisions and the consequences and pressures that lead to the next decision. Each decision is a dilated theatrical moment, followed by documentary interview footage. The interviewees represent Hamlet’s inner identities (i.e., a scholar, a theater maker, adolescent, etc.) who bring a 21st Century perspective to Hamlet, his world, and the world of the speaker. The Hamlets interact with and react to the advice and commentary offered by these contemporary voices.
The performance sequence looks like this:
The world of the play is the subjective space of Hamlet’s mind. There are, however, several objective events that take place, such as the Ghost’s appearance, the murder of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and the suicide of Ophelia. These objective happenings are distinguished from the interiority of Hamlet’s mind by various forms of mediation, from archaic to modern. So, for example, the play opens with an exposition of young Hamlet’s birth into the political world of Denmark performed as a shadow-play dumb show. The Ghost appears only as video. The murder of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is configured as a movement piece that takes its impulse from the undertow of love and violence in the closet scene and carries the Hamlets across the sea, terminating in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s deaths.
Hamlet Deconstructed stands on its own as a performance that speaks intimately to the battleground that is Shakespeare’s tragic prince. As the other Hamlets mourn by her grave, the Hamlet-who-plays-Ophelia suddenly bolts upright in her winding cloth and describes her own death, holding the Hamlets accountable their part in her suicide. That done, she then urges the Hamlets to consider death as a resolution; although the purging of the evil in the world requires Hamlet’s death, it will bring him peace. “To be or not to be” represents the Hamlets’ collective argument that ultimately leads to both resolution and unity. Finally, as one voice, they act.
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31st May, 2003