Happy Birthday William Shakespeare!
The best present I can give is the news that you vex me, or at least your play Hamlet does. I’m suggesting for the moment that this is a positive outcome, because if nothing else any dramatic writer wants to create an emotional response in the viewer. Across your many plays, you wrote some of the most heartbreaking, scary, funny, intelligent, angry verse and prose in the English language so that has to have been your aim. Well that and earning wage enough to pay for the many houses.
Hamlet vexes me for an extensive list of reasons, but since you probably want to get to the heavenly inn and celebrate the day with the rest of the company, I’ll narrow my focus slightly. The most obvious reason is that in writing some of the most heartbreaking, scary, funny, intelligent, angry verse and prose in the English language even in just this one play, you sent me on the path of wanting to watch that text interpreted in as many ways as I can and its become a compulsion. An obsession. So thanks.
But my vexation also emanates from the content of the play and more specifically the title character. Hamlet is me. I am Hamlet. Not the details. I’m not a teenager (much prefer your later draft of the play by the way – he didn’t strike me as the mature student type) and my family dynamic is completely different, thank goodness. Plus I’m not Danish although between you and me, I probably do have some Viking blood. My stubble seems to grow back at least three times as quick as it should.
No it’s the sense of Hamlet, or specifically his inability to take decisive decisions when required and the fact he always has an excuse until it’s all but too late. I’m stuck, in life, in work, in everything, yet whenever an opportunity presents itself I always feel as though I’ve several hundred reasons why not, too far away, too little money, too much this, too close to that which puts me back where I was to begin with, stuck in life and work and everything.
That’s the source of your longevity, of course, your ability to offer characters we can all identify with, most often, when it comes to tragedy as a cautionary tale. It’s probably why I persist in watching Hamlet over all others as way of subtly and unsubtly reminding myself I have to do something. It’s certainly one of the reasons I applied for, studied and graduated from another degree, in film rather than literature, but I’m also possessed of a failed English A-Level and tiny attention span so that couldn’t be helped.
I’m also possessed with an inability to tell the truth or at least the ability to omit certain truths. As everyone around me presents brutal honesty, I hide behind over simplification largely because there are probably things I can’t admit to myself let alone to anyone else or because of some vestiges of my low self esteem don’t think people would really be interested. I’m not boring, I don’t think, but very often I do become bored with the sound of my own voice. Blah, blah, blah, la.
Each time Hamlet recedes away from not killing Claudius, I wince, because I know I’m doing the same. Of course, I don’t have some evil king’s life in my hands, just my own, yet the outcome is the same. I keep receding and I fear there’ll be a moment when my complacency will become everything but not to the point of the acceptance we hear when he says “The Readiness Is All …” I want to say I’m ready for everything, but something keeps pulling me back.
And that’s my present to you, Mr. Shakespeare. That four hundred years later, a play for which you may have produced many versions, possibly in tribute to your own son, still has the power to make me take a good long look at myself and keep watching, desperate to find some answers. Perhaps the problem is that once Hamlet finds an emotional resolution for himself, death isn’t too far behind. Hopefully, mine won’t take that long. I’m not in the mood for irony either. Chin, chin.
[Published as part of the Happy Birthday Shakespeare celebrations from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, which features contributions from dozens of bloggers from across the web. You can track their work at the Happy Birthday Shakespeare website.]