Tuesday, November 24, 2009

'Hamlet' by John Marsden.

There’s something a tradition of turning out prose adaptations of Hamlet and it’s only right to investigate these singular interpretations along with the productions of Shakespeare’s text. The author’s analysis of the characters can take full advantage of the novel’s form, removing perhaps the artifice of the soliloquy by spelling out the internal dialogue which Shakespeare hints at when an actor would other stand up-stage and address the audience (or not depending upon the director). There’s also even more room for experimentation, since a reader will more than likely already be familiar with the story even as they turn to the first page leaving room for the writer to offer a different approach to the story.

John Marsden’s novel retells the story as a kind of Elsinore 90210, injecting some of the adolescent longings and leanings which Shakespeare only hints at. Following the same evidence that Steve Roth points to that Hamlet, Horatio and their peers are all of post-pubescent age, he reinforces within them the beating heart of young passion, to the extent that because they’re still becoming used to the changes in their own bodies, they’re emotionally ill equipped to deal with the encroaching requirements of being part of the royal family, and Hamlet in particular with the responsibilities of avenging his fathers death. We visit them during some eye-wideningly sensual moments, in which we become voyeurs, not of the wider psychological motivations of the characters as literary criticism might have it, but something far more intimate, graphic and primal.

Marsden also shifts about Shakespeare’s narrative, placing the discovery of Hamlet Snr’s Ghost up front before the throne room scene, for example, giving the impression of memories, of Horatio perhaps trying remember the order of events and getting it slightly wrong. As the novel progresses, these details seem to snap back into focus and as such the novel becomes less interesting, more like a straight prose retelling of the story. But the book continues to be worth reading (even with a skipping eye), for Marsden’s keen ability to express the details of the Elsinore court, particular the usually forgotten staff from the servants to the cooks who he renders with the kind of Dickensian minutiae that even filmed productions rarely achieve.

Hamlet by John Marsden is published by Candlewick Press. £10.31. ISBN: 076364451X.

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