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Playing Shakespeare’s Monarchs and Madmen

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Edited By Louis Fantasia

Playing Shakespeare’s Monarchs and Madmen is the third volume in the Peter Lang series, Playing Shakespeare’s Characters. As in the previous volumes, a broad range of contributors (actors, directors, scholars, educators, etc.) analyze the concepts of monarchy, leadership, melancholy and madness with not only references to Elizabethan and Jacobean studies, but also to Trump, Brexit, cross-gender and multi-cultural casting. What does it mean to “play the king” in the 21st century? What is the role of an “all-licensed” Fool in the age of spin? Who gets to represent the power dynamics in Shakespeare’s plays? This volume looks at the Henrys, Richards, Hamlets, Lears and various other dukes and monarchs and explores the ways in which men—and women—approach these portrayals of power and the lessons they hold for us today.

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8. Through Hamlet’s Eyes (Timothy Harris)

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Timothy Harris

Two years ago,1 Peter Brook’s version of Hamlet for eight players and a musician was performed at the Setagaya Public Theatre in Tokyo, where I saw it, and subsequently at the Young Vic in London. The original performances were at Brook’s base, Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord in Paris. I was very impressed by certain aspects of the production, particularly the performance of Adrian Lester as Hamlet, but had some reservations; reservations that have been reinforced by the high definition video of this Hamlet now available: (www.youtube.com/watch?v=XSfRZmNPHoE).

By denying Brook the strengths that spring from live performance, the video brings out the weaknesses of the production more clearly. The principal weakness lies in Brook’s conception, and this weakness may be summed up by Harley Granville-Barker’s remark about the play as a whole, which is that Hamlet so dominates the play that we are too apt to see things “through his eyes.” In the interview that accompanied the showing of the video on Japanese television, Peter Brook Speaks About ‘Hamlet’, (www.youtube.com/watch?v=_MgjX9qw9uI), Brook said that “many, many great authorities have said that Hamlet is an artistic failure,” and that this was so because Shakespeare did not conceive of the play as a whole since he was reworking an older and “not very good … melodrama.”

Granville-Barker certainly thought that Shakespeare had been unable to assimilate character and story so that “no incongruities appear,” but equally certainly he...

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