Today is the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare. I heard a story on NPR this morning during my drive into work about the Globe Theatre’s “bold, stupid idea”, as the director put it, to perform Hamlet in every country in the world over the next two years. I think this a great idea, as the director explained, there may be plays more well known, like Romeo and Juliet, but Hamlet is so universal that it can be performed and understood and appreciated in every country.
Hamlet is such a universal play because it deals with universally human themes and characters. On the one hand it is about a murdered king, a usurper taking his wife and crown, and a plot to avenge the murder. But, it is also about a murdered father, a brother stealing his wife, and a son avenging his father. It is about corrupt government as much as it is about family drama. It is about an entire kingdom, but it is about a single family.
There are court politics and intrigue, with Polonius, who can’t keep his nose out of everyone’s business and gets himself stabbed for it. It is about family relationships, with Hamlet trying to figure out how to deal with his mother and his uncle and their reaction to his father’s death, and trying to figure out how to deal with his girlfriend, his girlfriend’s father, and his girlfriend’s brother.
Everyone can find something in this play that they can relate to, something that they can enjoy and learn from and ponder as they leave the theatre. It is so very complex that scholars, actors, directors, and students have been studying this play and performing it for over 400 years and are still finding new interpretations. Yet, it is so simple that it has played well in non-English speaking countries, almost from the very beginning. There is evidence of a tour of Hamlet going through the Netherlands and northern Germany in the early 1600s.
I had a Shakespeare class at BYU where our research was not confined to one, end-of-the-semester paper, but was instead written as a research blog, online, with several posts each week about the research we were doing and the plays we were reading. I chose to focus my study on Shakespeare in Germany, and one of my conclusions was that the play Hamlet is now as officially German as it ever was English or Danish.
I love the play Hamlet, and would love an opportunity to see, act in, and direct this play at some time in my life. I would love to find a German translation or version and find some way of performing that to an English audience, to prove and explore the universality of this play’s importance and impact beyond the language of it. I think it would be incredibly interesting to see this play performed in a different language, to find the similarities and the differences that a different language and culture brings to this play.
Maybe that is in the works for the Bard’s 500th birthday — the Globe Theatre not just doing Hamlet around the world, performing in every country, but Hamlet around the globe, performing a version in every language! I would definitely see several of those performances.
Happy Shakespeare Day everybody!