And, right there, you have the Problem of Hamlet. That you’re not just having to be Hamlet, dealing with the demands of his father’s ghost; you’re having to be Hamlet, dealing with the ghosts of a thousand other Hamlets. It’s like “Fringe” on hardcore drugs.
John Simm must be feeling this at the moment: the first reviews are coming in from the new production in Sheffield, and look positive enough for him. The Observer’s critic likes the emphasis in the Big Soliloquy:
Simm also comes up with some fascinating line readings: when he cries “to die, to sleep”, Simm puts enormous pressure on the last word as if Hamlet, rendered insomniac through grief, yearned more than anything for rest.
While–if I remember rightly, and you’ll have to take my word for it because it’s tucked away behind their snug little paywall–the Sunday Times were particularly interested in the fact the play uses at least partly the Folio version of the text, in which:
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”
“… than are dreamt of in our philosophy”
One little letter, one little word: makes a huge difference, doesn’t it?
Shakespeare’s work is notoriously slippery as text: there’s so many versions – Folio, Quarto, Bad Quarto… which one is actually the right one, the most authentic? Or do they all have some degree of validity? The Folio is the “authorised” version published after his death, but does this mean that the author had less involvement in its final form? Tricky. (There’s a very interesting article on The Stage’s website that discusses this very problem).
What it does mean, though, is that every Hamlet has the chance to put his (or her, as there have been several female Hamlets) stamp on the role, not just in their choice of emphasis on the lines, but even in the lines they choose to speak. And while every actor taking on the role might well feel Olivier, Burton and all the others looming over them like Old Hamlet himself, every Hamlet is a new one. All you need now is a dancing Walter.
(Now, don’t you go telling me I’m not good to you….)