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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: May ::
Re: Jennings's *Hamlet*
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0494  Monday, 25 May 1998.

[1]     From:   Joanne Walen <
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        Date:   Thursday, 21 May 1998 15:50:54 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0478  Re: Branagh's and Jennings's *Hamlet*s

[2]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Sunday, 24 May 1998 16:49:41 -0400
        Subj:   Re:  Hamlet


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Joanne Walen <
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Date:           Thursday, 21 May 1998 15:50:54 EDT
Subject: 9.0478  Re: Branagh's and Jennings's *Hamlet*s
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0478  Re: Branagh's and Jennings's *Hamlet*s

John McWilliams wrote:

>Personally, I couldn't imagine a better introduction to Shakespeare or
>'Hamlet' (or theatre generally) than this Jennings production.

Yes, oh yes. I quite agree. I was hoping that the RSC tour might get to
the west coast so I could take my 12-year-old grandson to this 'Hamlet'.
He's been enjoying Shakespeare plays since he was 7, but only the
comedies so far. The Jennings' Hamlet would be a wonderful introduction
to the "weightier" work. So what if he misses here the "war" setting and
some of the soliloquies? He'll get that in other productions (on tape
the Olivier [well, no Fortinbras there, either]), Jacobi, Branagh,
Gibson, etc., etc.)     And the text, whatever you want to argue about its
source, is "fresh" . That's what I want him to hear.

Perhaps this version is "not for all markets," but for a 'first look at
a great play', it has much to recommend it.

Joanne Walen

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Sunday, 24 May 1998 16:49:41 -0400
Subject:        Re:  Hamlet

I saw the Jennings version at the BAM last night and feel impelled to
chime in on the comparison of it with Branagh's film.  Jennings'
production was well played (except for Paul Freeman's bombastic
Claudius) and more than a little "interesting."  But, as someone in the
audience said during intermission, "its a good story, I wonder what
Shakespeare would have done with it."

The chopping and reorganizing succeeds in portraying the prince as
clearly bonkers, but at the expense of many themes in the play which are
at least as valid.  Indeed, the main plot of vacillation doesn't come
through, as there is too little time for delay to be significant.  The
loooong full version, while requiring patience, seems designed to make
this clear to even the dullest groundlings.  And it is full of little
masterstrokes, like the oft-cut Polonius and Reynaldo scene (II.i), to
let us know that substantial time has passed.  The Branagh film, while
imperfect, accomplished this very well.

I am also troubled by the omission of Fortinbras (like Laertes, an
important foil against which Hamlet's inaction is set off), although I
certainly would not have made as much of him as Branagh did.  I see no
justification at all for treating Fortinbras as an invading pillager,
not only because there is no hint of it in the text but also as this
tends to diminish the brilliance of Claudius's diplomacy (as to which,
see posts from myself and others a few months back).

Jennings' deletion of Fortinbras (and his deliberate expurgation of  any
explanation for Hamlet's conduct other than madness) also leads him to
omit the "How all occasions..." soliloquy [IV.iv.32-ff], which I
consider the most important in the play, containing the central sentence
of 26 consecutive monosyllabic words which sum up the main theme
[ll.43-46].  (I have seen nothing written about that sentence and I
wonder if other list members regard it as being as significant as I do.
I would also compare this speech with the gravedigger's understanding of
the philosophical concept of the three branches of an act [V.i.10-12]).
Say what you like about Branagh's staging of this soliloquy, it
certainly emphasizes its centrality.
 

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