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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: June ::
Re: Beale's Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1418  Friday, 8 June 2001

[1]     From:   Virginia Byrne <
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        Date:   Thursday, 7 Jun 2001 12:30:57 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1399 Re: Beale's Hamlet

[2]     From:   Douglas E. Green <
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        Date:   Thursday, 7 Jun 2001 11:57:30 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1399: Beale's Hamlet

[3]     From:   Charles Weinstein <
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        Date:   Fri, 8 Jun 2001 08:33:21 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1359 Beale's Ham


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Virginia Byrne <
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Date:           Thursday, 7 Jun 2001 12:30:57 EDT
Subject: 12.1399 Re: Beale's Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1399 Re: Beale's Hamlet

Okay folks I saw the Boston production which I might add was certainly
dominated by Mr. Beale but this is what the trunks conjured for me very
nicely I might also add... the transience of theater....I felt it said
as many productions lately  are again trying to  say (i.e.  the recent
A.R.T.'s R2)..."this is a play..and we are but shadows and when it is
over we will pack our bags and move to Phoenix"  and I loved it....

Virginia Byrne

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Douglas E. Green <
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Date:           Thursday, 7 Jun 2001 11:57:30 -0500
Subject: 12.1399: Beale's Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1399: Beale's Hamlet

Just to add to the chorus of responses, here are some musings written
just after I saw the RNT Hamlet at the Guthrie in early May:

I can say that, among the 10 or so stage and film productions I've seen,
this is neither my favorite Hamlet nor the worst I've seen.  It
resembles most a very Catholic Hamlet I saw 11 years ago in Buenos
Aires: in fact, the tableau of mother, ghostly father, and son recalled
the earlier production's ghost realm, to which (in a manner that evoked
Kyd's Spanish Tragedy) the dead characters repair to reunite with lost
loved ones: there's the strangest set of family reunions at the end of
that version--odd but fascinating.

The RNT production is far more restrained, but the minimalist chapel
setting, the trunks that double as coffins and graves, keep us in mind
of 'last things' from the very start.  I like that concept.

I like too what Catherine Belsey might call Beale's "effeminate"
Hamlet--not a reference at all to our notions of sexual orientation, but
the term Belsey uses to describe a prominent 19th century view of the
character both on stage and in painting (detailed in a wonderful SAA
lecture a few years ago).  It is best captured in the inability (or
hesitation) of Beale's Hamlet to kill a Claudius that willingly bares
his chest to him.  It is the strain of Hamlet that led great women of
the nineteenth and early twentieth-century stage like Bernhardt to the
part.  Oddly enough, Beale's size lends itself to this sensitive Hamlet,
because it jars with the two most popular recent versions, both on film
of course: Gibson's hyper-virile, Freudian Hamlet and Branagh's tightly
trussed but internally raging Hamlet (belatedly transformed into Errol
Flynn).  By comparison, Beale's is full of doubt and scruple (often
religious, I think), tender, absurd, and nostalgic.

That's also why I like Caird's conception of Gertrude, though I don't
think Sara Kestelman brought it off well.  I like the sense that
Gertrude is leading a double life--with her present husband at court and
with her first in the secrecy of her closet.  That makes Hamlet very
much her son--in a way that does not need to rely on the Freudian antics
of Zeffirelli's Hamlet (Gibson).  They both long for an irretrievable
past, a lost innocence--and the man (or ghost) who 'embodies' it.  I
just wish that this actress had been even modestly 'readable' before the
bedroom scene.  There's no sense, for me at least, of who she is before
that scene.

I liked the Claudius, even after his rather ritualistic contortions of
guilt (which begin in the chapel scene) transform him from rational good
sense and even an air of concern for others into the villain we know he
really is.  I liked Horatio well enough.  No problems, either, with the
rather expressionistic otherworldly ending.  But I didn't like the
aria-like final speech of Hamlet; it seemed to me the only false note in
Beale's performance even if it is meant to anticipate the shift to that
other world in which Horatio delivers his final words.

As with Kestelman's Gertrude, I was disappointed with Ophelia, though I
thought her mad scenes were stronger than the earlier ones.  I also
think few directors and actors have found the modern possibilities in
Ophelia.  I think the best contemporary interpretation I've seen (though
not necessarily the best acting) is the Ophelia in the recent Ethan
Hawke Hamlet, and that actress is helped by paring the text down to its
barest bones.  Caird's Ophelia simply walked in from a thousand other
productions and the pictures (once again) of the Pre-Raphaelites.

So I guess I wasn't wowed, but obviously I did find the production
affecting in some aspects (it probably helps to be an ex-Catholic) and
thought-provoking.

Douglas E. Green
Prof. of English / BAGLS Adviser
Augsburg College

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Charles Weinstein <
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Date:           Fri, 8 Jun 2001 08:33:21 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 12.1359 Beale's Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1359 Beale's Hamlet

An absence of looks, charm and appeal can never be a non-issue in a
leading actor, certainly not when he's playing a character who is
supposed to have a large measure of personal fascination. Yet I admit
that Beale's homeliness is not the only, or the most important issue.
Far more serious is the fact that his Hamlet is neither emotionally,
intellectually nor rhetorically compelling:  he is, in fact, a dullard
and a bore.  In such a situation, physical attractiveness can sometimes
carry an actor along at least part of the way. (It did wonders for Ralph
Fiennes, whose Hamlet was otherwise notable only for its mechanical
speed).  Yet Beale lacks even that refuge.

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