The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0418 Sunday, 20 July 2008
From: Hardy M. Cook <
Date: Sunday, July 20, 2008
Subject: Who is Hamlet (Statement Not Question)
FROM: The Independent Online
Who is Hamlet: Playing the Time Lord is perfect preparation for David Tennant's
By Matthew Sweet
Sunday, 20 July 2008
Paris, 1979. Doctor Who, in his goggle-eyed, scarf-wrapped fourth incarnation,
is passing the time of day with the Countess Scarlioni. The countess is a
glamorous art thief married to a charming man who, beneath his thin latex
carapace, is actually a shivering mass of swamp-green alien linguine. The
countess doesn't know this, but she is aware of what lurks in her husband's
secret bookcase - the first draft of Hamlet.
The Doctor knows the manuscript is genuine because he recognises the handwriting
- not Shakespeare's, but his own. "He sprained his wrist writing sonnets," he
explains, launching into the play's most famous speech. But when he reaches the
bit about taking arms against a sea of troubles, the Doctor looses a great
splutter of disgust. "I told him that was a mixed metaphor," he exclaims. "And
he would insist!"
Tom Baker will never play the Dane. On Thursday, however, one of his successors
will be on the stage of the Courtyard Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, urging his
too too solid flesh to melt. Two weekends ago, 10m people watched David Tennant
bust a billion Daleks and tow the stolen planet Earth back to its rightful place
in the universe. Now the actor is studying for no less hazardous a mission: to
scrape the mould from the rotten state of Denmark. Some don't approve. When
Tennant's casting was announced, Jonathan Miller issued a public snort about the
"celebrity casting" of "that man from Doctor Who".
Unlike any actor who has preceded him in the role of the Doctor or the Prince of
Denmark, David Tennant is both an accomplished Shakespearean (he has often
turned out for the RSC) and a complete and utter Doctor Who fanboy fruitcake.
Some of his forebears had a passing interest in Gallifreyan matters before they
entered the Tardis. Some had dabbled with the Dane: Patrick Troughton was Player
King to Olivier's Hamlet, Colin Baker was Laertes to Martin Jarvis's Hamlet,
Christopher Eccleston was a creditable Hamlet for the West Yorkshire Playhouse
in 2002. None, however, had what Tennant has - a long-term commitment to
Shakespeare coupled with a spooky command of the arcana of Doctor Who. Should
you ever meet him, do put this to the test and ask Tennant whether he recognises
a genealogical relationship between the Cybermen, the Voord and the Fishmen of
Kandalinga. You'll get a view. You'd only get a polite smile from Peter Davison.
So what might Tennant take from his experience of playing the Doctor that might
help him in Elsinore?
[ . . . ]
The Stratford production's swift sell-out suggests that the audience is
anticipating a rare kind of cultural twofer: Shakespeare's most celebrated hero,
performed by the actor who now gives life to television's most celebrated hero.
And in the case of both parts, it's hard to be unaware that you are watching
only the latest of a long line of interpreters. New Doctors must overwhelm or
accommodate the shades of William Hartnell and Tom Baker just as new Hamlets
must compete with the ghosts of Olivier, Gielgud and David Warner. Tennant has
already performed one successful act of exorcism. He seems destined to complete
a second. Unless, of course, he is suddenly floored by that mixed metaphor
waiting for him in his most famous speech.
Hamlet is at the Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, from Thursday (0844 800
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