The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0353 Thursday, 2 July 2009
From: Hardy M. Cook <
Date: Thursday, July 02, 2009
Subject: Announcing a Paper for Comments: "Death Becomes Hamlet"
A few months ago, Phyllis Gorfain, a member of SHAKSPER Advisory Board
since its inception, wrote me about an Israeli acquaintance of hers who,
although not a Shakespeare scholar, had written an article with
interesting ideas about how _Hamlet_ might be performed. Amnon Zakov,
the acquaintance, works as a mathematician, playwright, and poet. He has
developed a method for presenting mathematical problems as humorous
detective stories and has written several books and scripts using such
stories. In addition, Zakov writes humor columns for newspapers and
programs for radio as well as writing and lecturing about humor. His
"The Death of Humor" is included in _ Israeli Humor_, an essay
collection that has been translated from Hebrew into several other
languages. Zakov has written other plays. The ideas for this paper are
derived from his writing of _Death Becomes Hamlet_, a play about an
ingenious, demonic director who manipulates the cast of Shakespeare's
_Hamlet_ into a Hamletian situation and by doing so addresses problems
he sees in _Hamlet_.
Phyllis Gorfain and I consider the essay's premises intriguing as
production concepts. With the article, Phyllis sent me Zakov's "rough"
English translation of "Death Becomes Hamlet or Is That The Question?, A
Tragic Comedy in Two Acts," originally composed in Hebrew -- his native
tongue. I was sent the play to provide a context for the article, but
the article does not depend on the script to be understood. Zakov had
many ideas that he could not incorporate into the play. Some of those
ideas became the basis for this article.
After reading both, I asked Zakov if I could mount the play on the
server as well as the essay. The article, "Death Becomes Hamlet:
Elsinore as a Black Hole," is being distributed for comments from
readers and possibly to generate discussion on SHAKSPER. Comments can be
sent either directly to Amnon Zakov at
or to the
for discussion among members. Posts to the
list will require the poster to provide adequate context for their
comments since a thread derived from any such posts would not
necessarily depend on responding list members' having read the article.
I am mounting the play for informational purposes. Since Hebrew is Amnon
Zakov's native tongue, his English translation is "rough"; nevertheless,
I find it interesting enough to offer it along with his essay, providing
readers the opportunity to read either or both as they desire.
Anyone finding the play compelling enough to want to stage a "reading"
or performance of it should contact Amnon Zakov privately about
obtaining permission and-or a more "polished" English translation.
Zakov's article "DEATH BECOMES HAMLET: Elsinore as a Black Hole" begins
by asking of the play's conclusion "The question is: The End to what?"
Zakov conceives of Elsinore as a cosmic dying star, fatalistically
doomed to explode as a cataclysmic supernova. Hamlet is the only one who
gradually understands what is happening, and therefore is neither an
impotent intellectual nor a melancholic -- but is instead a desperado,
who knows that whatever he does won't save anyone. Zakov believes that
looking at the character from this perspective explains a lot about
Hamlet's choices and his behavior, like his apparently suicidal return
from the pirates ship to Claudius' palace.
In the article, Zakov notes,
In Jewish philosophy, a famous maxim uses a paradox to define a dilemma
of religious belief: "Hakol tzafuy -- veharshut netuna" -- which may be
interpreted: "All is forecast -- yet free choice is yours."
When we watch _Hamlet_, we experience a similar paradox: on one hand,
all is known to us, right through to the inevitable end, so we
experience the distress of a forecasted plot: where is our freedom? But
in a more profound and mysterious process -- we still maintain our
innocence. We turn off our knowledge of inevitability, moved by the
illusion of free choice in a yet undecided future, even though the plot
As we submit to this illusion, we willingly ignore the way _Hamlet_
could provide its characters many possible escapes from their tragedy.
If we had the "chutzpa" to rewrite Shakespeare, however, treating those
escapes as free choices at particular crossroads (ignoring the cynical
comments that such escapes will turn a four-hour-long tragedy into a
four-minute comedy) -- we shall feel much stronger the tragedy that
occurs because we will see more clearly how characters miss the exit
points. Directors and actors could enrich these scenes by bringing out
more evidently our sensations of "almost" or "it could have been."
Zakov examines some of these enrichments concluding his article with the
Hamlet's escaping from death in England is not a case of choosing life,
but of choosing death within the collapsing star. He is like Samson, who
said: "May I die with the Philistines."
As I said above, this is only one of the possible interpretations of
_Hamlet_. Perhaps this is the most horrible of them, but horror never
eliminated the possibility of existence of any world. We have only to
ask: will Elsinore be buried, like the cursed Chernobyl in the
sarcophagi of the black hole? Will the black hole, that once was
Elsinore -- join the Fortinbras' galaxy, or suck it in, contaminating it
by its curse, so not even a beam of light will remain?
The director's decision will determine the color of the last scene and
his choice of future -- as the curtain falls.
Zakov's article examines the concluding of _Hamlet_ in performance while
his play considers even more production possibilities. For now, they are
being mounted in the "Papers for Comments" section of the SHAKSPER Web
site -- http://www.shaksper.net/review-papers/index.html. Because Zakov
approached me regarding the article first, let us begin by focusing on
it, sending comments upon it either directly to Zakov at
or to the list at
anyone wishing to send a post to the list will need to provide adequate
context for their comments since list discussions of it do not
necessarily depend on members' having read the article, the play, or both.
Finally, this is not a traditional scholarly article, but it does
provocatively consider interesting production possibilities for
Zakov's article and play are covered by copyright law; and readers
should respect his intellectual property rights, contacting him by
e-mail for any appropriate permissions.
Hardy M. Cook
Editor of SHAKSPER