The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0353  Thursday, 2 July 2009

From:       Hardy M. Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
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 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or to the 
list at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 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 
is predestined.

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 
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or to the list at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Again, 
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 
Shakespeare's _Hamlet_.

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
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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