Andrew Scott’s Hamlet

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.216  Wednesday, 26 July 2017


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

Date:         Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Subject:    Andrew Scott’s Hamlet


Andrew Scott’s portrayal in a London production of “Hamlet” almost banishes other performances from memory.


Hamlet and the Surveillance State of Denmark


Ben Brantley


JULY 24, 2017


LONDON — A chronic theatergoer may be excused for believing that all roads lead to Hamlet. I spent my first evening here this month in the company of that Danish prince, who is being embodied with such compelling, thin-skinned agitation by Andrew Scott that I felt I could see his heart palpitating, and breaking apart, within his chest.


Mr. Scott was so authoritatively unhinged in the director Robert Icke’s anxious summoning of Shakespeare’s Denmark as a surveillance state — an Almeida Theater production at the Harold Pinter Theater in the West End — that he almost banished other Hamlets who have been crowding my imagination of late. But not quite.


After all, only two weeks before I had been on intimate terms with another, very different — but equally original and intriguing — Hamlet, given vibrantly morbid life by the American actor Oscar Isaac in Sam Gold’s radical new version for the Public Theater in New York. And it was hard not to recall the last “Hamlet” I had seen in London, in 2015, which starred Benedict Cumberbatch.


You may remember that Mr. Cumberbatch portrayed the brilliant, emotionally paralyzed titular detective in the popular BBC television series “Sherlock,” in which he was bedeviled by his evil arch-nemesis, Jim Moriarty, who was given chillingly psychotic life by one Andrew Scott. (Can the Hamlet of Martin Freeman, who played Dr. Watson to Mr. Cumberbatch’s Sherlock, be far behind?)


The “Hamlet” with Mr. Scott was my second helping of Shakespeare last Thursday. The first was the Royal Shakespeare Company’s high-tech interpretation of “The Tempest” at the Barbican Center, with Simon Russell Beale as that mighty sorcerer in exile, Prospero. Mr. Beale is the same actor who delivered what remains the most complete and penetrating Hamlet of my theatergoing experience, in a National Theater production 16 years ago.


Between last week’s performances of “The Tempest” and “Hamlet,” I had tea with a septuagenarian British actor who played Hamlet in his youth (and later appeared in other productions in other roles). He remarked that now that he was too old for Hamlet, he finally understood how it should be done.


Such is the grip that this existentially challenged tragic hero continues to exert on the imagination. In a way, it’s impossible to miscast the part, because Hamlet is so easy to identify with. As the man I had tea with noted, it is always possible to play Hamlet as an extension of “your own personality.”


It is a role, in other words, that everyone takes very personally, and the variations are infinite. Its status as both the most universal and mutable of roles helps explain why actors always want to tackle it, and why theater addicts like me always want to see them.


Mr. Scott’s take on the character may be the most palpably neurotic, and least overtly heroic, I’ve seen. His Hamlet has as many obsessive-compulsive twitches as the adolescent title character played by Ben Platt, a Tony winner this year, in the Broadway musical “Dear Evan Hansen.” (Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Ben Platt is “Dear Prince Hamlet.”)


[ . . . ]


Mr. Scott understands that while, on one level, Shakespeare may be “words, words, words,” it’s what lies beneath and between them that brings those words to life onstage. The audience truly hangs on the pauses in this Hamlet’s monologues, and even if you know the speeches, you wait in suspense for what he’ll say next.




CfP - The 2018 IASEMS Shakespeare Graduate Conference

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.215  Wednesday, 26 July 2017


From:        Ilaria Natali <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         July 25, 2017 at 11:03:15 AM EDT

Subject:    CfP - The 2018 IASEMS Shakespeare Graduate Conference


Shakespeare and his Contemporaries

The IASEMS Graduate Conference at the British Institute of Florence



Florence, 20 April 2018


The 2018 IASEMS Graduate Conference at The British Institute of Florence is a one-day interdisciplinary and bilingual English-Italian forum open to PhD students and researchers who have obtained their doctorates within the past 5 years. This year’s conference will focus on the theme of conversion, a fascinating phenomenon, a promise of newness that blends elements of individual experience with larger problems of historical change.


The ideological and spiritual life of early modern Britain finds a special interpretative key in the notion of conversion, whether perceived as an individual response to a religious and political challenge, a community reaction to political upheaval, or a social change brought about by the innovations of modernity.


The goal of this Conference is to develop an understanding of conversion that will address epistemological, psychological, political, spiritual and technological kinds of transformation, perceived both as subjective and collective change. Therefore conversion is to be understood in its broadest possible sense, and nor merely as a religious phenomenon. 


Topics of interest include, but are not limited to the following:


- forms of conversion, sacred and secular, i.e., awakening to a new faith, an intensification of existing beliefs, an embracing of a (radical) political movement, etc.


- conversional thinking and practice


- early modern textual ‘conversions’, i.e., from manuscript to print, from one format to another, from one genre to another


- relationships among transformation, freedom and power


- forms of religious dissent in early modern British culture


- religious change and gender 


- how early modern English theatre and other theatrical practices represent, adopt, transform, relocate forms of conversion


- conversion narratives


- the phenomenon of forced conversion


- authenticity and pretense in conversion


- religious conversion as catalyst of other transformations (e.g., translation, alchemy, enthusiasm, etc.)


- technologies of transformation


Candidates are invited to send a description of their proposed contribution according to the following guidelines:


- the candidate should provide name, institution, contact info, title and a short abstract of the proposed contribution (300 words for a 20-minute paper), explaining the content and intended structure of the paper, and including a short bibliography;


- abstracts are to be submitted by Sunday 29 October 2017 by email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.;


- all proposals will be blind-vetted. The list of selected papers will be available by the end of November 2017;


- each finished contribution should not exceed 20 minutes and is to be presented in English (an exception will be made for Italian candidates of departments other than English, who can give their papers in Italian);


- Candidates whose first language is not English will need to have their proposals and final papers checked by a mother-tongue speaker


- participants will be asked to present a final draft of the paper ten days before the Conference. 


Selected speakers who are IASEMS members can apply for a small grant



For further information please contact Ilaria Natali

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



Query: Will

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.214  Tuesday, 25 July 2017


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

Date:         Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Subject:    Query: Will


I have been enjoying the TNT series Will on my Apple TV, pleased when a line from a play would appear in the show.


The Web site – --which has several episodes and extras, describes the series as thus:


Will tells the wild story of young William Shakespeare’s (Laurie Davidson) arrival onto the punk-rock theater scene in 16th century London—the seductive, violent world where his raw talent faced rioting audiences, religious fanatics and raucous side-shows. It’s a contemporary version of Shakespeare’s life, played to a modern soundtrack that exposes all his recklessness, lustful temptations and brilliance.


This past weekend, my older daughter, son-in-law, and I were visiting my younger daughter in the township of Bryn Mawr. After a fine meal in Philadelphia, we returned to Becca’s apartment, and I was eager to share Will with my GenX and Millennial daughters.


After the first episode, neither one wished to see any more. While some might criticize the punk-rock world of the play Becca could not take the torture and Melissa did not like the self-harm. I tried to explain that the Elizabethan had taken torture to level virtually unheard of until our day, but I could not get them to watch further episodes.


I am curious about others’ reactions to the show. 






The Syrian Lear

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.213  Tuesday, 25 July 2017


From:        Jack Heller <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         July 21, 2017 at 8:57:58 AM EDT

Subject:    The Syrian Lear




There was a story in March 2014 of Syrian children in a refugee camp performing King Lear. I have long wanted to know what has happened to the performers since then. I've also wanted to hear more about why it was Lear that they would choose to do. If anyone knows more of this story, especially an update, please let me know. 


Jack Heller


[Editor’s Note: From The New York Times. –Hardy]




Behind Barbed Wire, Shakespeare Inspires a Cast of Young Syrians


MARCH 31, 2014


ZAATARI REFUGEE CAMP, Jordan — On a rocky patch of earth in this sprawling city of tents and prefab trailers, the king, dressed in dirty jeans and a homemade cape, raised his wooden scepter and announced his intention to divide his kingdom. His elder daughters, wearing paper crowns and plastic jewelry, showered him with false praise, while the youngest spoke truthfully and lost her inheritance.


So began a recent adaptation here of “King Lear.” For the 100 children in the cast, it was their first brush with Shakespeare, although they were already deeply acquainted with tragedy.


All were refugees who had fled the civil war in Syria. Some had seen their homes destroyed. Others had lost relatives to violence. Many still had trouble sleeping or jumped at loud noises. And now home was here, in this isolated, treeless camp, a place of poverty, uncertainty and boredom.

Reflecting the demographics of Syria’s wider refugee crisis, more than half of the 587,000 refugees registered in Jordan are younger than 18, according to the United Nations. About 60,000 of those young people live in the Zaatari camp, where fewer than a quarter regularly attend school.


Parents and aid workers fear that Syria’s war threatens to create a lost generation of children who are scarred by violence and miss vital years of education, and that those experiences and disadvantages will follow them into adulthood.


The “King Lear” performance, the conclusion of a project than spanned months, was one attempt to fight that threat.


“The show is to bring back laughter, joy and humanity,” said its director, Nawar Bulbul, a 40-year-old Syrian actor known at home for his role in “Bab al-Hara,” an enormously popular historical drama that was broadcast throughout the Arab world.


The “King Lear” performance, the conclusion of a project than spanned months, was one attempt to fight that threat.


“The show is to bring back laughter, joy and humanity,” said its director, Nawar Bulbul, a 40-year-old Syrian actor known at home for his role in “Bab al-Hara,” an enormously popular historical drama that was broadcast throughout the Arab world.


The sun blazed on the day of the performance, staged on a rocky rectangle of land surrounded by a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire. The 12 main actors stood in the middle, while the rest of the cast stood behind them, a chorus that provided commentary and dramatic sound effects. The audience sat on the ground.


When each of Lear’s first two daughters tricked him with false flattery in elegant, formal Arabic, the chorus members yelled “Liar! Hypocrite!” until the sisters told them to shut up.


[ . . . ]





Stephen Greenblatt: Shakespeare’s Cure for Xenophobia

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.212  Tuesday, 25 July 2017


From:        Bo Bergstrom <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         July 18, 2017 at 7:54:32 PM EDT

Subject:    Stephen Greenblatt: Shakespeare’s Cure for Xenophobia


Shakespeare’s Cure for Xenophobia

What “The Merchant of Venice” taught me about ethnic hatred and the literary imagination.

By Stephen Greenblatt


I attended university in a very different world from the one in which I now teach and live. For a start, Yale College, which I entered in 1961, was all male. Women were not matriculated until five years after I had received my B.A. degree. Among the undergraduates, there were only a handful of students from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, and very few African-Americans, Asian-Americans, or Hispanics, unless one counted a couple of prep-school-educated heirs to grand South American fortunes.


The Yale that I attended was overwhelmingly North American and white, as well as largely Protestant. It was difficult for the admissions office to identify Catholics, but applicants with conspicuously Irish, Italian, or Polish names were at a disadvantage. For Jews, there was a numerus clausus, not even disguised by the convenient excuse of “geographical distribution.” And the whole system was upheld by a significant number of legacies, along with a pervasive air of privilege and clubbiness. To display too much interest in one’s studies or a concern for grades was distinctly uncool. This was still the era of what was called the “gentleman’s C.”


I picked all this up within days of arriving in New Haven, but Yale was for me an unfamiliar country whose customs I knew that I could never master. Neither of my parents had gone to college. My mother, along with the other girls in her family, was expected to begin work as a secretary directly after high school. Though my father practiced law, he had attended law school just after serving in the First World War, when a liberal-arts degree was not yet a prerequisite. A good thing, too, since my grandfather, a ragpicker, would have had difficulty mustering the will or the means to pay even the modest tuition fees then required. My grandparents were not indifferent to learning, but they were poor, and for them any learning that was not vocational was necessarily religious. The highest status in their cultural world came not from wealth or power but from the possession of Talmudic knowledge. Theirs was an insular community in which sexual selection—for Darwin, a central motor of mammalian evolution—had for centuries favored slender, nearsighted, stoop-shouldered young men rocking back and forth as they pondered the complex, heavily annotated, often esoteric tractates of Jewish law.


None of this was part of my upbringing: most of it had been abandoned when my grandparents fled tsarist Lithuania, in the late eighteen-eighties, and settled in Boston. But the heavy Talmudic volumes left a residue, an inherited respect for textual interpretation that—reshaped into secularized form—led people like me to embrace the humanities, an arena in which the English Department held pride of place. When I began to take classes at Yale, I could not understand, let alone emulate, the amused indifference of many of my classmates. I felt within me what in 1904 Henry James, observing immigrants in New York, reproved as “the waiting spring of intelligence,” signalling the “immensity of the alien presence climbing higher and higher.” I did not feel alien—I was born in this country, as my parents had been, and I donned my Yale sweatshirt without a sense of imposture—but I seized upon the opportunity I’d been granted to learn with an energy that seemed slightly foreign.


I had a particularly intense engagement with my freshman English-literature course. Midway through the year, the professor asked me if I would be interested in being his research assistant, helping him prepare the index for a book he had just completed. Ecstatic, I immediately agreed. In those days, research assistants were required to apply for their jobs through the financial-aid office, where I dutifully made an appointment. I was in for a surprise.


“Greenblatt is a Jewish name, isn’t it?” the financial-aid officer said. I agreed that it was. “Frankly,” he went on, “we are sick and tired of the number of Jews who come into this office after they’re admitted and try to wheedle money out of Yale University.” I stammered, “How can you make such a generalization?”


“Well, Mr. Greenblatt,” he replied, “what do you think of Sicilians?” I answered that I didn’t think I knew any Sicilians. “J. Edgar Hoover,” he continued, citing the director of the F.B.I., “has statistics that prove that Sicilians have criminal tendencies.” So, too, he explained, Yale had statistics that proved that a disproportionate number of Jewish students were trying to get money from the university by becoming research assistants. Then he added, “We could people this whole school with graduates of the Bronx High School of Science, but we choose not to do so.” Pointing out lamely that I had gone to high school in Newton, Massachusetts, I slunk away without a job.


The conversation left me shaken. Decades later, I recall it with a blend of outrage and wonder inflected by my recognition of the fact that African-American students have had it much worse, and that other ethnic groups and religions have now replaced Jews as the focus of the anxiety that afflicted my interlocutor. What was particularly upsetting to me at the time was that the experience appeared to confirm my parents’ worst fears—fears that had struck me, when I was growing up, as absurdly outdated and provincial. For my parents, the world was rigidly divided between “us” and “them,” and they lived their lives, it seemed to me, as if they were forever hemmed into an ethnic ghetto.


Shortly after my encounter with the financial-aid officer, T. S. Eliot, the greatest living poet in the English language and a winner of the Nobel Prize, came to Yale. Catching the excitement of the impending visit, I began to read him with an avidity that has continued into the present. But that meant that I quickly encountered the strain of anti-Semitism in Eliot’s early poetry and prose, a strain no less ugly for being typical of his conservative milieu. “The population should be homogeneous,” Eliot told an audience at the University of Virginia in 1933, the year that Hitler came to power and the prospect arose of a mass outpouring of refugees seeking protection from the growing menace. “Where two or more cultures exist in the same place they are likely either to be fiercely self-conscious or both to become adulterate.” Perhaps it occurred to him that it was already far too late to prevent two or more cultures from existing in the United States. “What is still more important is unity of religious background,” he added, and then made his point more explicitly: “Reasons of race and religion combine to make any large number of free-thinking Jews undesirable.’’


Eliot’s powerful early poetry had already made this undesirability clear. In “Burbank with a Baedeker: Bleistein with a Cigar,” he conjured up the primal ooze from which he saw those creatures emerging:


A lustreless protrusive eye

Stares from the protozoic slime

At a perspective of Canaletto.

The smoky candle end of time

Declines. On the Rialto once.

The rats are underneath the piles.

The jew is underneath the lot.


“On the Rialto once”: Eliot did not finish the thought, but I did. In the course of that freshman year, I read Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice,” with its echoing question, “What news on the Rialto?” Encountering the play at the moment I did, together with T. S. Eliot, seemed only to reinforce my parents’ grimmest account of the way things were.


There is something very strange about experiencing “The Merchant of Venice” when you are somehow imaginatively implicated in the character and actions of its villain. You laugh when Shylock’s servant, the clown Gobbo, contemplates running away from his penny-pinching master. You smile when Shylock’s daughter, Jessica, having escaped from her father’s dark house into the arms of her beloved, declares, “I shall be saved by my husband. He hath made me a Christian.” You shudder when the implacable Shylock sharpens his knife on the sole of his boot. You applaud the resolution of the dilemma, when clever Portia comes up with the legal technicality that confounds Shylock’s murderous plan. The Jew who had insisted upon the letter of the law is undone by the letter of the law; it is what is called poetic justice. But, all the same, you feel uneasy.


What, exactly, are you applauding and smiling at? How are you supposed to view the Jewish daughter who robs her father and bestows the money on her fortune-hunting Christian suitor? Do you join in the raucous laughter of the Christians who mock and spit on the Jew? Or do you secretly condone Shylock’s vindictive, malignant rage? Where are you, at the end of the harrowing scene in the courtroom, when Portia asks the man she has outmaneuvered and ruined whether he agrees to the terms she has dictated, terms that include the provision that he immediately become a Christian? “Art thou contented, Jew?” she prods. “What dost thou say?” And what do you think the Jew actually feels when he answers, “I am content”?


Back in my undergraduate days, when I began to ask these questions, I came to a decision. I wasn’t going to allow myself to be crushed by the bigoted financial-aid officer, but I wasn’t going to adopt my parents’ defensive posture, either. I wouldn’t attempt to hide my otherness and pass for what I was not. I wouldn’t turn away from works that caused me pain as well as pleasure. Instead, insofar as I could, I would pore over the whole vast, messy enterprise of culture as if it were my birthright.


[ . . . ]




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