How many Hamlets would you like? A play of that name was performed in the late 1580s. It was probably bloody and Senecan, and probably written by Thomas Kyd. Another one (probably Shakespeare's) was performed on board a ship anchored off the coast of Sierra Leone in 1607 at the request of the captain, William Keeling: 'I invited Captain Hawkins to a ffishe dinner, and had Hamlet acted abord me: which I permitt to keepe my people from idlenes and unlawfull games, or sleep.' An ineffectual footman called Hamlet has a walk-on part in Eastward Ho! (1605), which also has room for a lustful city wife called Gertrude. Then follow the great actor-Hamlets of Kean, Betterton and Garrick, and after them the deluge: the thoughtful, pausing hero of Coleridge (a 'man whose ideal and internal images are so vivid that all real objects are faint and dead to him'), Freud's mother-lover, T.S. Eliot's searcher after an objective correlative. Lacan's Hamlet is a manlet preoccupied with the nom or the non of the father, haunted by desire for the phallus that is lost first in his father's death, then buried in Ophelia's name (maybe it sounds more plausible in French) and finally in her grave. There are also more sportive Hamlets around: the notably unreflective Skinhead Hamlet, who dies with 'I'm fucked. The rest is fucking silence'; the Klingon Hamlet, whose final words are 'DaH tamchoH Hoch'; or the recent manga Hamlet set in 2107 with a spiky-fringed, fist-clenching, button-nosed hero, so stylised that it's difficult to take much from it except that Hamlet is well hard, well cool, and well hard done by.
LRB 21 June 2007 | PDF Download