There was a production of Hamlet released on DVD in 2010 starring David Tennant. I have not seen it and know very little about it. However, the cover strikes me as a perfect metaphor for what performing and commenting on this play have come to mean. It shows the face of Mr. Tennant as Hamlet, reflected in a mirror that has been broken in several key places. The face of Hamlet divides, juts off in several directions. Its very core is shattered and split, never to be repaired. You might grab a big shard of it and get to know it but you’ll never see the whole thing because there is no whole thing anymore. That’s what has happened to Hamlet. All the analysis, interpretation and performance has made it impossible to get a real grip on the play. We’ve all heard and seen too much to know Hamlet. It is a broken mirror, smashed by its own greatness into thousands of pieces, all glorious.
As a result, I don’t even want to try and give my overriding view of Hamlet. I’ll just focus on my two favorite shards. First off, “the time is out of joint.” When things in the world and/or your own life just don’t feel correct, when everything just seems off track, there is no better literary work, in my opinion, to name that frustration than Hamlet. All of us will pass through our own Elsinore sooner or later, probably more than one. Maybe we’re all there all the time and just forget it sometimes.
Second, “bad dreams.” My absolute favorite part of the play is Hamlet’s first conversation with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. When Rosencrantz says Elsinore is too narrow for Hamlet’s fine mind, Hamlet responds with a line I probably think of AT LEAST weekly: “O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space—were it not that I have bad dreams.” When life works, I can stay put for days and feel like I’ve been on an amazing journey. When it’s not working, I could go anywhere and feel imprisoned. In the end, wherever we go, whatever we do, we are ultimately trapped with ourselves. Scary thought? Depends on what we are at any given moment.
Those are my favorite shards. There are plenty more. They’re all worth going after.