How Not to Make "Hamlet" New

Question: What would you like to see in a “Hamlet” production that you’ve never seen before?

Terry Teachout: If I knew that, I'd go out and direct it.  The wonderful thing about theater as an art form is it's a purely empirical art form.  It's all about what works.  And every show, every production is created anew right from the moment you go into the rehearsal hall.  So, I wouldn't sit here and say to you, I'd like to see a “Hamlet” in which, I don't know, in which Hamlet is a dragon.  I'm just riffing here.  I wouldn't think of it in conceptual terms.

What I want though, is to go to the theater and see something that I'm not expecting to see.  And that doesn't mean that it has to be transgressive.  It doesn't mean that it has to be unusual.  It could just be perfect.  It's actually now, more common to see conceptual productions of Shakespearian, which Hamlet is played as a Nazi, or a homosexual, or whatever concept is being laid over the play, then it is to see a production of Shakespeare in which there is no conceptual overlay and the play is simply being presented on its own terms.  This is something that I've been noticing in writing about actually in the last year or so, that conceptual theater is not the new normal.  It's the thing that we rebel against, and so now, I'm really surprised to see a production that doesn't have this kind of overlay.  And I might add that the “Hamlet” on Broadway that Jude Law doesn't have an overlay at all.  Not like say, the “Macbeth” with Patrick Stewart that was done last season in which it's set in some place, more or less, like Soviet Russia. 

The problem with the Jude Law “Hamlet” was simply that it wasn't unpredictable, that it was a very down-the-center modern production.  I mean, we sometimes forget that we live in modernity and therefore modernism is normal.  You wouldn't go to the theater expecting to see an old-fashioned “Hamlet” where everybody wears an old fashioned costume.  You don't get points, to me, now, for putting on a “Hamlet” where everybody dresses in black.  I've seen that one.  I've seen that one several times.

But again, it's not that it has to be new, it simply that it has to be different, fresh, that it doesn't bore, that it doesn't make me -- I don't feel as I'm watching it that I know where it's going to go.  I want to be surprised, especially by a familiar play.

While Shakespeare's plays speak to all time periods, attempts to make them explicitly address contemporary issues often fall flat. Here the Wall Street Journal critic discusses how NOT to adapt "Hamlet."

Russia sends its first android to space

The Russian-built FEDOR was launched on a mission to help ISS astronauts.

Photos by TASS\TASS via Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • Russia launched a spacecraft carrying FEDOR, a humanoid robot.
  • Its mission is to help astronauts aboard the International Space Station.
  • Such androids can eventually help with dangerous missions likes spacewalks.
Keep reading Show less

Why Secular Humanism can do what Atheism can't.

Atheism doesn't offer much beyond non-belief, can Secular Humanism fill the gaps?

Photo by mauro mora on Unsplash
Culture & Religion
  • Atheism is increasingly popular, but the lack of an organized community around it can be problematic.
  • The decline in social capital once offered by religion can cause severe problems.
  • Secular Humanism can offer both community and meaning, but it has also attracted controversy.
Keep reading Show less

this incredibly rich machinery – with Antonio Damasio

Picking up where we left off a year ago, a conversation about the homeostatic imperative as it plays out in everything from bacteria to pharmaceutical companies—and how the marvelous apparatus of the human mind also gets us into all kinds of trouble.

Think Again Podcasts
  • "Prior to nervous systems: no mind, no consciousness, no intention in the full sense of the term. After nervous systems, gradually we ascend to this possibility of having to this possibility of having minds, having consciousness, and having reasoning that allows us to arrive at some of these very interesting decisions."
  • "We are fragile culturally and socially…but life is fragile to begin with. All that it takes is a little bit of bad luck in the management of those supports, and you're cooked…you can actually be cooked—with global warming!"



Keep reading Show less