Sunday, March 10, 2013

That skull had a tongue in it and could sing once.

I have to finish drafting a light plot for a production of Hamlet I’m designing, but the main question is: how can I procrastinate to avoid doing it? I know! I’ll post something on my sketchblog, and make it relate to Hamlet, so it sort of feels like I’m actually thinking about the play.

Here’s a drawing of a skull I did at the drawing studio. They have a couple of skeletons around, and sometimes I draw them when there’s a break or when I’m not interested in the model’s pose. Also, I often attend the weekly anatomy class, and sometimes these bones get passed around. Skulls are a lot smaller than you’d expect, as well as the skeleton in general. People are a lot smaller when you take off all the muscle, fat, skin, and organs!

In Shakespeare Our Contemporary, Jan Kott wrote that Hamlet “… is one of the few literary heroes who live apart from the text, apart from the theatre. His name means something even to those who have never seen or read Shakespeare’s play.” I think everyone recognizes the image of Hamlet with Yorick’s skull, and the famous line, “Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him well.” Even though that’s not quite the line.
Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. He hath borne me on his back a thousand times, and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft. —Where be your gibes now? Your gambols? Your songs? Your flashes of merriment that were wont to set the table on a roar? Not one now to mock your own grinning? Quite chapfallen? Now get you to my lady’s chamber and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favor she must come. Make her laugh at that.

This is a student production of Hamlet. Whenever we have our students read Shakespeare, they complain about the language. As one of my students put it last semester regarding The Tempest, “I read the play, but I don’t get it.” I know many, perhaps most, of them just read the Sparksnotes “No Fear Shakespeare” version, which ‘modernizes’ the language. I actually don’t completely object to that. I know I didn’t learn how to really read Shakespeare until I was much older, and I still struggle with it at times. Also, a lot of my students have English as a second language, and regular contemporary vernacular is challenge enough for them. But I think it’s a shame if they rely solely on the Sparksnotes. Here’s the No Fear Shakespeare modern version of that same passage:

Let me see. (he takes the skull) Oh, poor Yorick! I used to know him, Horatio—a very funny guy, and with an excellent imagination. He carried me on his back a thousand times, and now—how terrible—this is him. It makes my stomach turn. I don’t know how many times I kissed the lips that used to be right here. Where are your jokes now? Your pranks? Your songs? Your flashes of wit that used to set the whole table laughing? You don’t make anybody smile now. Are you sad about that? You need to go to my lady’s room and tell her that no matter how much makeup she slathers on, she’ll end up just like you some day. That’ll make her laugh.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think just a little bit is lost in this adaptation. “You don’t make anybody smile now. Are you sad about that?” Well, are you?

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