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It's about time we had some more culture around here. Since it's the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death on Saturday, here is a 30-day meme about the Bard; feel free to chip in or copy as you like.

Day #1: Your favourite play

This is not very difficult: it's Hamlet. To repost most of what I said about it a few years ago, this is pretty much the pinnacle of Shakespeare's literary powers, and has been rightly regarded as such for centuries. A lot of this is because of the fascination of the central character, advised of his father's murder by his father's ghost, and then taking a troubled but compelling path to vengeance, which ends up not only with his own death but also those of his father's murderer, his mother, Polonius and both his children, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

Also, of course, the language is amazing. This play surely has more famous quotes per page than any other, most of them short phrases that neatly bracket some concept - "a consummation devoutly to be wished", or "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune". It's occasionally rather startling to hear the original context of some commonplace line, though it doesn't really jar the play.

Apart from the main plot, I find two interesting themes in the play. One, not surprisingly, is death. Everyone is talking about it, from the king to the gravedigger. Depending on how you count Julius Caesar, this is the first non-historical play with a ghost. We end up with the stage littered with corpses, and I think there are more on-stage killings than in Titus Andronicus - and unlike Titus Andronicus it isn't over the top. (It's also difficult to deny that there must have been some connection in the author's mind between the title character and his own son Hamnet, who had died a few years earlier aged eleven.)

The other theme I picked up was the theatre. It's not just the play-within-a-play (though that is more interesting here than the comedy of A Midsummer Night's Dream, let alone the peculiar unfinished framing narrative of The Taming of the Shrew); it's the conversation of the players with Hamlet before the show, and the final discussion between Fortinbras and Horatio about telling the story and displaying the bodies. Shakespeare isn't overdoing it, but he does seem to want to make us think about what the theatre is and what is happening when we are watching (or in this case listening).

I first saw it as a (somewhat cut) school production in 1979 when I was 11 or 12. I think I may have seen a student production in Cambridge as well. I enjoyed the David Tennant version (and I want to do a fanvid some time cross-cutting between him and Derek Jacobi in the 1980 version, where Lalla Ward was Ophelia and Patrick Stewart was Claudius).

But I want to particularly mention a great stage production I saw in Brussels 18 months ago, "Hamlet Unplugged", which had just four actors, each playing Hamlet in turn, and speaking only Hamlet's lines, everyone else miming the other parts. It was brilliant.

The 30 days:
Day #1: Your favourite play
Day #2: Your favourite character
Day #3: Your favourite hero
Day #4: Your favourite heroine
Day #5: Your favourite villain
Day #6: Your favourite villainess
Day #7: Your favourite clown
Day #8: Your favourite comedy
Day #9: Your favourite tragedy
Day #10: Your favourite history
Day #11: Your least favourite play
Day #12: Your favourite scene
Day #13: Your favourite romantic scene
Day #14: Your favourite fight scene
Day #15: The first play you read
Day #16: Your first play you saw
Day #17: Your favourite speech
Day #18: Your favourite dialogue
Day #19: Your favourite movie version of a play
Day #20: Your favourite movie adaptation of a play
Day #21: An overrated play
Day #22: An underrated play
Day #23: A role you've never played but would love to play
Day #24: An actor or actress you would love to see in a particular role
Day #25: Sooner or later, everyone has to choose: Hal or Falstaff?
Day #26: Your favourite couple
Day #27: Your favourite couplet
Day #28: Your favourite joke
Day #29: Your favourite sonnet
Day #30: Your favourite single line


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 19th, 2016 07:20 pm (UTC)
Day 1 - favourite play
Mid-summer Nights Dream; of course this is greatly influenced by having seen Peter Brook's legendary white production with Vanessa Redgrave and Alan Howard. Never before - or since have I left the theatre feeling like I was flying.
Apr. 19th, 2016 07:24 pm (UTC)
I can't see the name of the play in the first sentence.

For me it's Twelfth Night, for which we can blame the BBC Shakespeare version with Felicity Kendal as Viola.
Apr. 19th, 2016 07:26 pm (UTC)
And is there another Shakespeare role where the same actor has played it on tv nearly thirty years apart?

Apr. 19th, 2016 07:24 pm (UTC)
Have copied the list but am not sure I have the energy for posting, so here's the comment version:
my favourite play is Much Ado About Nothing. I first saw it with Samantha Bond and Kenneth Branagh, in the 1988 Renaissance Theatre production that was directed by Judi Dench. We arrived very slightly late, thanks to the M40 - before curtain up, but too late for a moderately large school party to be seated without significant delay to everyone else - so watched the first half while standing at the back of the theatre. It was a good sign that come the interval, we barely realised we'd been standing for so long. Quite a few of us didn't want to go and sit down for the second half. (Good preparation for when the Globe opened some years later...) They had kept us completely enthralled - even those of us who hadn't been paying much attention when we were reading/acting the play the previous week.
Although I was quite a fan of Emma Thompson I didn't like the [Branagh] film as much as the play, because of the lack of Samantha Bond. She's still my favourite Beatrice, even now I've seen rather a lot more. And it did have Keanu Reeves in it, which is never a good thing. But I love the arrangement of "Sigh no more, ladies" - and have been known to sing it at folk evenings - and still find it a good comfort watch.
Joss Whedon's B&W adaptation makes me laugh a lot - there's a lot of good characterization in there - and in the cinema it was awesome. It loses a little on the TV screen, but not enough to make it unwatchable.

The things that make it my favourite probably come under other days' categories. :)

Edited at 2016-04-19 07:53 pm (UTC)
Apr. 20th, 2016 12:05 am (UTC)
Hamlet is excellent, but my favorite is and has always been The Tempest. Even used that as my final performance exam when I took a drama/acting class: I strung together three of Prospero's monologues to show the progression from Prospero the nigh-omnipotent wizard to Prospero the man looking for a simple retirement.
Apr. 20th, 2016 06:14 pm (UTC)
I think I'd also go for MND (with the caveat that there are four or five plays I still haven't seen or read). Hamlet is probably his best play, but I love the atmosphere of MND, Puck's closing lines, and the earnest way the mechanicals approach their performance of Pyramus and Thisbe - and the respect Shakespeare seems to pay them with his gentle mockery. I love the focus on seeing, eyes, and perception.
Apr. 20th, 2016 10:26 pm (UTC)
Simon Russell Beale's "Hamlet" at the National in 2000 was utterly astonishing, certainly the best shakespeare I have seen. What I would give to see that again.
Apr. 21st, 2016 11:36 am (UTC)
I've seen Hamlet more than any other but I do have a lingering affection for Taming of The Shrew, mainly because the first time I saw it was the Ed Hall/Propeller production.
Apr. 21st, 2016 01:46 pm (UTC)
Hamlet is so trendy! Everyone loves it!

Actually probably because it is a great.

But still! :)
Apr. 25th, 2016 07:39 pm (UTC)
For me it would be one of the comedies - either "Midsummer Night's Dream" for the mix of lovers and fairies or "Much Ado About Nothing" for the way it is very nearly a tragedy.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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