Thursday, January 26, 2006

Wagner, Hamlet, and systems

Just before I set out on the train journey back to Hungary from Timisoara, I read through Bardseye on Hamlet ( bardseyeview: Hamlet: Act I, Scene 2 1/2 ) which set my poor brain ticking over. It is strange how a single word can do that - in this case the word was suits. I do recommend you go and read the blog.

All of the journey, which was through a very cold Europe, an issue developed with the idea we have of Hamlet. I have tried to comment on this at the original website - but goodness knows what has happened to it once it entered cyberspace.

Basically, what came into my head was the realisation that Hamlet, to an Elizabethan audience, would be considered very strange (the character, not the play).

He goes against conventions: Hamlet should not only expect his mother to be wearing suits of grief, but should be outraged if she didn't. He isn't: In fact, he seems to expect her to be doing something else.
And it was an arranged marriage: Diana and Charles all over again. Of course there was a very strong chance that Hamlet's mother didn't love hsi father (Elizabeth's own father's experiences are relivant here).
Why didn't Hamlet become King? I suspect Shakespeare's audience would instantly pick up on this point: There is something disfunctional about him. His family is relatively OK as Royal families go.

Then, when I got back to the appartment I slipped a DVD I have just bought of Wagner's Das Rhinegold (Stuttgard 2002, production) into the machine. Wonderful - it filters out most of the silliness (Giants become building contractors with a strong human thrust).

Here the focus was very much on one dynamic of the Ring Cycle - love renounced in favour of power. The production really does deal, just like the Shakespeare Hamlet, with intensified struggles over power and love.

Which gave me another session of over active brain.

That lot then linked in with a website I came across by accident yesterday - I must search and return to it - which was exploring the use of hyperlinks in literature - how it changes our perceptions of what a text is. That had me off on the idea that the Theatre has always functioned in this way.
When we see a production in a theatre, we are constantly aware of our surroundings. We link and connect not only with the characters, but with the real world, with other texts, with other people in the audience.
Shakespeare is very marked in his use of theatre references - and the abound in Hamlet.

Could it be that Hamlet is Hypertext?

Human beings like to think in simple terms - time is either linear or cyclical. We search for cause and effect, for logic, for order.

But we really exist in systems that are more than the sum of their parts and where a constraint applied in one area has complex and incalculable effects.

Does Shakespeare, by focussing on individuals as individuals give us a glimpse of this real world?
Or is it the Shakespearean World as a whole (Wittgenstein) which is the system.

Time for a lie down and a cup of tea I think.

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