The Hamlet Project — ’Tis a knavish piece of work
The café where I came up with the idea is long gone. I think it’s three to four businesses ago in that spot now. But the project that was born there took me through eight to nine years.
It started in that café out of a need to goose my creative practice. I was finding my writing process to be a little less smooth than I liked. When I turned on the faucet, the creativity didn’t always flow the way it used to.
I felt I needed a structure within my daily practice that might drop me in to a better state of flow. Hamlet came to me because — at the time — I was working toward playing the role. I had a goal of getting back to acting and Hamlet was the top of that mountain.
I thought if I wrote in response to Hamlet, I’d tackle two goals at once. I could prepare to play Hamlet while goosing my writing practice.
I didn’t play Hamlet, really, and now I’m probably too old for it — but I did perform a soliloquy for my friend’s Hamlet rave performance and my other friend and I organized a reading wherein I got to prepare for and read the part. So I scratched the itch, even if I never held Yorick’s skull in front of an audience.
As for the writing practice — well, it was always a practice for me. It was part of a process to get me into a state of flow for whatever I thought was my “real” writing for the day. So it served me very well in that respect.
I’m not sure why I decided to share the process, really. I think I figured that only a handful of people would read it, like everything else I put on the internet, so it wasn’t really a big deal. I think I was interested in a kind of transparency of creative process so why not?
As of this writing, The Hamlet Project has received 94,113 views — so, despite my not paying it much attention — it has become the most seen thing I do. Oh, the irony!
When I wrote the last line in my notebook a few weeks ago, I thought I might feel some sense of finality — like I’d just closed a show or something. But I didn’t, really. I gave it some ceremony — just to mark the moment — but the next day, I just began the same process from the first line of Cymbeline.
So what did learn from spending a little bit of every day with a line from Hamlet? First and foremost — I am not as close a reader as I would like to think. The thing is — I was already very familiar with Hamlet. My first acting job was in a touring production. I taught it fairly often in schools. The play was not unfamiliar when I decided to dive deep into it. But writing in response to single lines made it almost impossible to gloss over meaning in the ways that I was (apparently) wont to gloss. It became very clear that I had previously been pretty satisfied to just have the gist of the line. Working with single lines forced me to not cut those understanding corners.
The process of reading so closely led me to some surprising interpretative places. I developed a whole theory about Marcellus — which caused me to really wonder where he disappeared to. Previously, I couldn’t have made much distinction between Marcellus, Barnardo and Francisco. By the time I got through Marcellus’ scenes, I was ready to write his own play.
I also uncovered a fair amount of experiments I’d want to see. There are a lot of What Ifs. What if that scene between Claudius and Laertes were played as a Vaudeville routine? What if Horatio was the spy? Not just Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. What if Hamlet Senior had killed his father to become king? What if we saw that? What if Claudius saw it and we saw him see it? Do we develop sympathy for him?
There are so many imaginary productions and/or production moments that I found I wanted to see. This is kind of interesting because after all these years of seeing so much Shakespeare, I find it hard to get excited to see my twentieth Hamlet or seven millionth Romeo and Juliet. But it’s clear that I’d be 100% bought in to see any number of text based experiments.
Other themes that came up a lot were related to Shakespeare’s genius with the little lines. I was moved, over and over, by all the lines that seem like they’re no big deal but are actually packing extraordinary narrative or poetic punch.
My relationships with the characters didn’t change much (except for good old Marcellus.) I suppose I grew to sympathize with Ophelia instead of just being annoyed by her obedience. And I have some thoughts about that English ambassador who comes in at the end and I never paid him any mind before. There are a lot of characters who I’d enjoy seeing receive the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead treatment — and getting their own plays.
Some of my favorite moments were the lines that inspired their own longer narratives — separate from Hamlet. There are stories about a carp, a monster and a witch that bubbled up out of the source. There’s also a list of rejected ways for Laertes to kill Hamlet with an organ that still cracks me up. I did a fair amount of making myself laugh.
Most of the lines ended up as just a conversation between me and the sentence. There are a lot of entries of me trying to work it out in front of you. I’m showing my work — like a math problem.
That’s probably the Shakespeare educator in me. I am never interested in explaining a line to students but I can happily take someone through a process of figuring it out. A lot of lines are just me figuring it out.
There’s a lot of project here. There are a lot of lines in Hamlet! But in a way, that’s why the internet is a good place for this. It is much too much to read all at once. I think it would be a rather relentless book. Words connected to line after line start to become too much after a while. But as a place you can just click around, it’s a reasonably fun playground. It’s a place where, if you felt like reading JUST Polonius ‘ lines — you could.
It’s done now. And also not done. I’m still uploading lines I wrote about two years ago. It may be a while before I reach the end of the play on the internet but my writing process is complete. The uploading goes on.
If you were one (or many) of the 94,113 views, thank you. It means a lot to be seen.
The rest is silence.
Or — actually — the rest just needs to be uploaded. Then it will be silence.
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Originally published at http://artiststruggle.wordpress.com on July 30, 2019.