The play in pictures – a mix of photos from the morning’s dress rehearsal and the final show:
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“…”Hey guys,” the ghost says.
You’re too shocked to say anything. Ghosts are real, Ophelia! Surprise!
Hamlet looks up at the ghost and waves.
“Hi dad!” he says.
We’ve got two options here, Ophelia:
OPTION FACEBOOK: Demand the ghost prove that he’s who he claims to be.
OPTION TWITTER: It doesn’t matter who he is, the real question is if this ghost is so big into murdering dudes why he doesn’t just murder Claudius himself? Riddle him THAT.”
What is this? It’s clearly got Hamlet characters in it (awesome!), but it’s got Ophelia’s point of view (awesome!!), and it’s written in modern, irreverent prose (…sure, awesome!!!) and it’s – le gasp! a CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE?! If you were born in the period during which Choose Your Own Adventure books were the pirate-bearded warrior kings of the school libraries, or love Hamlet to death, or both, then you really ought to check out the majesty that is To Be Or Not To Be: That Is The Adventure, by Toronto comic artist Ryan North.
Late last year, this book engaged in a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign that proved an immense success. North broke some Kickstarter records for speed and overfunding as he went through a spirited campaign that culminated, not in giving fancy presents to the people paying for his work, but in donations of increasingly large donations of books to school libraries and the placing of his work in the creative commons for all to enjoy. Philanthropy as well? Be still, my beating heart!
As you go through this charming, fully illustrated version of Hamlet, you can play as Hamlet, Ophelia, or King Hamlet…in which case, sorry! You die on the first place. THEN START WITH THE HAUNTING. Skull icons indicate choices that will bring about the ending we know and love from onstage; if you choose other options, Hamlet might invent indoor plumbing! Ophelia might get Hamlet’s butt off of the couch and into swordfight practice! And King Hamlet might try to win back his Gertrude with nice poetry and respectful dialogue! WHO KNOWS?
There’s even a play…of the book…of the first play…put on YouTube by a crew of ex-pats in Korea, Theatre In Busan. Which you can view here! During the live stream, people got to vote on their choices onstage just like we would at home reading the book. That’s all over now, of course, but you can see some of the awesome ways things went on the small screen.
I leave you with a couple questions:
a) What is the one thing you’d change about Hamlet if you had such a book? Or could yell out during a production? Or at least the biggest (we know there are lots of things that need fixin’!)
b) Kickstarter let someone with a good idea turn it into a major project that ultimately made $580,905.00 for someone to do something cool. What’s a Shakespeare project that, with a little help from your friend The Internet, you would love to put out?
And last but not least, in the world of To Be Or Not To Be, Ophelia is a smart cookie with a science background while Hamlet studies…y’know…arts…? I leave you with a glimpse:
In Hamlet, Laertes, leaving for France, tells his sister Ophelia to guard her heart against Hamlet. Laertes suggests that Hamlet’s affections are “Forward, not permanent, sweet, not lasting, / The perfume and suppliance of a minute; no more.”
I shall the effect of this good lesson keep,
As watchman to my heart. But, good my brother,
Do not, as some ungracious pastors do,
Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven;
Whiles, like a puff’d and reckless libertine,
Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads,
And recks not his own rede.
The primrose is a flowering plant of over 400 species, bearing blue, pink, purple, red, white, or yellow blossoms.
Here, Shakespeare’s “primrose path” is the path of ease, indulgence, and pleasure. Ophelia not only listens to Laertes, but also challenges him to heed his own advice. Primroses are perennial though, in this context, they represent fickleness – perhaps “perennial” frivolity?
There are six more references to primroses in Shakespeare’s plays:
So, so: well done, well done:
The violets, cowslips, and the primroses,
Bear to my closet.
Whilst summer lasts and I live here, Fidele,
I’ll sweeten thy sad grave: thou shalt not lack
The flower that’s like thy face, pale primrose…
Henry VI, Part II
I would be blind with weeping, sick with groans,
Look pale as primrose with blood-drinking sighs,
And all to have the noble duke alive.
it no further: I had thought to have let in
some of all professions that go the primrose
way to the everlasting bonfire.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
And in the wood, where often you and I
Upon faint primrose-beds were wont to lie,
Emptying our bosoms of their counsel sweet,
There my Lysander and myself shall meet…
The Winter’s Tale
That die unmarried, ere they can behold
Bight Phoebus in his strength…
By Vineeta Moraes and Laboni Islam
“If music be the food of love, play on” (Twelfth Night, 1.1.1-7)
Music and Shakespearean Theatre. The two art forms go hand in hand, like hot chocolate on a snowy day.
Shakespeare embraced the use of music, and saw its transformative potential to take stage drama to a deeper level of meaning. He held access to a treasure chest of music at his very doorstep, since Elizabethan culture was steeped in popular ballads, madrigals, church chorals, and courtly arias (to name a few). And he carefully chose songs and musical styles to suit character development.
In terms of vocal music, Shakespeare penned his own lyrics, as well as made use of pre-existing songs. The singing roles in his plays are mostly given to minor characters, clowns, ruffians, and servants. The principal characters never sing (imagine Hamlet breaking into song and dance! *gasp* :O), with the exception of heroines, Ophelia (Hamlet) and Desdemona (Othello). In Desdemona’s case, Shakespeare borrows an existing 16th Century song for her to sing called ‘The Willow Song‘. The tune is slow and lyrical, and provides a lamenting undertone in preparation for her death (IV.iii):
“The poor soul sat sighing by a sycamore tree,
Sing all a green willow;
Her hand on her bosom, her head on her knee,
Sing willow, willow, willow:
The fresh streams ran by her, and murmur’d her moans;
Sing willow, willow, willow;
Her salt tears fell from her, and soften’d the stones;–“
Instrumental music is also integral to Shakespeare, and there are quite a number of stage directions in the plays that signal musicians to perform either on stage or off to the side. Textual cues like ‘A Flourish, Trumpets!’ (Richard III, IV.iv.149) are used to signal stately entrances of royal characters. While ‘Hoboys and torches. Enter King Duncan…’ (Macbeth, I.vi) brings a foreboding quality with the oboe’s (hoboy’s) haunting tone.
In addition, music is also used to accompany characters in dance, such as the Capulet Ball scene in Romeo and Juliet (I.v). Although no specific dances are mentioned in the stage directions, Shakespeare would’ve preferred dance styles popular to the time period. The Coranto, Pavane, or Galliard – like the one featured below – would’ve all been fair game for a courtly dancing scene ~
By Vineeta Moraes
Three days into nursery school, John Everett Millais was expelled for biting his teacher’s hands. Any teacher who suffers a similar assault should consider diverting the child’s spirit with paint. In 1840, at the age of 11, Millais became the youngest student to enter London’s Royal Academy of Arts – the President and his parents keen “‘to speed him in the career for which nature had evidently intended.'”
There, the biting ceased but the rebellion persisted. In 1848, Milais and fellow Academy students, Dante Gabriel Rosetti and William Holman Hunt, formed the secret Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (or PRB, as in their signature). The goal of the Brotherhood was to challenge the teachings and practices of the Academy (i.e. contrived compositions and artificial chiaroscuro); to paint like the Italians before Raphael; to meditate on more “serious” subjects; to be faithful to nature; and like, the French Impressionists, to paint landscapes “en plein air.” Pre-Raphaelite paintings are known for their moralistic overtones, poetic and romantic subjects, meticulous detail, and jewel-like colours. The Brotherhood lasted only four years, about half of them out of public favour. Tastes change – Millais’ Ophelia is now the best-selling postcard at the Tate Britain.
And so it was at the Tate Britain several autumns ago that I saw the most beautiful painting of a possible suicide. I had been allowed to enter the galleries with a bag of groceries (a litre of water, two boxes of Twinings tea, and a head of broccoli). I was certain that the officials had failed to notice the bag or imagine the damage broccoli could inflict upon their national treasures, and so, returned to the check-in counter to point out the contents and leave the bag behind. The man at the desk gave me a “very-well-if-you-wish” shrug.
Once inside, I understood the nonchalance. The etiquette was astounding. All the patrons stood an adequate arm’s-length from the art and no one attempted to sneak photos. In Room 14, a woman (with permission, I assume) had set up an easel and was painting an exact replica of Ophelia.
Millais, however, had painted the background outdoors on the banks of Hogsmill River, Ewell, Surrey. There, in 1851, with oil paints, porcelain palette, and primed canvas, he painted up to 11 hours a day, 6 days a week, for over 5 months – under conditions that would have driven more than Ophelia mad:
The flies of Surrey are more muscular, and have a still greater propensity for probing human flesh…I am threatened with a notice to appear before a magistrate for trespassing in a field and destroying the hay…also in danger of being blown by the wind into the water…There are two swans who not a little add to my misery by persisting in watching me from the exact spot I wish to paint, occasionally destroying every water-weed within their reach.
Millais cherished those water-weeds and painted the surrounding flowers with a botanist’s accuracy: weeping willow (forsaken love), crow flowers (childishness), nettles (pain), daisies (innocence), and loosestrife (as the “long purples”) – as described in the play:
There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;
There with fantastic garlands did she come
Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
But our cold maids do dead men’s fingers call them:
There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds
Clambering to hang, and envious silver broke;
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook.
Hamlet, IV.vii, 3315-3324
There was, however, a water vole that was sacrificed. Millais had trouble painting it and his aunt and uncle mistook it for a hare, rabbit, cat, and dog before he eliminated it altogether. Possible sketches of the ill-fated rodent hide behind both of the frame’s spandrels.
Unlike the landscape, Millais painted the figure of Ophelia indoors. The 19-year-old model – Elizabeth Siddall – wore a vintage dress embroidered with silver flowers and posed in a bathtub full of water, heated with oil lamps underneath. It was a true test of patience, as Millais was known to spend an entire day painting an area the size of a shilling. One “sitting,” the oil lamps failed and Siddall grew cold and ill. Her father, furious, insisted that Millais pay the fifty medical bills.
Siddall recovered but “One woe doth tread upon another’s heel” (Hamlet, IV.vii, 3312). The painting, sadly, foreshadows Siddall’s own death in 1862, from an overdose of laudanum. Like Ophelia, it is not known if it was accidental or intentional but likely stemmed from deep personal sadness and a troubled relationship (in Siddall’s case, with PRB member Dante Gabriel Rosetti).
The painting, like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, has long out-lived both its muse and master.
Curnow, Harriet, et al. “Work in Focus: Millais’s Ophelia, 1851-1852.” Tate. Web. 2 Aug. 2012.
Martineau, Jane et al. Shakespeare in Art. London: Morrel Publishers Limited, 2003.
Wood, Christopher. The Pre-Raphaelites. London: Seven Dials, Cassel & Co., 2000.