Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Contemplating Hamlet

Contemplating Hamlet, monoprints on A4 paper using gelatin plate and paper cut-out stencils. (available at Etsy)
I’ve been contemplating Hamlet for quite awhile now.  I have a heap of prints on mulberry paper (not shown) that I haven’t posted. I did these some months ago, but wasn’t quite ready yet.  Now I’ve done a few more. Actually, I was just playing around with the ‘bones’ stencils (see hints of rib-cage) and then spontaneously drew and cut the facial profile to ‘finish’ the piece, and realized I was back at Hamlet. Again.
So I will try to describe why.
In high school, we studied the play, and judging from my pencilled side notes (I still have the hard-cover book) I had no clue what was going on. I found Hamlet confusing, to say the least. It wasn’t until recently that I ‘tried’ to re-read it, and I’m not sure why. I had trouble imagining the characters as I read, and so tried some you-tube vid’s of David Tennant playing Hamlet.  That put the pictures in my head, and then I read the play from cover to cover, and then I did it all over again. Four times so far (not to mention that I’ve watched the DVD 3 times). 
There is much in the play that I could not have understood with my younger self. As I teen, I thought personality was a solid thing, I thought I knew who I was and what I was made of, and only much later, with horror, did I come to know what a fragile shifting breakable thing a soul can be.  In this last year, I’ve watched my mom-in-law lose all the essential bits of herself to progressive and last-stage dementia, and there is no way to come away from that without realizing that ultimately we are not in control.
I have in large and small ways not lived up to my own standards; and I have felt confused and betrayed when those I loved did not live up theirs (or mine), and never managed to make the leap until I read Hamlet. Hamlet is full of contradictions, stating noble intentions and doing quite the opposite. And this is how most of us live.  We have (hopefully) heroic inner narratives that we strive to fulfil, and then there is the crumbly jumbled mess of who we really are, the self that changes with moment to moment, buffeted by circumstance, health, and the intrusions of others.  And others in our lives are equally fallible, and Hamlet can help us understand those shifts.
And on that note, I would love to pronounce this my favourite and profound line in Hamlet,
There's a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will.

But, if I am honest, it is this exchange that sticks in my head:
Ophelia: You are keen my lord…
Hamlet: It would cost you a groaning to take off my edge.
Act 3, Scene 2, in case you are interested.
PS. I posted detail shots on etsy of the gelatin prints, and some more muddled musings on Hamlet (and I’m STILL not making sense). I may edit that out soon.  Honest take, I think I’m still incapable of talking about Hamlet. Well, maybe that’s why I’m making art about it.


Jennifer Rose Phillip said...

I loved Hamlet in school :D I don't know if it is because we acted out the pay when we read it in grade 6 that made me love it, but what ever the reason I have loved it since. I have yet to see Tennet act it yet (and I think he is a great actor), and I wish he was know for things other the Dr.Who.

I haven't lived up to my standards either, but I think we generally give ourself really high standards to reach, and some are just not possible.

kaslkaos said...

Jennifer, sounds like you had an excellent teacher. We just had to read it and write essays on it. What a shame. You MUST see Tennant as Hamlet. He owns the role. The whole production is amazing.
I loved him as Doctor Who, but now he's Hamlet to me.

Michelle Basic Hendry said...

I have gotten behind and missed some great stuff! You are going girl! I need some of that....

My grade ten class was taken to the Stratford Festival. We saw the Merchant of Venice. In grade nine, when we studied it, I had no use for it. When I saw the play, it ignited a love affair for Shakespeare which led me to the archives of the old BBC videos in the the bowls of Sig Sam at UofT. I loved Hamlet. I was moved by the impact of difficult choices and that all too often encountered struggle with knowledge that once discovered, cannot be made unknown again.
As for standards, it is good to set them high, but also to remember that we are fragile - and human.

Great post.... As usual, you inspire me to thinking. If you have iTunes, have a look at iTunesU. Lots of free university and ivy league courses. I studied many of the topics I am into now, but with 20 years of life behind me, they mean something totally different.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin