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.