Song & Stage

A Layman Revels in Guild Hall’s ‘Hamlet’

Keeping yourself entertained through the colder months requires creativity and a willingness to pry yourself from the comforts of your couch. I’ve been making a conscious effort to do so. The formula for success last weekend? Half-priced appetizers at The Palm, followed by cultural stimulation in the form of the Round Table Theatre Company’s production of Hamlet at Guild Hall.

I went into the show rather blindly, as someone whose knowledge of Shakespeare largely comes from a singular classes in both high school and college. I had intended to brush up on the plot of Hamlet before attending the opening night performance, but I neglected to follow through, so it was up to the Round Table Theatre Company to help me out.

Here are eight notes from Guild Hall’s presentation of Hamlet:

1. The production, with intermission, is just under three hours long. But, Round Table Theatre Company notes in its program that it could have been as long as five hours, had each line Shakespeare written been performed. In the sense that the 2014 definition of the word “action” implies that something has to be thrilling—with special effects or intense, fast drama—most of the action-packed parts of Hamlet are relegated to a small portion of the production. Hamlet’s character development takes precedence. Yet it’s still easy to allow yourself to get lost in the production. Hamlet is action-packed in a different sense, as we witness his motivations, the impact of dysfunctional relationships and, ultimately, how a single-minded quest for self indulgence influences so many people.

Round Table Theatre Company's production of
Round Table Theatre Company’s production of “Hamlet” at Guild Hall.
Photo credit: Courtesy Guild Hall

2. This comes from the program: Midway through the second act, Hamlet holds back from killing King Claudius, who murdered Hamlet’s father and married his mother, because King Claudius is praying. Prevailing Christian belief at the time was that if someone is killed while praying, he will be blessed and go to heaven. Hamlet does not want such a kind fate to befall his uncle. This is an interesting manifestation on the role religion played in people’s decisions during Shakespeare’s time, as well as a thought-provoking commentary on just how deeply Hamlet wanted King Claudius to suffer.

3. Shakespearian English is like another language. Round Table Theatre Company allowed me to immerse myself in the play, making it easy to catch onto the sentence structure and vocabulary.

4. Hamlet is full of lines that have become clichés in modern times, like “This above all: to thine own self be true.” And “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.”

5. As Hamlet is sitting on his mother’s bed, revealing his anguish over his murdered father, Hamlet hears a stirring in the curtains and draws his sword, stabbing blindly. As my view was blocked, I couldn’t be certain who was killed, but the ensuing dialogue quickly made it clear that Lord Polonius, father to Hamlet’s love, Ophelia, had been murdered.

6. Why isn’t more attention paid to Hamlet and Ophelia’s relationship? Upon talking with a friend who was more familiar with the dialogue in its entirety, it seems that Shakespeare never really showed audiences the “how” and “why” of Hamlet and Ophelia’s courtship. This made her anguish at Hamlet’s indifference toward her more difficult to comprehend.

7. Though Ophelia went crazy when she learned of her father’s death, throughout the production, Hamlet appeared more as an intellectual than as a model of insanity. His monologues, witty banter and extensive plans to murder King Claudius indicate the mind of a person who is very much in control of his actions. His intentions, though malicious, are excusable, or at least explainable, as a reaction anyone could have had upon learning one’s uncle murdered that one’s father.

8. When the cast came out for a curtain call, I was surprised that Lord Polonius wasn’t there bowing. Actor Josh Gladstone doubled as the gravedigger. In fact, several people played multiple roles, but Round Table Theatre Company did an excellent job of costuming each person so that it wasn’t immediately apparent to the audience.

Guild Hall’s Hamlet runs Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, through November 23. Tickets are $25 for the public and $23 for Guild Hall members. Students under 21 are $15. For more information, visit guildhall.org or call 631-324-0806. Guild Hall is located at 158 Main Street, East Hampton.

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