On a midsummer Saturday night I had the fortune of witnessing a modern adaptation of Hamlet at the Bard on the Beach festival. It was my first time to attend the annual event the flapping tents of which had been tempting me for quite some time. I have no qualms with modernized versions of Shakespearean plays as long as the text with its incomparably beautiful language is left intact and is not tampered with.
As this is the longest (and in my view the most ambitious and profound) of Shakespeare's plays I expected some cuts and edits here and there due to time constraints. When I feel like taking in the full unedited version, I will always faithfully turn to Kenneth Branagh's magnificent and faithful film version of the tale at the comfort of my abode. In fact, no matter how interesting or engaging the play may be, sitting on one's behind for four hours straight surrounded by hundreds of strangers and without any access to crispy snacks is indeed a challenge even for hardened Shakespeare fans.
Again I did not mind that swords were generally replaced by guns. I also found the multimedia aspect of this version rather interesting. The characters are mostly in modern business suits, and Hamlet has an ever-present prop and gadget in his hand, his android, which was occasionally used for taking pictures and heavily used as a music-playing device. The music itself ranged from techno to The Beatles (the Revolution track in particular) to a bizarre but amusing use of Velvet Underground's “I'm sticking with you.” There were also TV monitors displaying the news on CNN regarding the political actions of Fortinbras.
Most of this worked for me and the highlight was the play to catch the king that involved mini-cameras filming a dollhouse projected on a big screen. It had a Lynchean feel to it. The scene where Hamlet confronts his mother and reprehends her for choosing Claudius over his own father by showing her pictures of each person on her iPad was rather ingenious.
A number of personal reactions struck me as I was watching the play unfold before my eyes. The timelessness of Shakespeare came to mind. In terms of plot and subject matter this play has not aged a bit. Nor has it regarding wisdom. There is so much knowledge and insight contained in these three or thereabout hours that it makes one's head spin. Having it performed live surely helps since one can pick out a variety of puns, which the reading eye may not catch to its full resounding extent.
Moreover, Shakespeare gives his characters life and dimensions; he fleshes them out carefully and then throws them into action. Hamlet who had always struck me as a neurotic à la Woody Allen can come out as a deeply troubled, if not insane, young man.
His quest for answers concerning life and death resonates in every philosophically or spiritually-inclined person. His musings are ours; our doubts, hopes, fears, desires, frustrations are reflected therein. That there is a time interval of four hundred years is no matter here; the questions are as freshly troubling as ever, the answers equally elusive.
With those ideas throbbing and pulsating in my mind I decided to walk home. I crossed the Burrard Bridge and enjoyed the nighttime view from above occasionally stopping to take a snapshot with my iPhone. I imagined Hamlet in my situation perhaps deliberating whether to jump or not to jump. In my case, I was thrilled with the warm mid-summer night air, while my spirit was replenished with masterful art; in fact, I even wished I could travel to the stars and hug the glowing moon.
My walk lasted about half an hour. After the bridge I reached a bustling street that had its share of young people all dressed up and ready to dance, to party and to get drunk. Some of them were already in an inebriated state.
Many of them were waiting in line to get to the hotspots, the most popular and thriving nightclubs in town. They were excited. I could see it in their faces, their hand gestures, their body movements, and I could hear it in the timber of their voices. Some of them had come to have a good time with their friends, to vent off steam from life's many pressures and/or to find a temporary and dispensable sexual partner.
The women looked great. They had brought out their sexiest outfits for that specific moment. During the day, they would clothe and hide themselves in appropriate office wear, but at night they would give free reign to the sexy tigress within them. Some of them perhaps just felt good to look attractive; others may have had other objectives in mind.
As all these people were chatting loudly and passionately about God knows what I realized how much I was out of place. My thoughts were revolving around Hamlet, art and existence and here there were these young folks who did not give a six-pence or farthing for any of that. They were here to devour life, to take it by its horns and to drink it with gratifying pleasure.
My own ideas of pleasure felt at odds. Even in my younger years I preferred the company of a good book or movie over the wild and bustling throngs of people. Nightclubs never really appealed to me. They were too loud. One could not have a decent conversation in there.
One could not talk about philosophy, life, and Hamlet in those stuffy and often smoke-filled rooms. Beer and alcohol dulled, not sharpened the mind; they lulled one's speech; they distorted one's equilibrium. They brought out baser or more instinctual pleasures to the foreground. They also had the bewitching power to make (almost) everyone appealing and desirable.
That was never my world. Sensual pleasures, unbridled, free and selective does appeal to me at times (in thought not in deed!) but I still prefer the life I have. My wife and my son and my days of going to family events, watching movies and TV series, or reading and blogging are what matter to me.
These are my pleasures, pure and simple. I remember once being asked in my psych class what was the most pleasurable thing that had occurred to me that week. Without hesitating I answered that it was buying the latest Sting CD. I am sure I am missing out on some pleasures. But at the same time I am profoundly happy how things are and the way I am and deep inside I do not think I am actually missing or missing out on anything of real importance. I was and hope to be true to mine own self.