The joy of 'Hamlet'

By by dianna
Aug. 8, 2012 at 3:08 a.m.

An actor steps forward, and utters those famous words in a sonorous voice: "To be or not to be."

The beginning of the famed soliloquy is one of the great moments in theater, instantly recognizable, even for those who have only brushed up against Shakespeare in the most glancing of ways. Those words have been spoken thousands of times - "Hamlet" has been one of the Bard's most popular plays since the days of its premiere early in the 17th century. It's electric, this moment when we listen in on the ruminations of a young Danish prince on the precipice of a decision that will drive the rest of the play to its tragic conclusion.

I've been lucky enough to see "Hamlet" onstage a few times, and this is the moment I'm always waiting for, this moment of choice.

I love Shakespeare, but most of his work was meant to be heard, not read, a thought that clangs through my head whenever I get the chance to see one of his plays live. Oceans of words written in a brand of English that can seem both archaic and filled with an aching beauty.

You can read it, but it's better to see it live. Luckily, you have the chance. The annual Houston Shakespeare Festival is alternating between the tragic tale of the Danish prince and "The Comedy of Errors," lighter fare in which all the characters will be uttering Shakespeare's lines in distinct Texas accents. But "Hamlet" is the thing for me, as the prince works to take revenge on the uncle who killed his father and married his mother. Of course, this doesn't turn out well for anybody, but it's some fantastic theater.

Shakespeare has been dead and gone for centuries, but it never fails to stun me when I see his works alive and well onstage. The characters he poured life into and animated with rich language live again for a night and somehow, even though he is writing in a world that the years have layered over, some things never change.

And in the hands of the right actor, we in the audience are shown something of the human condition - the doubts, the passions and joys and sorrows of living - it's amazing how some things stay true, some things stay relevant, even as the language used to express them shifts and changes to the point that you almost need an interpreter to understand it.

Sometimes, the Danish prince asks the question, pondering action over inaction, and art transcends all of those boundaries to show something once and still true of the human condition.



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