Hamlet – a twist in the tale

'To be or not to be, that is the question'.

‘To be, or not to be: that is the question’.


To be, or not to be: that is the question:

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

And by opposing end them?

Written in the late 16th century, those words have been famously uttered by many great actors. Hamlet tells of a depressed young prince, who, upon arriving at his recently deceased father’s funeral, discovers that his mother has remarried – and to none other than his father’s brother. His uncle has also crowned himself king, although Hamlet was the rightful heir to the throne. Hamlet starts to suspect foul play when his father’s ghost wandered into the castle at night, telling Hamlet of his inability to rest in peace because he was murdered. Hamlet then plots to kill his uncle upon realising of his uncle’s guilty conscience. This resolution to kill his uncle caused six deaths includinghis own, along with his mother, his uncle and his potential wife.

Shakespeare was a forward thinking man for his time, but bear in mind this was written in late 16th century; as forward thinking as he may be, he was, after all, writing a play for the people of his time- and the people of his time still believed that witches existed and burned people at stake for it. It was a time where females were considered lesser beings and they were not allowed to vote, or even play female parts in plays. Therefore, it is understandable that Shakespeare’s plays are patriarchal in nature, often focusing on the men and killing off the women. Even his female characters are often written for men, as women weren’t allowed onstage.

The thing is, I’m not one for plays, or musicals, or theatre in general. But when you’re travelling, and you want to experience different sides of a country, the theatre is a must. I have to go a little in detail about Dubrovnik for you to understand why I thought this version of Hamlet was worth writing about: Dubrovnik, Croatia is one of the candidates for the City of Culture in 2016. It is a little city, not a lot larger than Durham, by the Adriatic Sea. It is also more famously known for being King’s Landing in seasons 2-6 of Game of Thrones. It will also be part of the next Star Wars movie, and is under consideration for being one of the locations in the next James Bond movie. Being King’s Landing, Dubrovnik has to be able to cater to the often complicated scenes from Game of Thrones, like the scene for King Joffrey’s name-day party- and it was. That scene was filmed at a fort in Dubrovnik, called Fort Lawrence. It is at this very fort that I watched Hamlet. An old and timeless play, performed at an old and timeless venue.

But I digress. Hamlet was a play written by a man, for men. Shakespeare couldn’t have known that, as time passes, women would take the stage as well. In this cast, Hamlet was, indeed, a woman. Helen Millar, winner of the most outstanding newcomer, played Hamlet in this rendition. Millar was exceptional in this role; she was expressive, she was sincere, she was determined to play it well – and play it well she did. Having a woman play Hamlet changes the entire dynamic of the character, but Millar struck an appropriate balance between changing the tone of the play for a female Hamlet and retaining the immense strength that only a prince could possess. It’s always a pleasure to watch people do things they enjoy, and I could tell that Helen truly enjoyed playing Hamlet, being Hamlet. Her passion for her work shines through her performance, as she utters the famous words that most actresses can only dream of saying.

I thought the venue was exceptional, allowing two scenes can be shown at once. This was particularly effective when King Claudius sent Hamlet away to study in Denmark whilst plotting with two of her friends to spy on her. The top level of the fort was used as the ship that Hamlet was on, allowing the audience to see her sorrow at the loss of her father. Furthermore, the father’s ghost could be projected on the walls of the fort, making it an incredible experience for me, as I watched Hamlet for the first time.

Not your typical Hamlet, and yet Millar’s passion could be seen as her character was flawlessly played. Bravo, Helen, my trip to Dubrovnik was made just a little better.

What to ourselves in passion we propose,

The passion ending, doth the purpose lose.

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