To Be or Not to Be (The Melancholy Dane)

“To be, or not to be” is the famous opening phrase of a soliloquy in William Shakespeare‘s play Hamlet. Debate surrounds its meaning, and that of the speech, but most agree that it asks the fundamental question “why live?” and gives the desolate answer that death might be worse.

Hamlet speaks this on his entry to Act 3 scene 1 (known as the ‘nunnery scene’ because of the Hamlet/Ophelia dialogue after the speech) which is when Polonius and Claudius put into effect their plan, hatched in Act 2 scene 2, to watch Hamlet with Ophelia to determine whether, as Polonius thinks, his ‘madness’ springs from “neglected love”. They have planted her where it is his habit to walk and think and concealed themselves to observe the encounter. Until he notices Ophelia at the end of the speech Hamlet thinks he is alone.

 
 

Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet, with Yorick’s skull. Photographer: James Lafayette, c. 1885–1900)

 
 

John Barrymore in the greatest success of his theatrical career with Hamlet in 1922, which he played on for 101 performances as the Melancholy Dane, breaking Booth’s record. In February, 1925 he successfully presented his production in London despite the so-called apathy extended toward American Shakespearean actors in Britain.

 
 

Laurence Olivier’s 1948 moody black-and-white Hamlet won best picture and best actor Oscars, and is still, as of 2013, the only Shakespeare film to have done so. His interpretation stressed the Oedipal overtones of the play, and cast 28-year-old Eileen Herlie as Hamlet’s mother, opposite himself, at 41, as Hamlet.

 
 

The great Shakespearean actor Sir John Gielgud (who played Hamlet over 500 times in six productions), his protégé Kenneth Branagh and Sir Derek Jacobi in a BBC radio production of Hamlet .

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A Life in the Theatre

‘All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.’

William Shakespeare

As You Like It

 
 

 
 

Music wakes us. Music makes us see the hidden, join the broken. Look and listen. See the flowers, how they ray their redness, whiteness, silverness and blue.

 
 

 
 

We act different parts; but are the same.

 
 

 
 

Books are the mirrors of the soul

 
 

 
 

She liked to leave a theatre knowing exactly what was meant…

 
 

 
 

They never pulled the curtains till it was too dark to see, nor shut the windows till it was too cold. Why shut out the day before it was over? The flowers were still bright; the birds chirped. You could see more in the evening often when nothing interrupted, when there was no fish to order, no telephone to answer. Mrs. Swithin stopped by the great picture of Venice–school of Canaletto. Possibly in the hood of the gondola there was a little figure–a woman, veiled; or a man?

 
 

Kate Moss photographed by Bruce Weber and styled by Joe McKenna. Vogue Italia. October 1996.

 
 

Then the curtain rose. They spoke.

Virginia Woolf

“Between the Acts”