Hamlet’s soliloquy

The current UK production of “Hamlet” at The Barbican, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, tried putting the famous ‘To be, or not to be’ soliloquy at the beginning of the play. This proved controversial and received fierce criticism, some of which judged the play during its preview run in a way that some people felt was unfair.

Regardless of whether or not it worked as a idea, I don’t think the creative team should be pilloried for trying it. Without experimentation in theatre, many of the great shows would be very, very dull indeed.

This probably works better if you are familiar with “Hamlet”, but as Shakespeare would probably have said:

To be at the beginning, or not to be at the beginning: that is the question.
Whether ‘t is creatively preferable to deliver
The swings and cadences of angst-ridden poetry at the start of a play,
Or to put them in their emotional context,
And by understanding, experience them? To create: to explore;
No more; and in exploring to say we find
New heart-ache and thousands more natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ‘t is a review
Devoutly to be wish’d. To create, to explore;
To explore: perchance to showboat: ay, there’s the accusation;
For in that exploration what critics’ views may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal stage,
Must give us pause. There’s the risk
That makes calamity of so brave direction;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of the web,
The critic’s writing, the journalist’s contempt,
The pangs of disprized skill, the camera’s flash,
The importance of box office, and the scorn
That’s poured upon experimental theatre,
When he himself might his reputation protect
With a ‘safe’ version? Who would ‘same old’ bear,
To grunt and sweat under a heavy doublet,
But that the dread of something not working,
The unleash’d pen venom from whose poison
No actor is immune, puzzles the muse,
And makes us rather do what’s been before
Than try out others that we know not of?
Thus critics do make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of innovation
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of repetition,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their risks are edited,
And lose the name of acting.


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