Blame the English teachers at those fine expensive schools, trying desperately to engage their bored charges with a play about reckless youth. If only the chattering classes had been taught how to read Hamlet properly, they might have better understood this year’s presidential primaries.
Let’s do a Republican Hamlet. Best thing is, you don’t have to change a single line.
Hamlet senior – less king than serial warlord, and bored by peacetime – gets murdered by his calculating, technocratic brother. A crime of course, and also motivated by unrequited love, but on the whole a good deal for Denmark. Unlike his brother, Claudius isn’t above negotiating to avoid yet another war with Norway.
So, the Devil lets the old warlord out of Hell to demand vengeance, knowing full well the sheltered manic-depressive prince will fixate on his father compulsively, if impotently. Old Scratch sends some actors around too, to help Hamlet with his purity test – as if a normal person would seek help from people who can’t be buried on hallowed ground!
It all works beautifully, for the Devil I mean. Hamlet freaks out, and kills Claudius – except, he kills Polonius. Soon the court is in such a whirlwind of blame and resentment they barely notice the invading Norwegian army, convincing themselves that it’s only going to war with Poland – never mind Norway’s long-standing resentments against Danish power. When Hamlet forces the issue by attending Ophelia’s funeral, Claudius and Laertes form an alliance that comes to nothing, and everyone dies.
Hamlet is a fool, so aloft in his privilege he can’t even conceive of a world beyond his grievances, until by his own acts he destroys his kingdom, and himself.
As for Fortinbras of Norway, walking into Elsinore unchallenged, to find his enemy has slaughtered itself – let’s just say, I now hear these lines in Queens English, on a stage awash in orangey glow:
For me, with sorrow I embrace my fortune:
I have some rights of memory in this kingdom,
Which now to claim my vantage doth invite me….
Take up the bodies: such a sight as this
Becomes the field, but here shows much amiss.
OK, so I changed one line.
It is the most shattering experience of a young man’s life when one morning he awakes and quite reasonably says to himself “I will never play the Dane.” When that moment comes, one’s ambition ceases. Don’t you agree?
–Uncle Monty in Withnail and I