“To be, or not to be, that is the question.” For everyone, this would be a familiar quote that they have heard at least once in their lifetime, even for those who do not know a bit about Shakespeare. Hamlet (1603), an ever living classic by the world-famous writer William Shakespeare, comes to the Chungmu Art Center from August 2 to October 16 through Hamlet: the Play. However, this time, the story and characters are a little bit different from the original—maybe Shakespeare himself would want to peep through this refreshing twist, if he could.
As of 2016, it has been exactly 400 years since the death of Shakespeare, and numerous Shakespeare plays are in theaters this year globally to commemorate his works. In Korea, two plays will be staged in August—the classic interpretation of Hamlet by the National Theater of Korea, and Hamlet: the Play, the modern interpretation. The latter was originally created and staged as a student play, Hamlet—Story of a Sad Clown in 2001. 15 years later, with some modification by the writer, Ji Yi Seon and the director, Kim Dong Yeon, Hamlet: the Play is on stage again.
Two Hamlets are on stage. Based on the common theme of play, the time, places and events of the young Hamlet and the old Hamlet continuously cross, interacting with and affecting each other’s lives. The young Hamlet is not in the original literature, but is newly added into the play to increase the viewers’ sympathy towards the character. “Did you really know Hamlet?” the play asks. “Have you ever truly understood him?”
▲ Tragedy is just one step away from comedy, provided by www.focus.kr.
In the play, the old Hamlet follows the same story line as the original work that everybody knows. However, young Hamlet, the new character, has a somewhat different story. With Yorik the clown, the young Hamlet practices a play which deals with “a prince avenging the murder of the late king,” for his father who is to return from the war. In his scene, the young Hamlet continuously questions Yorik about whether the ending of the play, in other words, fate, can change. This builds the tension, and foreshadows the old Hamlet’s destiny in the end.
Young Hamlet and Yorik the clown are the newly added characters in this new version of Hamlet. According to the director, they were created to show the solitude of Hamlet who has no choice but to move forward through his life even though he knows the tragic end. Through this new character, young Hamlet, audiences can know more of Hamlet’s feelings and feel closer to him. Crossing times and events of both characters from the beginning to the end makes the renowned tragedy even more convincing.
One noticeable feature of 2016 Hamlet: the Play is the stage. Chungmu Art Center Theater Black, where this play is being staged, is famous for its big circular stage that audiences sit around which enables them to see the stage from every angle. The stage design is rather simple, with just one long platform and a curtain in the back. What fills the stage is the energy of the actors, who effectively use the stage in all directions. Furthermore, the usage of light and shadow also adds a fantastical mood to the play.
Another remarkable point is the usage of objet. A red nose, which signifies the clown, is seldom worn by both young and old Hamlet, even in a tragic situation. This maximizes the irony, and tells the audience that tragedy is not so far from comedy. The toy soldiers, placed on the stage at the opening, symbolize each character in the play, also foreshadowing their destiny. The skillful acting of all cast members is also impressive. Kim Kang Woo and Kim Dong Won, double cast as the old Hamlet, play an outstanding role in delivering a great number of lines to the audience. Furthermore, as the only actress in the play, Lee Jin Hee does a striking job in playing the two different roles of Gertrude and Ophelia, showing two totally different acting styles.
Different interpretations of female characters are also praised by many musical lovers. Unlike the original Gertrude and Ophelia who rather leave themselves in the hands of fate, the new Gertrude and Ophelia in Hamlet: the Play carve out their own fortune with strong will. In the play, they choose their own destiny, bear the responsibility, and even affect Hamlet’s fate greatly. These two characters have personality and strength as an individual human beings, escaping from the superficial role of a typical mother, and female lover figure.
As mentioned previously, the appearance of the new character, young Hamlet, emphasizes the theme of this play. “Why do we practice it so hard if we know that the play will end in tragedy?” asks the young Hamlet. “Every practice is meaningful, my lord,” answers Yorik the clown. Hamlet struggles to keep his dignity, and to protect the loved ones around him. This is the reason why Hamlet can stay as a virtuous figure, even though he was in the middle of muddy tragedy. Furthermore, this is why Hamlet was, and is loved by people around the globe.
“To be, or not to be. Why is that a matter of question?” asks Hamlet, before his death. Like this new interpretation of the famous old line, the play continuously questions the audience—“Is fate really unchangeable? What is our choice and what is not?” Maybe Hamlet has a different choice, hundreds of different roads ahead of him other than to be or not to be. Listen to the song of young Hamlet, listen to the soliloquy of old Hamlet, and follow their voice, as they will lead to the answer.