Arts & Entertainment

A Weekend Spent Getting High On Shakespeare

My favorite line in Shakespeare is from the changing of the guard in the first scene of Hamlet when Francisco tells Bernardo, "For this relief much thanks: 'tis bitter cold. And I am sick at heart."

It is not the sharpest or weightiest line. It is just a fine example of expressive dialogue in iambic pentameter. It strikes me as beautiful to the ear and the eye.

I prefer it to the "To be or not to be" soliloquy of Act III, Scene I. But like most people I still judge the quality of an actor playing Hamlet by how he performs the 277 word monologue.

This weekend, through a series of coincidences I found myself watching a Klingon-language rendition of the soliloquy. It is oddly moving. And it has subtitles.

From there it was a short trip to Richard Burton as the Danish prince. Burton moves cat-like and waxes manic.

Ethan Hawke's movie of Hamlet includes many inspired touches but is hobbled by an uneven reading of the lines. Still, setting the soliloquy in a Blockbuster store is genius. And I love the mix of the internal monologue with the spoken lines even though I cringed a bit when I heard "solonglife" slurred together. It is worth watching the whole movie, though, if for nothing more than to hear Hawke sneer, "proud man's contumely."

What's nice about Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet is that he performs the soliloquy persuading his reflection in front of a mirror. He asks, "What dreams may come" in a haunting whisper.

Derek Jacobi literally wraps his arms in an imaginary straitjacket. His Hamlet is stark, raving mad.

If you want to avoid being weighed down by your "mortal coil", then consider watching Patrick Stewart's "B or not a B? That is the question."

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