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Hamlet, today

This may seem like an odd post title, but special circumstances call for out-of-the-ordinary reflections. Two weeks ago, for our anniversary, Ted and I actually saw Hamlet performed in Port-au-Prince by none other than the London Globe. Through the Globe-to-Globe program, actors are traveling to every country in the world over the next two years with their production of Hamlet, and we were lucky enough to attend their thirty-ninth performance.

As we watched the tragedy unfold, I couldn't help resonate with some of the main character’s musings and woes – lines that are so familiar to me now after pouring over them in high school and seeking out various theatrical and film adaptations since. (I think that part of me has come to believe, like my English teacher taught us, that Hamlet is the greatest play ever written.)

This time, the stage and setting were different. The reflections of our epic protagonist, Hamlet, stirred in me new thoughts and parallels to our own context as foreigners newly arrived in Haiti, and generally as Americans in today's world so full of injustices. What are these thoughts and towards what actions might they lead?

Act III. Scene I.

To be, or not to be, that is the Question:

Throughout the play, Hamlet is caught by fear; the fear of action. After receiving his deceased fathers’ call to avenge his unjust death, Hamlet cannot bring himself to execute the action; a cycle of fear and reflection holds him back. In Hamlet’s case, acting would bring unpredictable and perhaps fatal consequences - one cannot murder the king without expecting some reprisals – yet he cannot shake the fear of his own death that would likely follow (and one can hardly blame him.)

Act II. Scene II.

Oh what a Rogue and Peasant slave am I?...What would he do, Had he the Motive and the Cue for passion that I have?

A travelling actor employed by Hamlet evokes strong feeling while recounting a fictitious drama –that of Hecuba and her murdered husband. Hamlet, who has a reality to mourn (the murder of his father) is distraught at his own lack of passion in response to his father’s death. How can someone feel so deeply over a fiction while he still sits, unmoving, on the news of his father’s unjust death? He is shamed, confounded, by his own slowness to act.

Act IV. Scene IV

...to my shame, I see The imminent death of twenty thousand men,
That, for a fantasy and trick of fame, Go to their graves like beds.

The young Fortinbras, a prince of action, pushes into Poland with his army of 20,000 to defend a seemingly small area of land from capture. Hamlet again is aghast. These soldiers fight and die valiantly for a cause so less personal than Hamlet’s own. The only motive these men require is honor.

Act III. Scene I.

…Thus Conscience does make Cowards of us all,
And thus the Native hew of Resolution Is sicklied over, with the pale cast of Thought,

Hamlet knows from the beginning what he must do. Yet as he delays, it seems that his own ambition to address the injustice in front of him is dulled, as well as the clarity required for decisive action. As we all know, the play does not end well.

I wonder if we, too, can get bound by fear in a cycle like that of Hamlet. Getting caught up in thinking about the gravity of injustices in our world, we can grow afraid to act. There are always consequences to action. The consequences of inaction are real as well, but they feel more tangible and pleasing to us at times; the consequences of inaction are the continuance of the status quo. If we sit and muse for too long, our thoughts run the risk of shriveling and not bearing the fruit of action.

Check out the Globe-to-Globe Hamlet
tour website to see their list of stops:


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