Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Scene I wrote for the Second Essay

The Al-Hamlet Confusion

by Alexandre Todorov


Olivier's Hamlet (Oli)

Gamlet (Gam)

Al-Hamlet (Al)

Not the Hamlet You Used to Know (Meh)

German Hamlet (Ger)

The Voice of God (Intercom)

Guards and the Assassins (Offstage)

Ophelia (Ophelia)

Setting- Empty throne room (Claudius is off enjoying a good dinner)

Time- Hamlet is universal and thus outside of time.

A Hamlet bursts into the room, dressed in medieval garb and carrying a skull

Oli- I do not know if this will change anything, but: CLAUDIUS! You killed my father! Prepare to die!

Another Hamlet strides in clad in traditional Islamic garb

Al- NOT SO FAST IMPOSTER! It is I who will kill him!

An extremely handsome Russian charges in (you can faintly hear the fangirls screaming)

Gam- In the name of the people, I WILL AVENGE MY FATHER! And right the injustices and undue the wrongs and create a true people's republic!

A sheepish looking Hamlet walks in dressed in a bathrobe

Meh- I would complain about the noise, but what is noise? Is there any purpose of trying to have a good bath when joy is so fleeting? So easily destroyed? Is there even something as joy? Or is it an il-

He is swiftly interrupted by Gamlet's fist

Al and Oli- Thank you

Gam- Now, where were we?

All take an aggressive stance and point at someone

All together- You were accusing me of being an imposter, you imposter!

Oli- Come on people, I am obviously the real Hamlet! Do you not sense my contemplative nature? I truly am the man who gave birth to modern man! A philosopher, a tender soul, a torn soul, reluctantly forced into action

Gamlet- (while pretending to clear his throat) Woman!

Oli- Leave it to some testosterone addicted Russian action junky to think he is the real Hamlet. Where is your vulnerability? Where is your indecisiveness? If you are Hamlet then why are you so confident?

Gam- Maybe because your version is false? Maybe because he was created by the British to compensate for not being French?

Al- Maybe because your Hamlet is deluded by his secular values! I am guided by GOD in my actions and I bring his words to purge this land of sin

Oli- Interesting. And God told you to turn a mosque into a war-zone? And if you took power, what would you do?

Al- Create a state based upon the purity of the faith! Create a land where Morality reigns triumphant!

Oli- So, you are going to recreate Somalia

Al- No, completely different

Oli- Afghanistan

Al- No, I will do a far better job than those ignorant Pashtuns

Oli- Iran

Al- (gets flustered) Well Mr. British know it all (is there any other kind?), what is YOUR grand plan for what happens after you kill Claudius?

Oli- I really have not thought much about that, probably take power, I guess. Oh God, making decisions can be so difficult sometimes.

Meh- (having recovered) What difference does it make? This is an endless cycle of brother against brother.

Gam goes to punch him again, but Al cuts in

Al- Allow me, I have to deal with him as a neighbor.

Meh collapses as 8 years of frustration is condensed into one blow

Gam- So you plan on becoming king even though you took eons just to decided if getting mad because someone killed your father was the right thing to do.

Oli- Oh shut up, like your ideal state is going to be a paradise. (takes a pause and collects himself) I hate to say this, but you're right. Problem is, Claudius is not that bad of a ruler.


Oli- He did deal with the whole Fortinbras situation quite nicely. Though he is kind of pushy, he does take advice.

Al- You are as blind as you are arrogant! Claudius is a corrupt lackey of foreign powers whose only purpose is to get rich!

Gam- No, the real Claudius is an independent dictator! He is no lackey.

Oli- Who really knows, I guess it all depends on the version you see-

He is interrupted by a massive crash


Gam- Probably some workers tearing down that old building outside. I noticed that they had taken down three of the walls when I was walking in, that was probably the fourth one being destroyed.

Oli- Oh, its only the fourth wall being smashed into pieces, that makes sense. As I was saying, it all depends on the version you see, of which mine is obviously the right one, considering that I am the original.

Al+ Gam- Oh?

Oli- Centuries of scholarly tradition can't be wrong.

Gam- Tell that to the alchemists. You do know that there are two "original" versions of the play, right? And that the second has to be edited in order to be producible?

Oli- (stammering as his world is shattered) But, but I have big scholars on my side! They have written big books, with, with fancy names! I have the longest tradition! I, I, I'm English, that obviously makes the the right one by default!

Al- “Right one by default”, you're English all right. But just because people have interpreted you that way for centuries does not make it right.

From offstage a voice with a German accent states

Ger- I beg to differ

He walks into the room dressed in the purist of white.

Ger- Your pitiful arguments are meaningless, for the real Hamlet, the German Hamlet has arrived! Is it not clear that Hamlet represents the German nations? Is it not clear that his choices are the same as those faced by Prussia? Is it not clear that I would do all I could, if there only were not powers holding my perfection back? Run along kids, the adults have nation building to do.

Al- It's always white men in white suits! God, you really need to be more creative when creating trouble for me.

Intercoms magically appear in the room and proclaim:

“Thou shalt not make demands of the one whom is already irritated by your misguided fanboy-ness”

Al- Sorry for all that, I guess I have been getting presumptuous again. I am sorry that I have disappointed thou a second time.

Intercom- Oh, HELL NO! You did not just thou me!

Al- (terrified and incredibly surprised) i-i-i-is it n-n-n-not the more formal way m-m-m-my Lord?

Intercom- No, that's you.

Al- I always thought that it was the other way around.

Intercom- Ugh. damned pop culture (Oli realizes that he really should not have that skull with him and drops it), I have got to deal with it one of these days. Anyway, just don't do it again and please stop using my name as an excuse to avoid dealing with your women issues. (the others start to snicker) That goes for the rest of you too! I created them as a partner for you losers and all you do is blame all of your insecurities on them. Your mom remarried, get over it! Ugh, and the angels always wonder why I have a headache! Bloody irritating wanna be philosophers (The voice trails off into muttering)

Ger- Now that that's over, I still see several people pretending to be me in this room. Did I not just tell you to go away?

The others glare at him

Ger- Why are you staying? Is it not obvious that the prince of Denmark is really German? Hell, Denmark pretty much exists depending on my whims. Only I have the combination of philosophical nature and will to act that makes up the real Hamlet!

Oli- You impudent kraut! I AM THE PHILOSOPHER KING! The mantle of the real Hamlet you can try to take, but hands off my role as the philosophical Hamlet!

Ger- Silly Englishman, you were born from a misinterpretation of the texts


Ger- Wrote them incorrectly, as for the rest of you: (turns to Gamlet) Russian, go home, this is for multi dimensional characters only. (turns to the staggering Meh) You are an indecisive weakling with nothing but some bullcrap philosophy. Just go to a monastery. (turns to Al) As for you, I have no need for your religious extremism. You are nothing but another dictator in the making. Go home, the German nation has nothing to do with people who will refuse to assimilate.

Al- Have you seen the German nation these days?

Ger- As if you are one to talk about national problems

Al- At least I have God.

Ger- Did you not read version from which I come? I am perfect! Why would I need a god?

Meh- (who has approached him from behind) Because of me. (punches him) You can claim to be the real Hamlet. (punches him again) You can call me weak. (again) You can call me indecisive. (again) You can call me useless. (again) But. (again) Don't. (again) Insult. (again) The. (again) Philosophy! (final punch)

The rest stand still and gape at what seems to be a demon in a bath robe.

Meh- Wow, so this is what doing something feels like. Feels pretty damn good. Okay, time to take my bath, kill Claudius and reconcile with Ophelia. About damn time I got my act together.

He exits offstage

There is a pause for a few seconds

Oli- What just happened?

Al- Something that would have been really useful 43 years ago.

Gam- We still have not settled on who is the real Hamlet and thus the one who gets to kill Claudius.

(Offstage)- Okay, on three we stab him. One, two, thr-OH GOD! He just shattered my sword with his fist!

The rest don't realize what's happening

Oli- Are we ever going to?

(Offstage)- MY BLOOD! He just punched out all my blood!

Al- Probably not, why try? None of us are really complete considering how many versions there are. The only aspect we all share is the desire to kill Claudius

(Offstage)- Guards, defend the King!

Gam- I am beginning to question even that. Considering what we have done, are we in any position to be considering ourselves the good guys?

(Offstage)- He just killed the guards! RUN, YOU FOOLS!

They are too busy discussing the philosophical nature of what it means to be the real them to notice that Claudius and some guards have run past them and made their stand next to the throne

Al- Yeah, we did kind of drive the lady who we loved to commit suicide.

Meh purposefully walks into the room, covered in blood and wielding two swords. He is wearing a pair of pants and the tattered remains of his now blood drenched bathrobe.

Meh- Claudius! You killed my father, tried to rape the one who I love, turned this kingdom into a prison state and ruined a bath to which I have been looking forward to for several days! Prepare to die!

The rest are completely lost in self contemplation.

Oli- And really hurt mom, who was just trying to look out for us

They are too consumed by the conversation to notice that the guards have been swiftly dispatched by Meh in a way so graceful that it would bring Bruce Lee to tears

Gam- Plus, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern really did not have to die. Rosey was going to be married in a few weeks!

Meh approaches the king with his bathrobe flapping behind him quite heroically

Meh- Your reign of terror ends now. Maybe, two sarcastic grave diggers will philosophize over your skull. (Decapitates Claudius) Lets spare the audience another one of those scenes (throws head out the window)

The rest are still ignorant of what was happening

Al- Let's face it guys, we really have not done much good over the past few days or months or years. None of us are going to make good rulers and quite frankly we have probably killed more innocents than the King. It would probably be best if we just let go of this. Let's forget the whole thing and get something to eat, all of this is making me hungry.

Gam- I know a great fish place near here, I'll pay.

Oli- Amen to that

All three of them walk out and don't notice Ophelia walking in, which is quite a shame considering that she is very pretty. And it would also be a good time to apologize for being a complete asshole to different versions of her.

Ophelia- What was all of that noise? Hamlet what are you doing here? I thought I told you to go to a leave and never come ba-

She is interrupted by Meh passionately kissing her. There is a rather long pause as both people try and fail to regain full composure.

Ophelia- You can keep my letters. Just one thing, what happened to you?

Meh- It's a long story. Now, if you don't mind, there has been a nice bath in my future for quite some time now and it is about damn time it moves into my present.

They begin to walk out of the throne room when they run into Laertes who for some reason is naked and purple.

Meh- Already took care of it.

The End!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Student email dialogue with Sulayman Al-Bassam

While the author's insights into his work are never definitive, they are often very useful.  Alexandre and Kalina initiated the email exchange below as part of their "contexts, subtexts & intertexts" presentation during our class's reading and viewing of Al-Bassam's "Al-Hamlet Summit."

On 16 Nov 2010, at 15:03, amptod wrote:

As-Salamu Alaykum, Mr. Al Bassam,

Our names are Kalina Nikolova and Alexandre Todorov. We are students at Boston University, and are taking the Global Shakespeares Course offered here by Professor Margaret Litvin. We are writing to you today to ask you some questions about your play The Al-Hamlet Summit. We thank you in advance for taking time to converse with us.

Our list of questions:

1.What inspired you to create the “horse of war” scene? Did you intend for it to be an interpretation of the troupe-play that Hamlet wanted performed for Claudius?

2. Why did you decide to use the five daily prayers as a way to order the acts? Could you give us some more insight on the moods they are supposed to convey?

3.When Laertes and Ophelia converse in Act I, they seem to be sexually charged towards one another. The conversation and sexual annotations seem similar to those between Hamlet and his mother. In your point of view, was this a natural progression of the original relationship between Laertes and Ophelia in Hamlet, or were you adding a new dimension to Laertes?

4.Is there symbolism the color of the clothing decided for each actor? In particular, the while suit that the Arms Dealer (who is an excellent character) is wearing, is there an underlying message behind his clothing? He seems less of a devil figure, and more a western Djinn, who grants wishes, is this representation just a matter of perspective, or was it intentional? Is there personality or group that had an especially large influence on your creation of him, or is he an overall representative of the groups playing for power in the Middle East?

5. Hamlet's father is almost absent in the al-Hamlet Summit, the most we hear of him is that there were less whores back when his father was in power. Is this consecutive with the general theme of the endless cycle (Claudius has grand plans, fails, Hamlet's attempts at
reforming the system start a civil war which fails, Fortinbras fails to announce his plan)?

6.Claudius seems to define God as he defines himself (corrupt, deceiving), while Hamlet defines himself through God (bringing back morality and purity). What does this juxtaposition really symbolize?

7.Ophelia seems to almost merge with Horatio in the al-Hamlet Summit, was this intentional? Also, if it was, what made you want to merge their characters?

Thank you very much for your replies and for your willingness to answer our questions.

Thank You,

Kalina Nikolova and Alexandre Todorov

On 11/20/2010 2:23 PM, sulayman al bassam wrote:

Kalina and Alexandre,
Here are some answers to your questions.

1. The Horse of War:
Yes, this scene is an adaptive riff on the play within the play, "The Mousetrap", that Hamlet presents in order to expose Claudius' guilt before the assembled spectators.
I wanted to create a scene that would mirror the heightened theatricality of the play within the play structure, without having to rely on the classical references used in the Shakespeare- Phyrrus, Hecuba etc.
This is achieved through the context of a farewell party that the court has arranged for Hamlet with its heightened 'public' atmosphere of sandwiches, cocktails and- most importantly- live public broadcast. Hamlet arrives dressed entirely inappropriately in a warrior costume, riding a hobby horse. He is making a spoof on the epic literary tradition of the noble Arab warrior / horseman. This tradition replaces the Greek / Classical one in the original. Hamlet then proceeds to use the public platform provided by the farewell party to give voice to his various obsessions, fantasies and suspicions.

2. The timeline of the events in the play stretches over several days or several months, it's not specified. The act names are indicators of mood, as you suggest, but also provide a metaphorical temporal structure for the development of the action over a single unit of time- a mythical day and night. The atmospheres of the acts are carried essentially by the rhythm of the scenes, but the act names - their associated prayer times in equatorial countries- describes for me describe a quality of light it's principally the quality of light, half light, bright light, warm light, twilight, darkness....

3. The charged linguistic sexual tension between Laertes and Ophelia was suggested to me by the original text in A.1 sc.3 of Shakespeare
.... your chaste treasure open
To his unmast'red importunity.(35)
.... keep you in the rear of your affection, etc
In an Arab linguistic and social context the vividness of Laertes' sexual imagery does not necessarily entail sexual intention on Laertes' part, though this is ambiguous....He wants to frighten and shock her.

4. White pinstriped suit- the perfect outfit for a post-colonial opportunist in a hot climate!. The Arms Dealer is the kind of character that turns up in Joseph Conrad's novels, equally he has a cheap thrill Ian Fleming- Bond element to him, too. In earlier production this role was played by a woman, which I found interesting. Costumes in my productions of the piece tended mostly towards the naturalistic, so no outright symbolism there. Gertrude wore peacock feathers- Ophelia had a flower in her dress...

5. Hamlet's father is referred to several times-
The Arms Dealer, act 1 : Your father was a great man; the world is not the same for his loss.
Gertrude refers to him, ac t 4 (Hamlet: He murdered my father! Gertrude: Your father died of his own failures! )

What I think is worth considering is how the function of the Ghost is taken over by the Arms Dealer
The unreliability of the ghost as narrator, becomes the unreliability of the Arms Dealer.
The psychological instability proposed by the Ghost becomes a concrete political agenda in the hands of the Arms Dealer.

6. They are different readings of power:
Claudius defines power (God) as a material structure built on corruption, betrayal, sordidness.
Hamlet defines power as an ideological structure built on faith, purity, heritage.
These are the two sides of the contradiction that envelops the Arab World's political structures today: on the one hand we have corrupt, autocratic, mostly western supported rulers that are running the countries into the ground and on the other hand, we have radical Islamist parties proposing moral and social systems that do not reflect the aspirations of the people.

7. Horatio was superfluous to the needs of the adapted text.
Laertes, Ophelia and the Arms Dealer all provide Hamlet with types of companionship.

Best wishes to your class and Professor Margaret,

Sulayman al Bassam

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Some clips from earlier, English-language Al-Hamlet Summit

Here's a 17-minute promo montage of the earlier, English-language version of Sulayman Al-Bassam's Al-Hamlet Summit. This version features Neil Edmond as Hamlet, Nigel Barrett as Claudius (you'll recognize him as the Arms Dealer of the Arabic version), Tea Alagic as Ophelia, Olivia Williams as Gertrude, and Simon Kane as Polonius. The rest of the cast and production credits are on page 26 in the published play.
Don't be alarmed by the skipped pieces and the jumping between scenes. You can see that it's recorded during a performance. In some ways the production became sharper and more professional during its Arabic-language run, but this shows you the development process.
This first version did not include Hamlet's prayer at his father's grave (the whole open space/grave came later - it was just the "summit" setup) or the Horse of War skit. The Arms Dealer was female, played by Marlene Kaminsky. All the dialogue was in English. How would you compare it to the Arabic version? What does the mixing of languages add?

Vysotski as Hamlet

Taganka Theatre, 1971-.  A missing link between the Russian and Arab Hamlet traditions.  Lots of info here: http://www.kulichki.com/vv/eng/hamlet.html; a performance video (vintage VHS tape of him doing "To Be or Not To Be") here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NjqGhzW4eBw&feature=related:

; and a longer documentary (without subtitles but with excellent footage of that big curtain) is here: http://video.yandex.ru/users/woodyalex/view/227/.

The Taganka production used the same translation -- Boris Pasternak's -- as Kozintsev had.  See if you can recognize some of the cadences from Kozintsev's film.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

For the Arabic Hamlet plays

If you come up with questions for Sulayman Al-Bassam as you are reading and watching his Al-Hamlet Summit, please add them to this post.  I will see if we can ask him to respond!

Meanwhile, some links on the production:
An interview with Al-Bassam http://www.culturewars.org.uk/2003-01/albassam.htm

Shirley Dent: So who - or what - did you have in mind when you choose to 'strap Shakespeare's Hamlet to a theatrical warhead'?
S Al-B: That phrase was used in some of our publicity for the production. It refers to the explosive political meanings of the piece. Ironically, it also plays on the Western media's obsession with equating the idea of 'Arab' with ideas of violence or war.
More praise for the original English-language version: http://anj.or.jp/tif02/vis_program/pressreview.pdf

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Shakespeare the Rapper?

Interesting, admittedly funny and sarcastic way of making Shakespeare modern and getting our generation to appreciate him.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

To Be or Not to Be

In class today we talked about the differences between Q1 and Q2's "To Be or Not to Be" soliloquy, and how they have different focuses. This is a clever play off of Q2's version, focusing explicitly on suicide. It seemed somewhat relevant...


Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Curious about different editions of Hamlet, appropriation in different parts of the world, or just about anything else Hamlet-related?  This is the HamletWorks web site created by Bernice Kliman and colleagues. http://www.leoyan.com/global-language.com/ENFOLDED/
See also quartos.org, where you can look up and even annotate and share several different quarto texts of Hamlet.
More links and resources at Hamlet Online.  Full text with glossary links online at MIT: http://shakespeare.mit.edu/hamlet/.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Intergallactic Shakespeares: Hamlet in Klingon

Cute Comic about Hamlet

BU Shakespeare Society

Their fall show (a "Shakespearean mashup") was last weekend, but stay tuned for next semester: http://people.bu.edu/bard/
Since its creation in 2003 by a small group of Shakespeare enthusiasts, the Boston University Shakespeare Society has worked tirelessly to bring the good word of the Bard to the community. The Society is certainly not your average theater group. In a few short years, we have put on ten shows, hosted trips to local plays and Renaissance festivals, and brought Shakespeare's words to the wider world. We are always looking for new members--auditions are held at the beginning of every semester.