Good morning Dear Readers and welcome to another pseudo-JNGReads post!
Today I’ll be posting a quote, but it’s not from a piece of literature that I’ve read (or at least not recently)…it’s from a piece of literature that I saw acted and performed.
Yesterday, my brother, my boyfriend and I went to a local movie theatre to watch the National Theatre Live production of Hamlet, starring Benedict Cumberbatch. I’ve seen NT Live performances before, most notably the staging of The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall which will undoubtedly get its own blog post sometime very soon, and I have never been disappointed by the experience! I think the whole concept of the NT Live screening is brilliant: as a viewer, you get the opportunity to watch a live screening of a play or musical or ballet or opera or any such similar event from the comforts of your nearest movie theatre. So, for example, yesterday afternoon, BBG, SS and I were able to watch Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet from our suburban town in Canada, all while he was performing at the Barbican Theatre in London, England. Isn’t that just incredible?! Obviously I would’ve loved to be able to go to London and see the production live, but that sort of spontaneous travel isn’t possible for most people, and the NT Live screenings give viewers from all over the world the opportunity to participate in monumental theatre events with the utmost convenience. I already have a whole list of other NT Live screenings I’m hoping to see before the end of the year!
Now, on to a review of the play itself…
Make It So
It was just as incredible as you would expect with an actor as talented as Cumberbatch fronting the whole ensemble. He was a remarkable Hamlet! I’ve only see Hamlet performed once before, but it was a university level production…and although it was quite good, it was nothing compared to the production yesterday. Cumberbatch absolutely lived and breathed the role of Hamlet – he was so believable as the tormented Danish prince, and I could not comprehend how easily he would burst into tears and then how quickly he would collect himself and become effortlessly composed. I believed him instantly as a young man who had gone mad with grief and anger, and he was also able to infuse humour into many parts of the story. I haven’t actually read Hamlet since my final year of high school (more on this later…), but I have always loved the play and so many of the quotes replay in my mind on a regular basis. But, to hear those quotes spoken and expertly articulated by someone as skilled as Cumberbatch was truly enjoyable! Here’s one of the quotes that spoke to me so vividly yesterday (as it did when I first read the play years ago) and that was so precisely articulated by Cumberbatch as to make it more poignant than ever before:
“…there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” – Hamlet, Shakespeare
Isn’t that line just so true? Part of what I love about Hamlet’s character is the fact that he really recognizes the power of a person’s own mind – he fully realizes that the mind is a place where thoughts and worries and doubts and fears can replay constantly and without cease, and it is up to the person themself to work through these thoughts, to frame them in a way that will either be beneficial and easily overcome or in a manner that will be totally detrimental and destructive. I just love this idea! I’ve always been an introspective person, and I spend a lot of time in my own head, working things out, revisiting the same ideas over and over to get control over them and manage them…and a line like that just makes this sort of activity seem normal and necessary and healthy. It’s also helpful in that it encourages a person to be optimistic, to remember that if something seems insurmountable and difficult, it can be got over and dealt with if you just take the time to think about it and spin the negative into a positive within your own psyche. What a profound piece of advice from a troubled prince!
…is not something that there was much of in this production of Hamlet. The actors were loud, the music was forceful and the staging was lively. Every single one of the actors was so committed to their role, and the actresses who played Ophelia and Gertrude really stood out to me because they were passionate about delivering their lines and fearless about portraying their emotions. There were multiple moments when these women wept (I don’t think Ophelia ever stopped crying, to be honest!), and in moments of intense feeling and anguish, all of the actors would scream and rage in the most realistic display of emotions I’ve seen in a long time. Nothing was quiet about this play, or calm, or subtle. The stage was even filled with dirt for the entire second half of the play, and I was amazed that the actors were able to sludge around in the mud and still deliver their lines perfectly. The cast was comprised of some extremely talented professionals, and they all held their own opposite Cumberbatch…there was such strength in every performance!
And finally, I should get to today’s main quote and explain the reason why Hamlet has always touched me so deeply.
Okay, yes, Polonius is a bit of a ridiculous character. Most of the time, he’s just raving about random stuff and he makes some of the most terrible decisions in the entire play (which is saying a lot!). He’s basically like that father or grandfather figure who doesn’t really know what he’s talking about, but you listen to him to be polite…and then, occasionally, he does say something really truthful and you can’t help thinking that maybe he really was brilliant all along.
Well, I really like Polonius, and I happen to think that he provides some of the greatest moments of wisdom in the whole play. My absolute favourite quote comes from Polonius, and it is definitely a motto that everyone should live their life by.
“This above all: to thine own self be true…” – Hamlet, Shakespeare
When I first read Hamlet during grade 12, I was struggling with who I was and who I wanted to be. I had some not so supportive “friends” at the time who made me feel really guilty and insecure about a lot of aspects of my personality, and I knew that once I entered university, I had to figure out what parts of myself I wanted to keep and cherish, and what pieces were better left inside my high school’s walls. I wasn’t a partier at all in high school, I definitely did not like the idea of “hooking up”, and I still only drink on very rare occasions these days, and I found myself being criticized almost constantly because I allegedly didn’t know how to have any fun, was too obsessed with school and my grades, and thought I was too good for everybody else because of my desire to always be as responsible and mature as possible. I don’t know if as a girl in grade 12 I owed it to myself to “live a little” and go to a couple parties and not focus all of my energy into my tests and essays…I don’t know what my life would’ve been like if I had chosen a different path when my “friends” critiqued me. What I do know is that, at the time, changing my personality felt utterly impossible. I just couldn’t fathom doing things any differently because I wasn’t comfortable with the idea whatsoever. Yes, I felt tormented and there were many moments when I was even fed up with myself, almost wishing that I could’ve been the type of girl who didn’t care so much about the future and who was willing to take more risks. But, it wasn’t in my nature, and even when I desperately wanted to spend my night partying and meeting guys rather than studying, I knew that there was a reason my heart (not yet fully green, but getting there) wanted me to stay home. When I got to school on the Monday mornings after party-filled weekends, I always discovered why: I wasn’t overly fond of the stories I heard about what went on at these parties, and I was always grateful that I hadn’t been around to witness my friends or my crush or the girl or guy I had to work on a project with acting in a manner that I could only describe as foolish.
I don’t want to sound stuck up (lest my “friends” actually turn out to be right!), but I just didn’t understand the point of getting drunk and making decisions that you’d definitely regret in the morning, and I still don’t. But, oh, how I struggled with being the girl who always turned down invitations to parties, who arrived at prom by herself instead of pre-drinking (Is that what it’s even called?), who had no event to go to after graduation. I wasn’t alone without choosing to be so – I had “friends”, but I just didn’t feel like I could be 100% true to myself around them.
And, that, I was learning in my English class through the wise words of Polonius, was what I needed to do. If I wanted to live well and live fully, I had to be true to myself 100% of the time, in every circumstance. I held onto Polonius’ words as a sort of mantra – I had to believe that if I just stayed true to myself, I would one day find my niche, the place I was meant to be and the people who would love me with all my formerly unpopular opinions. And, I’m pleased to say, I did. I thrived in university, I met people who loved studying as much as I did. I was able to say proudly, No, sorry, I actually don’t drink, without seeing looks of disdain and annoyance. And, when I was invited on a trip to New York City during my third year of university to study Chaucer manuscripts at establishments like Columbia and Princeton University, I stumbled upon a beautiful silver necklace in the gift shop of the gorgeous Morgan Library with Polonius’ words engraved elegantly on it (pictured above). I knew right away that I needed the necklace – I had remained true to myself, upon Polonius’ instruction, for so many years, and I finally felt happy with and confident in the woman I was becoming.
To hear those words spoken yesterday…well, it meant a lot. Now, I’ve fully become the woman I always wanted to be and I know that it’s all down to the fact that I have always known myself.
Happy Sunday Dear Friends – stay true!
Girl with a Green Heart