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Camp Hamlet

While wandering around the moors last week I started thinking a lot about performances of nostalgia. But when I got back I realized I already wrote about that last year in this review of ‘Cantina’ and the Fitzrovia Radio Hour, so I’m not going to rehash that for you.

However, while I was (re)considering all about this nostalgia thing, dear reader, a thought occurred.  I was thinking about ways we can reframe texts–think about something like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or The Eyre Affair (which I mentioned last week): they’re not nostalgic stories spun from whole cloth as they are based on actual old stories, but neither are they old stories that we are reading to elicit a sense of nostalgia: no indeed, they are neither of these; they are something else.

And I began to think about other stories, about other ways that familiar tales can be made strange in order to look at them in new lights, to draw out new questions.  This thought that I talked about, this thought–it thrust itself forward full-formed in my mind, almost as though it had always been there, waiting for someone to pick it up from the wilds of the moor.

What if somebody played Hamlet really camp?

And I realized that this could be a new way of interrogating what is often perceived as a ponderous and dull text by legions of teenagers doing enforced reading for some kind of exam.  I mean, if someone had told me in high school (during one of the SEVERAL years that Hamlet was enforced reading–and we never even got to do Macbeth or Lear or anything once)…if someone had told me in high school that Hamlet was basically a bitchy queen who threw a melodrama fit every time people weren’t paying enough attention to him, I would have thought to myself, “Yeah…I know some of those.”  And I bet, gentle reader, that once you have thought about camp Hamlet, you will start to hear him speak, full-voiced and gestured.  And I bet further that you will not be able to get camp Hamlet out of your mind once you have thought of him.

When I got back to London from my moorish adventure (no wait…we’re discussing Hamlet here), I met a friend at Bankside–a friend who is a scholar of Shakespeare and an actor (and who may well be doing the supercoolest PhD ever…after mine, that is.)  As we meandered along from Southwark Cathedral towards Waterloo I explained about camp Hamlet.  We giggled, both of us trying to remember as many lines as we could.  “A little more than kin, and less than kind.” “Get thee to a nunnery!”  “There is more in heaven and earth, Horatio…” “Man delights not me–nor woman neither.”  We rounded the bend towards Shakespeare’s Globe with sun streaming down on us, and I sketched out the graveyard scene, this time with Hamlet and Laertes pawing at each other cattily and with great umbrage.  I couldn’t remember any of the lines at the time but in retrospect this seems a likely candidate: “Why I will fight with him upon this theme/Until my eyelids will no longer wag!”

The only problem with camp Hamlet is that he doesn’t want to go away.  He wants all the attention in the world and he isn’t going to give it up once you’ve started paying attention to him.  But is that such a bad thing?  Go on.  Let camp Hamlet live a little.

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