PRODUCTION CONCEPT written by L. Wilson, dramaturg "The time is out of joint. O cursed spite That ever I was born to set it right." Hamlet is a man out of step with time. In the normal course of events, he would be enjoying college studies in Wittenberg. Instead, he is challenged by the ghost of his dead father to take revenge upon the man who murdered him. But revenge doesn't come easily to Hamlet: he hesitates, unwilling to take the spirit at his word. Director Jim Symons equates Shakespeare's world of ghosts, intrigue and madness to ones created by early 19th century writers like Edgar Allen Poe and Nikolai Gogol. These writers explored the fear of being enslaved by one's own inventions. Is the ghost an invention of the devil, a disguised evil spirit, prompting Hamlet to murder? Or is it truly his father's spirit, charging Hamlet to carry out just revenge? Conjuring a vision of the 19th century, director James Symons and his production team explore Hamlet's hesitation as well as the unique relationship of past to present. Set designer Bruce Bergner captures this chronometric image in a composite design of a 19th century clock providing a space for introspection where we see the wheels and cogs of Hamlet's mind at work. This stark monolithic structure with its deteriorating facade suggests the "rotten" castle of Elsinore. Lighting designer Julie Mack adds texture to the landscape, overlaying grid-like patterns and cool, saturated colors. Costume designer Patrick Holt firmly focuses on the seriousness and refinement of the century in his exquisite, romantic silhouettes. As Hamlet ruminates, the world around him machinates until time runs out.
Two months after the death of his father, the young Prince Hamlet witnesses the marriage of his mother Queen Gertrude to his uncle, Claudius. Hamlet shows nothing but contempt for the new King. During the nightly watch, Hamlet's trusted friend Horatio encounters a silent ghost of Hamlet's father. Hamlet, confronted with this news, joins the watch to face the restless spirit. Meanwhile, Laertes, concerned about his sister Ophelia's apparent interest in the melancholy Prince Hamlet, cautions her against pursuing a relationship. Polonius, the Lord Chamberlain and father to both Laertes and Ophelia, forbids Ophelia to see the Prince again. Later that evening, the ghost reappears but this time he reveals news concerning his untimely death. He describes how Claudius poisoned him and asks Hamlet to avenge his foul murder. Uncertain whether the ghost speaks true or is an evil spirit, Hamlet hesitates. He feigns madness and searches for proof of corruption before taking revenge. Polonius believes Hamlet suffers from madness over Ophelia. The King, Queen and Polonius devise a meeting between Hamlet and Ophelia, secretly observing the encounter. The Prince angrily rejects his supposed love. Concerned about Hamlet's troubled state of mind, the King and Queen send for his former schoolmates Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who agree to spy on the Prince. Hamlet suspects the two of collusion with the King and Queen and maintains his pretend madness. Meanwhile, a group of Players arrive at the castle of Elsinore. Hamlet solicits them to perform The Mousetrap wherein the killing of a King is performed. Hamlet carefully observes Claudius's reactions during the course of the play searching for signs of guilt. The King starts violently thereby confirming the ghost's accusation. Hamlet, sure of Claudius's culpability, begs Gertrude to stay away from tainted King. Alarmed by her son's demands, the Queen cries out causing the concealed Polonius to stir. Hamlet suspects it is the King spying behind the curtain and stabs him, realizing afterward it is the meddling Polonius. The King, fearing for his own safety, orders Hamlet to England escorted by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern who carry sealed letters demanding the Prince's execution upon arrival. En route to England, Hamlet covertly replaces the letters given to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern with new ones ordering their deaths. Laertes returns to Elsinore seeking revenge for Polonius's murder. The King and Laertes form an alliance against Hamlet and conspire to kill him in a duel by poisoning Laertes's sword. Unfortunately, Ophelia, confused and depressed by Hamlet's rejection and her father's murder, goes mad and drowns herself. Hamlet returns just in time to witness her funeral. In the climactic scene, the murderous plot of the King and Laertes is cloaked by an ostensible gaming duel in which the King has wagered that his nephew can outscore Laertes. Unbeknownst to Hamlet, he faces an unbated and poison-anointed sword in the hands of Laertes, a sword destined to bring death to more than one person before the play's end.
In the opening scene of Hamlet, Shakespeare presents a world cloaked in darkness, silently awaiting the arrival of the night watchman Bernardo who questions "Who's there?" as the clock strikes twelve. "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark." Murder, death, betrayal and treachery lurk within the "prison-house" of Elsinore. "Time is out of joint" and Hamlet has been enlisted by his father's ghost to "Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder." Hamlet has every right to revenge regicide. But, he hesitates. The question of Hamlet's delay has been the source of thousands of books, articles and essays. The Prince's own words suggest that his hesitation is prompted by his uncertainty about the nature of the ghost-it may be a satanic apparition leading him into evil. Seventeenth century critics, by contrast, saw him as a tragic, melancholy hero, a man immobilized by depression of mind or spirit. In the following century, commentators considered him a "well meaning, sensible, young man, full of perplexities." Goethe comments on the weak character of Hamlet in his Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship (1795-96) describing "A lovely, pure, noble, and most moral nature, without the strength of nerve which forms a hero, sinks beneath a burden which he cannot bear and must not cast away." Hamlet has also been characterized as a philosophic man like those in the 19th century whose reflective mind wrestles with morality. Twentieth century theorists explore the psychology of Hamlet through the eyes of Freud and Jung examining the character's relationship to his ghost father and new uncle father figure. As King Hamlet's son, young Hamlet is next in the line of succession until murder upsets that order. The Prince is now "on the clock" and the demon of time bites relentlessly at his heels. Hamlet is caught between the past and future. His duty to his father cries bloody revenge while he attempts to coolly think through the situation. The machine of his mind becomes a metaphor for reason. The progress of time suggests a natural order of events, regardless of human beings, thrusting into the future with a deterministic and threatening inevitability. Hamlet chooses madness not only as a disguise, but also as a method of arresting time while he observes the actions of the court. The uncertainty he feels about his roles as son, nephew, lover, nobleman and instrument of revenge heightens his anxiety and clouds his mind. The 19th century in particular captures the cultural anxiety of a changing world. In a time when scientific advances and the industrial revolution were rapidly changing the landscape, chroniclers express a palpable apprehension between man and machine. Writers such as H.G. Wells and Kipling set the "mechanized present against an idealized past" and comment on the anxiety that nested between them. Of particular concern was the "inner life" of a man under social pressure forced to live in a new age and the subsequent fear and doubt that plagued the mind. Shakespeare's opening line "Who's there?" echoes through the centuries. Who will appear out of the fog in our 21st century Hamlet?
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