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Once upon a time (in April of 2010), I put up a post about Carl Sandburg's poem, "They All Want to Play Hamlet". The poem includes at its heart these lines:

Yet they all want to play Hamlet because it is sad like all actors are sad
   and to stand by an open grave with a joker’s skull in the hand and then
   to say over slow and say over slow wise, keen, beautiful words masking
   a heart that’s breaking, breaking,
This is something that calls and calls to their blood.

And I think Sandburg was onto something, because just the other evening, I caught Jude Law on The Charlie Rose Show, where, around the 24 minute mark or so, the discussion turned to Hamlet. I loved what Law had to say, and it resonated especially because I was already thinking about commitment (albeit from a much lighter sort of entertainment).

So I did what I do, and I watched and rewatched (and rewatched and rewatched . . . ) and transcribed some of their conversation for you:

LAW: I would certainly say it's the most rewarding part I've ever read or played

ROSE: Because?

LAW: Because not only do you have on paper some of the most beautiful, introspective and revealing speeches written in the English language, you also have the opportunity to imbue them with yourself. It becomes a very personal journey, so somehow you are playing a character that ultimately is a journey into your own being.

. . .

And yet also on top of that, it's just a great story. You have a great journey. You see. Faustus is a great character, with many levels that allow you to interpret – to put yourself on him - it's not a brilliant story, the way its structure kind of falls apart in the middle. Hamlet is this phenomenal journey which has every peak, every trough, you know, rhythmically worked out.

ROSE: You said once that you don't play Hamlet, Hamlet plays you.

LAW: . . . .Yes he does, because the spirit of him, as I said, it sort of tattoos itself on you for a time, for the duration of your run. And then it's passed on.

ROSE: You said to me as you sat down, for a while there you didn't go see other Hamlets because you felt like he still was within you.

LAW: . . . . Funny enough, I think Alan Rickman said that to me when I was about to play it, he said, "You won't want this play for a few years." Because, and he was right, you feel a sense of – it's not ownership - If you're playing something that taps into your emotions on that level, where you feel that you're really putting yourself out there as, in the end, a human stripped, a human revealing their sense of what it is to be a human, a character that's revealing what it is to feel alive, and to play with the idea of being alive and dead, mad, not mad, every night, I think the key's in you, that just hearing that dialogue, would open. I was a little scared of it.

Turns out that Rose's next guest was none other than Ralph Fiennes, who was also talking about Shakespeare because he stars in and directed a modern version of Coriolanus, co-starring Gerard Butler, Vanessa Redgrave, Brian Cox, and Jessica Chastain. It looks extremely violent and extremely good. (Hear that, Tessa Gratton?)

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( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 28th, 2011 03:51 pm (UTC)
Thanks for a thought provoking and eloquent post.

Elisa Kleven
Dec. 29th, 2011 02:43 am (UTC)
Re: interesting!
What a lovely compliment - thanks, Elisa!
Dec. 28th, 2011 05:36 pm (UTC)
That is the thing about commitment, isn't it? When you let it get inside you (like commitment to a book/story you're writing) - when you're done, you're still committed and it doesn't easily let you go.

Thanks for the transcription (as if watching Jude Law over & over could've been a problem! lol!)
Dec. 29th, 2011 02:44 am (UTC)
Yeah, it was really hard going, watching that beautiful face and listening to his lovely voice repeatedly . . .

Dec. 28th, 2011 06:57 pm (UTC)
Hamlet is my favorite Shakespeare play- the Hamlet/Horatio friendship dynamic is the best Shakespeare relationship of all in my opinion. Somehow I've never read Coriolanus.
Dec. 29th, 2011 02:48 am (UTC)
I have not yet read Coriolanus either, but it looks terribly bloody and violent. Although since it has Gerard Butler and Ralph Fiennes, it's also full of macho eye candy. Here's a link to the trailer.
Dec. 29th, 2011 05:22 pm (UTC)
I saw posters for it at the movie theater in Georgetown where I was seeing the opposite of emotional, thought-provoking, Hamlet like shows: Mission Impossible 4.

:D Can't wait.
Dec. 29th, 2011 09:05 pm (UTC)
I thought of you the moment I saw it.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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