I’ve never been a big fan of the play (Hamlet) or the actor (Jude Law), but the combination promised to be well, promising, even if some critics found it rudimentary … I found Jude to be very charismatic, a physical presence, even. His Hamlet was intense, very much in control, action-oriented, an ambitious, but frustrated young man. No depressing Dane or delicate, introspective philosopher here.
And not even such a young man. I had seen Hamlet before, and always thought of him as a college student – he’s at Wittenberg — or a graduate student, one of those perpetual students working on their PhD. But Jude Law’s Hamlet seemed an older Hamlet, frustrated in his “career” path. After all, Claudius stood between him and his election. And Yorrick, the jester of Hamlet’s childhood had been dead for “three and twenty years” – something I had never focused on before. So that made Hamlet, 26? More like 28 or even 30, right, if he could recall Yorrick so well. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have that many memories before age 4 or 5.
Was it the interpretation? Or the version – this one ran 3 hours and 15 minutes, probably an hour shorter, with Ophelia a much lesser character, and her brother Laertes as well. Maybe some of the internal monologue Hamlet has with himself has been trimmed as well. But it was also the performance.
Take the scene where Claudius is confessing his sins and Hamlet contemplates killing him. In some plays, Hamlet is Gollum-like, a tortured soul, debating with himself whether to do the deed or not. Jude Law’s Hamlet decides quickly to wait, not because he’s afraid or unsure, but because he wants vengeance. And he’s waiting for the opportune moment.
Whether action is a good thing is unclear. It was a thoroughly modern interpretation, with references to the consequences of personal ambition (young Fortinbras to sacrifice 20,000 lives to his martial ambitions ….anyone else think of young George Bush at that moment?). But the encounter with Fortinbras spurs Hamlet to action and to the inevitable.
“The readiness is all” Hamlet says toward the end of the play. It was indeed in this performance.