The Antaeus Company hosts Salons every Monday to really dig into some aspect of the classics and theatre in general. They all sound really interesting, but the evening I signed up to attend immediately was Ghosts, Demonology & Fairies in Shakespeare, moderated by Armin Shimerman!
I’m a huge text analysis nerd, but even more so because Armin always puts the play in context of the society and culture (audience) for whom it was originally written. This means long-standing psychological and dramaturgical fights vanish (pun intended) when confronted with simple realities like who was in Shakespeare’s audience.
A few days beforehand, attendees were told to be familiar with Hamlet and Macbeth. Two of my favorites, so no problem. Then instructions came to familiarize ourselves with King James’ Daemonology Treatise. Fascinating stuff.
However, I don’t recommend anyone make the mistake I did, and in order to understand slightly archaic language, read it out loud while on a public bus. I wondered why people moved away from me.
So a lovely casual conversation ensued. Armin clarified at the top that we were looking at the Ghost in Hamlet and Witches/Lady Macbeth if we had time. Although not necessarily Halloween-themed, he said : “Religion for me is always spooky.”
I personally always like to remind myself before these things start about why I wanted to attend, and spend money on an evening like this. Besides the fact that Armin holds so much knowledge that I’d pay to listen to him discuss the finer attributes of taxes, I also realized that I don’t get excited about Shakespeare as much as in the past. One recent exception was two weeks ago when I watched 3 separate performances of 24th ST’s special engagement Nearly Lear, and found joy and discovery within every single viewing.*
I’ve also heard about Macbeth from Armin a few years ago when he was guest at a workshop rehearsal I directed, so I was glad we started with Hamlet.
Okay. There is no way I can properly relate to you everything we said, learned or discovered, except for this main theme that keeps running through my head:
Hamlet is a mystery.
For those of us who grew up knowing Hamlet‘s plot before ever seeing it onstage, that is hard to fathom, never mind remember. How often is a story ruined by creators forgetting that their audience doesn’t know the plot? Sad, really.
Here are some other tidbits, in no particular order:
- The Senecan Ghost: If I weren’t a Halloween curmudgeon, I might have found a way to go as one. In almost every Senecan Drama, a ghost appears in something like a white sheet (sound familiar?) and tells everyone how horrible things are and how badly we need revenge.
- There are distinct differences between how a Catholic and how a Protestant would consider/approach Hamlet’s Father’s Ghost. It actually forms the crux of the whole play, since whether the Ghost was telling the truth dictated what would happen to Hamlet if he believed him and murdered his Uncle in revenge.
- Armin: “The actor must pick one meaning [for a line] and the audience can have two. That’s poetry.” This was a throw-away line, mind you. He’s just that amazing.
- Somehow, amidst all of his religious currents, Shakespeare never got arrested. His plays linger and live in the contradiction between Catholics & Protestants at the time, but he was never thrown in jail.
- Protestants literally believe there is an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other (“My shoulder angel!” for all you Emperor’s New Groove fans).
- There is actually more to heaven and earth than can be dreampt of, or scholarized, and it is just so easy to take Shakespeare down the wrong path by remembering what you were taught vs the facts and words directly in front of you.
- Taking Joy in Shakespeare really helps fuel a creative mind.
*FULL DISCLOSURE: I am Outreach and Marketing Director for 24th ST. but am not required to include them in my blog, nor see the shows more than once. This one was really just that good.