Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Shakespeare gets Angsty and Hormonal ( if he wasn't already)

OMG I loved John Marsden’s Hamlet and Ophelia. And I heartily thank our friends at Harper Collins Canada for throwing it my way.

Yes 92.3% of the book is angst and hormones. But isn’t 92.3% of Hamlet all angst and hormones? Seriously.

When you contemporize Hamlet ( as, you know, we are all wont to do at times ), I think the fernickity part is deciding what soliloquies to keep in and what to keep out. Well, Marsden doesn’t keep them in. Any of them. INSTEAD, he makes our melancholy teenie philosopher ponder things in modern vernacular that align with the soliloquies without actually being them.


All the fun stuff is here: Polonious, poor old sheep dogs Rosencrantz and Gildenstern, the image I never got out of my mind since grade 12 ( of the funeral meats being the wedding feast: here, Hamlet joshes to Horatio about dry finger sandwiches); Bernardo; Hamlet’s dad; Laertes ( who is a jousting virile drinker here. Suits him well); Hamlet and Horatio’s touching friendship; Gertrude’s almost promiscuous chasing of Claudius; Hamlet’s compulsive indecisiveness, the play’s the thing… is all here.

Something is rotten in the State of Denmark and it is a growing teenager’s inability to grapple with the changes of his family dynamic while deciding who he is. Ostensibly, growing into himself and his developing ( and overtly) sensual feelings for a lady of the court.

The setting, perhaps like the Branagh version, seems timeless. The opening scene with Bernardo, Horatio, Hamlet et al is not outside the castle; rather playing football.

There are strokes of the modern here but it is very hard to pinpoint the time period. The only drastic change ( since character and setting are so pitch perfect ) is the modern vernacular. Of course, one is put in mind of another angsty sensual Shakespeare adaptation, the Baz L. Romeo and Juliet of yore. Whereas that was clever in infiltrating Shakespearian dialect and imagery into modern times ( think the drug-tripped Queen Maab speech; Tybalt’s gun brand being named “sword”), Marsden’s Shakespeare is modernized language ultimately true to plot and sense and feel.

With this, Hamlet and Ophelia is given a fresh breath of revitalizing air. For all of the teenage girls who pine after brooding Edward in the Twilight series or are caught up in who will win the hand of the combat-girl in the Hunger Games, we have classic stuff to counter their insatiable appetite. Hamlet and Horatio are active and attractive young men: brooding and unsure of themselves. Ophelia is a strong woman caught in an awkward society of patriarchy and restriction.

These are flesh and blood characters. True, there is more than a bit of overt sexuality but strings through Shakespeare.

Ultimately, the perfect read for the thinking teen ages 14 and up.



Cara Powers said...

You have to check out my post today: an excerpt from Jasper Fforde's Something Rotten. Hamlet comes out into the "real" world to find out what readers think of him.

Kailana said...

So glad that you loved this because I have it sitting here to read! :)

Jess said...

Putting this one on my list. I'm never going to catch up on Books I Must Read with you around. *sigh* ;)