Monday, August 24, 2009


In my Shakespeare studies, I came across something surprising: hats can talk; they have a language; they can say things.

First off, it’s a bit of a surprise to learn that in Will Shakespeare.’s day people wore their hats indoors. When the Shakespeare acting company, back in the 16th century, put on “Hamlet,” as a f’rinstance, the actors all wore their hats, even though they were supposed to be inside a castle.

So modern producers of Will S.’s plays should have all their actors equipped with headgear, even for the interior scenes.

This, of course, will never happen; no one in a modern audience would understand the reason for it. But it would be authentic.

There’s a fascinating scene in “Hamlet” that points this up beautifully. In Act 5 Osric, a foppish messenger, comes to Prince Hamlet with a message. As is to be expected, he removes his hat – after all, he’s speaking to a Prince.

Hamlet then chides Osric for having his hat off. Modern audiences usually find this scene difficult to understand; isn’t Osric supposed to have his hat off when speaking to royalty?

Well, it’s complicated. Hamlet knows Osric should remove his hat when he first addresses him; that’s normal protocol. But then he should put his hat right back on -- wearing a hat indoors (see above) is normal. So when Osric, in spite of Hamlet’s order to put his hat back on, keeps his hat off, the Prince gets irked. An expected show of respect for authority is now being irritatingly overdone; Hamlet suspects the sincerity of such exaggerated obsequiousness.

Do you think that today it's possible to wear a hat that can convey a message?


French Fancy... said...

Is Osric the character that Robin Williams plays in Branagh's masterpiece (one of my all time favourite films)? If so then I think it is a serious piece of miscasting. Not because I don't like RW - he's okay now and then - but just because it seems such a gauche performance.

Berowne said...

Yes, he played Osric. If you think that was miscasting, how about Jack Lemmon, who could play just about anything? But maybe not Shakespeare. I guess Ken Branagh wanted to sell at least a few tickets to Yankees so he had these American names added to the mix. Billy Crystal, anyone?
And I still haven't gotten over Gerard Depardieu in the lineup.
But the piece of resistance, as far as Shakespeare miscasting is concerned, was Romeo and Juliette with Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio. Listening to him do Shakespeare's lines in voice-over was worth twice the price of admission -- to get out.
As for Claire, though she was good in "R&J," it's obvious that anyone with the name "Danes" was born to do "Hamlet."

French Fancy... said...

Hahaha - re Danes.

Yes, totally agree with all your points, although I am very very fond of Jack Lemmon and will forgive him this Bardic appearance.

The 'Odd Couple' is on our constant watch list at Chez FF.

Berowne said...

Mentioning the Odd Couple caused me to think of Tony Randall -- smooth segue. At the age of nearly 80 he had a child; in fact, unless I much mistake, a couple of children. But they say that today 80 is the new 40.

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