H2016: Sorry Hamlet

Today was an incredibly long and productive day, including fight workshops, movement sessions, verse work, costume and makeup tests, and blocking a complicated scene. I could linger on any number of details, but what stuck out most for me was a recurring comment by Robert Seale, our fight director. While the actors were learning how to slap, punch, and kick one another safely on stage, they would periodically call out “Sorry!” — usually when a grab went awry or a knap failed to land. Every time, Robert would cluck his tongue and say, “So Canadian!”

It’s a cliche, of course, although especially amusing to see it come up in this context, where actors are working hard to simulate hurting each other. But it got me thinking about one of the original inspirations for this blog, and a subject that I haven’t had much opportunity to explore: the inherent Canadianness of Hamlet.

It’s not as if Canadians have any more claim to the play than any other nationality. I mean, for part of the eighteenth century, Hamlet was the poster-boy for German national identity — an English play about a Danish prince, the cornerstone of the German zeitgeist. Canada doesn’t hold anyone up to that sort of standard, with the possible exception of Tim Horton.

And yet, I think it’s worth considering if there is something about the play, and particularly about Hamlet’s character, that resonates especially with Canadians. He is not an especially polite prince, but neither is he overtly rude. He subsumes his grief and revulsion in dry wit and passive-aggressive puns; is that Canadian? Maybe I feel as if his legendary case of “analysis paralysis” stems from something akin to our perpetual national identity crisis. Hamlet hesitates to kill Claudius, even though both the Ghost and his own conscience seem convinced that it’s the right course of action. And Canadians hesitate to embrace their own greatness, even though forces from both outside and from within keep rubbing it in our faces.

Maybe I’m stretching the analogy too thin, but I feel as if Hamlet is the perfect hero only for people who don’t believe in heroes. In a time or place where traditional heroism is viewed with skepticism, there is Hamlet the Overthinker, Hamlet the Doubter, Hamlet the Holy Fool who stumbles into his revenge at the last possible moment. Canadians are too modest and conflicted about their own complicated culture to embrace a definitive course of action. We hang back and criticize, and tragedy ensues.

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