In Grade 10 I started becoming obsessed with Shakespeare. The chain of causality is hazy, now — surely there was more to it than a Games Magazine article — but a quick browse through my diaries from that year proves that I was in pretty deep, even before fall term was over:
October 18, 19–: …then a fun English class, where we created the greatest play ever: The Errors of Romeo and Julius III One Midsummer’s Night! Yes, I’m actually writing the play!
In fact, my newfound crush on Shakespeare loomed so large in my adolescent consciousness, it threatened to eclipse my other obsession at the time: vampires. An avid fan of Anne Rice, and a lifelong D&D player, my 15-year-old self was more than halfway convinced that it was only a matter of time before Lestat or Strahd von Zarovich showed up to carry me away from all of the pointless angst of puberty and induct me into the sweet mysteries of the undead. Eloping with Shakespeare wasn’t quite as sexy, but I was an imaginative lad, and so I quickly found a way to make my two obsessions one.
In a journal from my Grade 10 year, I have a list of “50 Things To Do Before I Die.” Number 12 is: “Stage a Vampire Hamlet.” Behind those four simple words, my mind teemed with a Dracu-load of gothic blocking ideas, design concepts, and bad-ass adaptation. At the time, I didn’t know the first thing about theatre, so most of my ideas were film-based. Either way, they were embarrassingly baroque and convoluted, but that didn’t stop me from daydreaming about them all through Math class. And Science. And Social Studies. And, heck, probably English, since Vampire Hamlet was far more interesting than A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Nothing ever came of my plans, and although my 2016 production of Hamlet will definitely emphasize the supernatural elements already present in the play, I don’t think there will be any vampires, much to my 15-year-old self’s disappointment. But now, having done a Google search for “Vampire Hamlet,” I am only mildly surprised to find that other Shakesnerds have taken my grand plan and run with it.
First, we have Hamlet the Vampire Slayer (2008). Well, there you have it, right? My vision involved a Prince of Denmark who was actually, himself, a vampire, so I can’t quite accuse writers Aaron Frale and Jason Witter of ripping off my daydreams. Yet I don’t think I could have done much better than this plot summary, particularly since I had the absurd notion that a “Vampire Hamlet” was a concept that deserved to be taken seriously, something Frale and Witter obviously don’t feel:
Hamlet is haunted by the possibility that his Latin Lover Uncle Claudio is a vampire who murdered Hamlet’s father in order to become king and seduce Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude. As the obvious truth slaps Hamlet in the face, he must suppress his desires to become a male cheerleader, and face the fact that he is the chosen one who must face the demons of darkness. Along the way, he is aided by his faithful friend Horatio, The Playa King, and two of Europe’s finest vampire slayers, Othello and MacBeth. Hamlet’s path is obstacled by his frat-buddies-turned-bloodsuckers, Rosenchad and Guildenbrad, and his insane, obsessed girlfriend, Ophelia, and her bad ass cheerleading brother, Laertes. In the end, it all comes down to a battle of vampires and wits, as Hamlet and Laertes dual it out in a no-holds-barred, male cheerleading dance off that can only end in one thing – DEATH!!!
I haven’t seen Hamlet the Vampire Slayer, but having read that summary, I feel as if I don’t really need to. In high school, I thought Shakespearean mash-ups were a terrific idea; now, I wince at the thought of a Hamlet adaptation — even one as self-consciously ridiculous as this one — bending to include Othello and Macbeth. The male cheerleeading dance-off could be fun, though.
For a much more refined-sounding postmodern deconstruction of Hamlet, we have Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead (2009), a play within a film about a play based on a play. Though lacking the Glee sensibilities and homoerotic overtones of the first film, R&G are Undead seems cleverer by a significant margin. The plot summaries online clearly don’t do it justice as they struggle to explain the meta-narrative; suffice it to say, there are vampires, actors, and lotharios, and something about the quest for the Holy Grail. Sign me up!
The film also apparently has a faux blog tie-in, called The Shakespiracy, with laughably bad video lectures about the centuries-old links between Shakespeare, the Rosicrusians, and the undead. Dan Brown, eat your heart out!
“But,” my 15-year-old inner minigoth protests, “Vampires aren’t supposed to be fun!” I had to hunt a bit harder for a vampire/Hamlet mash-up that took itself seriously, but I found it, sort of, in a film which I’ve actually seen and can recommend: Only Lovers Left Alive (2013), Jim Jarmusch’s indie spin on immortal bloodsuckers as drug-addled faded rock stars. No, it’s not an adaptation or even a parody of Hamlet — if anything, it evokes the world-weary, inebriated denial of Antony and Cleopatra. But one of the stars, Tom Hiddleston, does liken his vampire character to the Dane in an interview with The Star:
Hiddleston said he was inspired by his character’s “sad disillusioned spirit” to reread Hamlet — also taking a cue from a character in the script — and found “so many of these lines could have been said by Adam,” before quoting several of the Danish prince’s speeches.
I suppose that may just have been Hiddleston’s excuse to quote some great Shakespeare in the middle of a boring interview, but thinking back on the film now, I can certainly see how Hiddleston is channeling, if not the quintessence of Hamlet, then at least his pop-culture distillation: moody, introspective, hesitant, impulsive, and ultimately motivated by passion, almost to the point of his own destruction. It’s a fine film, and I recommend it not necessarily for Shakespeare fans, but more for undead aficionados who can’t stomach the Twilight generation of vamps.
The question remains: would Hamlet have made a good vampire? He does promise to “drink hot blood,” and at one point counsels Polonius not to let his daughter “walk in the sun.” Or, if Hamlet would make a disappointing bloodsucker, which Shakespearean character(s) would be better?