That’s the Question: Where to Start?


Does Shakespeare know the answers? Maybe, but he’s not telling. Jerk.

I’m taking a quick break from the Line by Line project to stoke the stove for one of my other ambitions here on Maple Danish: tackling the Big Questions of Hamlet, one interrobang at a time. I have no illusions that I’ll actually be able to answer any of them, of course. But it will be fun to try.

Back-tracking for a moment: one of the inspirations for this blog was, oddly enough, a podcast called Serial. Produced by This American Life, Serial was a breakaway hit in 2014, bringing thousands of new listeners (including myself) into the world of podcasts, and even inspiring coverage (and spoofing) by The New Yorker, The Colbert Report, and SNL. I loved the slow-burning psychological mystery of Serial, which applied new investigative techniques to a 15-year-old murder case in Baltimore, Maryland. I especially liked the way that Serial‘s success changed its own shape and direction, since new listeners contributed theories and even evidence prior to the series’ finale.

But most of all, I loved the fact that listeners (again, myself included) were on the edge of their seats, listening to an unfolding investigation of a done deal. If anyone was expecting a Hollywood twist ending, they were to be sorely disappointed. The series didn’t even really declare a firm opinion about the evidence. The myriad of questions that orbited around Serial might have been given voice by the narrator, Sarah Koenig, but those questions were essentially listener-constructed, and ultimately they were listener-answered, too.

Before I settled on the written medium of the blog, I considered launching a podcast about Hamlet which would emulate the forensic/documentary style of Serial. For all the obvious differences, it seemed like a snug fit: to re-open the 400-year-old cold case of Shakespeare’s play, replete with gaps, inconsistencies, and huge unanswered questions. I imagined phony interviews with characters from the play, or with long-dead contemporaries of Shakespeare (borrowing here from another favourite podcast of mine, the Dead Authors Podcast). I thought it would be fun to rake scholars over the coals by pointing out the inconsistencies in their own theories and explanations. And most of all, I loved the notion of turning those big questions out, to an invisible audience, and hopefully making them once again the subject of heated debate.

Maybe the podcast is a great idea whose time has not yet come. In the meantime, I’m hoping to duplicate at least some of that here — although I don’t think I can do it alone. Before I crack any centuries-old cans of worms, I’d be very interested to see if anyone out there has their own Big Questions about Hamlet. They could be anything, really, from minor inconsistencies that always bugged you, to big over-arching questions about characters’ motivations, attitudes, or sanity (or lack thereof). Perhaps there’s a specific film or theatrical interpretation you’d like to take issue with? Or maybe you’re a Shakespeare detractor who’s stumbled onto this blog, thinking it’s about pastry recipes, and your question is, simply: “What’s the big deal about Hamlet??”

No question is too small, or too huge. When you think about Hamlet, what questions come to mind?

Asked and Answered: Hamlet Had Tennis Elbow


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