October 8, 2009

To Be Or Not To Be

Flipping channels a few days back, I came upon Charlie Rose's interview with Jude Law, who I learned is playing Hamlet in a Broadway production: Hamlet -  directed by Michael Grandage; in preview starting Oct 6th at the Broadhurst Theatre in NYC. The play played to much acclaim in London before this.

I have never really been exposed to much Shakespeare (other than reading highly abridged versions of the plays when I was 15) and also have not gone to Broadway plays yet. Also, if you ask me to make a list of 20 really good Hollywood actors of the 80s, 90s, and 00s, I doubt Jude Law would even make my list.

And so, it was with great surprise that as I watched the interview, I got hooked by the minute. I am not sure if it was Jude Law's passion and his way with words or what ... but I absolutely loved the interview and it inspired me to pull my copy of the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations off the book-shelf to read lines from Hamlet! (I know - the entire play can be read online, thanks to Bartleby, but I find it easier, for the purposes of finding wonderful lines, to read this book which has 9 pages worth of quotations from Hamlet.)

While it is not my intention to transcribe the lines I liked (there are so many!) here, I will post this short excerpt from the interview that talks about what is perhaps one of Hamlet's (arguably even Shakespeare's) most famous lines:
To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of disprized love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover'd country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.
And here is a section from the Charlie Rose interview, in which Rose played a short clip where Peter Brooks talks about the famous phrase.
CHARLIE ROSE:  This is Peter Brook, who is analyzing... "to be or not to be."  Here it is. 

Peter Brook:  To be or not to be, which is should I then kill myself?  Or if I live, what can I live for?  And it ends -- the thought leads to him saying, thinking too much is what gets one into trouble.  And he says that the greatest enterprises can be completely squashed by what he calls the pale cast of thought.  And Hamlet realizes that he had been thinking and thinking all this time of should he kill, shouldn’t he kill, is life right, are people like this, are people like that.  And he now realizes that there is something much simpler, whether it’s -- he likes it or not -- he has an action with his destiny, and so he says, the speech would start to be or not to be and ends with this word, action.  And from then on, everything changes. 
Brilliant! So, "To be or not to be" is not about life-and-death as it may seem but about leaving our doubts, insecurities, and questions (which Hamlet has many throughout the play!) behind and taking action!

P.S. WNYC’s Sara Fishko considered a range of approaches to Hamlet. Also learned from the page that there have been over 50 film versions of Hamlet made since 1900, making it the most filmed Shakespeare play! Embedded at the link is a youtube video of a 1913 silent film version and in the embedded audio file Fishko mentions female actress(es?) who have played the lead part in some plays!

P.P.S. Via wikipedia, comes this rendering of the "To be, or not to be" soliloquy from First Quarto (Q1) which was published In 1603 by booksellers Nicholas Ling and John Trundell. It is the so-called "bad" first Quarto.

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