The Many Lives of the Melancholy Dane

I love meeting people,where, the moment you meet them, there is an instant connection, a shared sense of humour and a real warmth.

I met a writer from the USA and we immediately connected. Our conversation ranged over many topics, but one in particular stayed with me and lingered in my mind because, well, its one of those insoluble things about writing, and not just about writing, but about communication. What happens when we are telling a story?


I met a writer from the USA and we immediately connected.
Our conversation ranged over many topics, but one in particular stayed with me and lingered in my mind because, well, its one of those insoluble things about writing, and not just about writing, but about communication. What happens when we are telling a story?

At this point the conversation took off and we became enmeshed in this seemingly impossible subject. We progressed from the idea of, say, a fairy story to something like Hamlet. Is there a true version of Hamlet? Which interpretation of the dilemma of the Melancholy Dane is the right one? The one that Shakespeare thought of and wrote down? I imagined him finishing a good workable draft of the play and taking it down to his troupe and saying something akin to “Right lads, I have a new play. Its going to be an
absolute cracker. But I need your full participation here.’ Well, maybe not, on second thoughts.

  Its easy to mangle a masterpiece. To handle a complex piece of delicate machinery requires intelligence, grace, insight, patience and a determination that we call character. In some ways requires genius to interpret genius, which is why there are many poor versions of Hamlet. So again I ask – was the first version of Hamlet produced by Shakespeare closest to the right one? Was it Brannagh’s version? Olivier’s? For every ‘version’ of the play, a new angle of the infinitely complex musings of the  Melancholy Dane is revealed. It is a world unto itself. There are the words that are written down. There is the intention of the author. Then there is the interpretations of the actors, the set designers, the directors and the group of actors in the particular historical context of that particular production. Then there is the individual interpretation and appreciations of the audience taking in what is going on.

So we have the many lives of Hamlet. We have a Hamlet living on multiple levels, living multiple lives in the minds of so many people across time and so many planes of existence. Hamlet in hyperspace. Hamlet in our heads. Hamlet in every copy of Shakespeare ever produced. The unread Hamlet. The original Hamlet. The cloned Hamlet.

We have James Joyce proving by algebra that Hamlet’s grandson is Shakespeare’s grandfather and that he himself is the ghost of his own father in the Scylla and Charybdis section of Ulysses. Who are we to argue? This the age of science fiction. Things are being cloned as we speak.


Personally I think there is no original Hamlet. The idea of a simple story giving a direct message is something of a misguided idea. Even the simplest fairy story carry a freight of multiple highly complex meanings, and this is why they have lasted for so very long.
Complexity might not be comfortable. Buts its here, probably to stay.

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