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Reviews (FJM)

from Reviews (FJM)
concerning Hamlet, prince de Danemark

     I don't know what critic ventured the opinion Dumas version was a comedy. That put me off even looking at it, for years. I'm sure whoever said it didn't read the play or see it performed. When one great dramatist reworks a play by another great dramatist he should be given a hearing. Even if you do not like the changes Dumas has made, they were carefully chosen and by an expert craftsman of the theatre and should not be cavalierly dismissed.
     Basically, what Dumas has done is to streamline the play, cutting some of the self-indulgent material Shakespeare has included. He pares down the play while sticking to the main plot. Some actions are moved forward without any violence to the story line and he cuts a few characters out. Until the ending, most of the changes are largely dictated by the need to limit the number of set changes. Elizabethans, with their perfunctory notions of set, bothered themselves very little about set changes. They were virtually unnecessary. By the 19th century, however, the elaborate sets forced playwrights to try to configure the action of the play into as few changes of set as possible. The playwright attempts to get as much action into a single scene as possible. This has the beneficial result of holding the attention of the audience, by not interrupting their limited attention span with frequent set changes. If a set change takes too long, or happens too often, the audience tends to lose interest and lose the thread of the story. This also tends to make modern plays a little more thoughtfully written from the point of view of staging them.
     Dumas' final changes seem to me to reflect a more modern point of view about the ending, although he brings back the Ghost of Hamlet's father as a kind of Deus ex machina to tidy things up at the end. Having kept the ghost at the begining I imagine he felt, in for a nickle, in for a dime. The ghost metes out punishment to Laertes, The Queen, and the King. He more or less umpires the holocaust at the end, with commentary. This allows Dumas to end the play where it really ends, and doesn't have to bring in Fortinbras. The one significant change he makes is that Hamlet survives. The Queen, The King, and Laertes die as in Shakespeare, perhaps a little more tidily. In Shakespeare they drop off like flies. Dumas provides a little more space in between.
     What about letting Hamlet live? I don't think Dumas did this because he was shy of killing off his hero. Dumas kills off his heroes often enough in many of his plays. I think, on consideration, he felt Hamlet's plight was worse if he had to face the horror of what happened. After all, Hamlet's death in Shakespeare is not a suicide but the result of treachery, therefore, his death is not necessarily required by a character flaw. He dies because Laertes poisoned foil pricks him. I think Dumas said "Wouldn't it be worse to survive?" Anyway, it's no comedy. And it's a strong tight ending. It is very instructive, if nothing else to compare it to Shakespeare's version. I'm glad I translated it. I had always thought it was of little worth. I no longer think so.


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