Hamlet: Globe to Globe

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                                                                                                                                                                               In 2012, Globe Theatre's artistic director Dominic Dromgoole and his team came up with "a daft idea:" celebrate the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth by taking Hamlet on a two-year tour of 197 countries. In Hamlet: Globe to Globe, Dromgoole explains how the concept took shape, the logistics that were involved, and how a centuries-old play resonated with audiences around the world.

On the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth--April 23, 2014--twelve actors and four stage managers began their global trek at a breakneck speed. Flying into a new country, setting up, performing, dismantling, and moving on for nearly two years testified to the actors' stamina and perseverance. Plenty could have easily derailed this undertaking as well: an attack of Montezuma's revenge in Mexico City, for example, nearly ended them.

Hamlet possess the breathless quality of an early 20th-century travelogue. At times, the pace is frenzied, but that is partly due to the subject matter, in a sense recreating what the Globe actors must have felt during two years performing on the road. Anecdotes of kicking back (time permitting) at various tour stops provide moments of levity and respite.

How did performing Hamlet throughout the world connect disparate audiences to Shakespeare's most powerful tragedy? Dromgoole answers this in fits and spurts--when the troupe arrives in Saudi Arabia, he remarks on the large number of students attending the performance, recalling that Hamlet was also a student on leave from his studies in Wittenberg. It is unclear whether the rousing reception at curtain call was because the Saudi students made that connection or because they simply enjoyed the performance. Later, Dromgoole encounters students in a piazza, where he learns that Hamlet's disobedience thrilled them most. This is an unusual but informative interaction, and more such stories would have provided greater insight.

The troupe's visit to a refugee camp on the Syrian-Jordanian border in October 2015 received much publicity, and Dromgoole's descriptions of the conditions are powerful. But there's no sense of whether the performance left any impact on the refugees. The audience "squawked with an awkward excitement" when Hamlet tussles with Ophelia, but there's no sense of what that squawking meant. Did the Syrians connect with a play performed in a language they may not have understood? If so, what did they feel? That is the tantalizing question.

A few sections discuss the complications surrounding comprehension--a production in Mexico City relies on a less-than-reliable local translator--and it would have been interesting to learn how, if at all, the play was translated to non-English speaking audiences.

What's the takeaway? The author's love for Shakespeare is paramount, and his discussions on the minutiae of the tragedy would be valuable to any student of the Bard. While recounting a most admirable endeavor--bringing "Hamlet" to the world--Hamlet: Globe to Globe reaffirms that Shakespeare's understanding of human nature is universally timeless and needs no translation.


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Hamlet and Laertes face off in the final duel in Odeon Amphitheatre, Amman, Jordan. Credit: Sarah Lee


Hamlet: Globe to Globe, by Dominic Dromgoole; Grove Press, $27.00, 390 pages.