The Play-before-the-Play

And so Hamlet remains for the entire time the auditorium is filling: sitting there silently as we playgoers find our seats and fumble with our cell phones and chat about this or that production we’ve seen, or what we’ve been up to since we got into town, or the trials brought about by Mom’s worsening dementia…whatever. Both times I’ve seen the show (so far) I heard someone nearby wonder aloud whether the actor on stage could hear what people were saying, and what he thought about it all. The whole business served to underscore, for me at least, the somewhat unsettling sensation that we, the audience, were the ones on stage being scrutinized, being “sifted”, not the actor. It called to mind a comment by Shakespeare critic Harold Bloom to the effect that, “we don’t read Hamlet, Hamlet reads us”.

And for a play that is (among other things) all about being observed—about having those around you trying to “pluck out the heart” of your “mystery”—what better way to locate us all, emotionally speaking, in treason-haunted Castle Elsinore?

And then the damnedest thing happened, both shows:  a good two minutes before the doors closed and the play began, the theatre went absolutely silent in anticipation.

I’ve never seen that before, and it was a shiver-inducing preamble to the paranoid opening question posed by the playwright: “Who’s there?”

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Categories: BardStage and Hamlet.

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