Academic journal article Shakespeare Bulletin

"Lose the Name of Action": Stillness in Post-1989 Romanian Hamlets

Academic journal article Shakespeare Bulletin

"Lose the Name of Action": Stillness in Post-1989 Romanian Hamlets

Article excerpt

In Elsinore, instructing the actors as they ready themselves to play The Murder of Gonzago, Hamlet begins by remembering other performances, other "players that I have seen play" (3.2.33-4). In New York in 1999, when Liev Schreiber as Hamlet began those instructions in Andrei Serban's production for the Public Theatre, he was literally faced with the players and performances he remembered. As he spoke, posters of Hamlets past arrived on stage like ghosts summoned by the lines:

   Ralph Fiennes, lately of Broadway, [was] there, along with the
   Public's own Sam Waterston, Kevin Kline and Diane Venora (borne by
   Ms. Venora herself, this production's Gertrude), plus the
   celluloid princelings Laurence Olivier, Mel Gibson and Kenneth
   Branagh, not to mention John Barrymore and Sarah Bernhardt.
   (Gurewitsch)

Last in this photo-parade was Schreiber himself, the image signaling to the audience that the moment it happens, performance is already a ghost of itself. Serban's project serves as my paradigm. Like the director using still photographs--both images and ghosts--to remember Hamlet, I, too, am going to track ghosts to remember Romania's Hamlets. This article studies how the first two Romanian productions of Hamlet after the 1989 revolution negotiated their relations with history, that is to say, with Hamlet's seventeenth-century heritage, four centuries of international reception of Hamlet since, and more importantly, the relatively recent Romanian past which had turned Hamlet into a Romanian-history play. More specifically, I look at how Gabor Tompa's 1997 Hamlet for the Craiova National and Ion Sapdaru's 1998 Hamlet for the Botosani State Theatre engaged explicitly with Hamlet's local history as a direct response to Hamlet's absence from post-1989 Romanian theatres.

I argue that interruption was a theatrical strategy for Tompa and Sapdaru. In their Hamlets, interruption exposed history as an accumulation of individual stories: interruption provoked the replay of such stories and was used to show theatre as remembering the past. In this sense, both productions took advantage of the interruptions readily available in Shakespeare's play. As in Shakespeare, the arrival of the Ghost in these productions interrupts the normal run of things in Elsinore, where history, under the new king Claudius, had already been rewritten; the Ghost's performance and story demand that history be remembered rightly; Hamlet interrupts life's course in Elsinore with a play devised "to set [things] right" and thus, to amend history; on the point of death, Hamlet interrupts his speech--"O! I could tell you-- / Bur let it be" (5.2.351-2)--and his pleading with Horatio (and us, "mutes and audience to these acts") to "tell" his "story" (5.2.363); Fortinbras returns with "rights of memory" (5.2.403), to, yet again, correct history.

I also argue that, unlike pre-1989 productions, Tompa's and Sapdaru's Hamlets used such interruptions and acts of remembrance to a double end: to mark their disengagement from Hamlet's history of dissent in Romania during communism (1)--the strongest Ghost that haunted them--and to (re)engage with Shakespeare's playtext. In both productions, interrupting or activating the "stillness" of the text through performance happened in three stages. In order to remember the playtext, they first exposed the pretext of staging it before 1989 as a seventeenth-century world masterpiece--thus difficult to censor--when in fact the play was used "to destabilize" the socialist "injunctions by turning [its] dramatic material into an allusive reference to the actual reality inhabited by the audience" (Shurbanov and Sokolova 14). Second, they expanded the context of remembering: both productions were surprisingly vocal about Hamlet's not being any longer a play about a nation condemned to happiness inside the communist ghetto. Breaking free from this confining geographical and temporal context, Tompa's 1997 production, I argue, rewound history to catch up with what Hamlet had missed in Romanian theatre; Sapdaru's, on the other hand, fast-forwarded history in order to locate his Hamlet in the immediate present of the Botosani theatre. …

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