Thursday, January 28, 2016

Ethan Hawke's Hamlet (2000): What's with the Hat and the Blockbuster Guy?

In Wednesday's AP English class, my students made wonderful observations about Ethan Hawke's Hamlet (2000).  I had often been struck by the peculiar nature of the Hawke's "To be or not to be..." soliloquy.  I'll be more honest: I hated the idea that Hamlet would some of his most important words in a place like Blockbuster—which, if you watch closely (or not so closely), is simply an exaggerated product placement.

You can watch the scene here, but I think this screenshot captures my former "distaste" for Hawke's version of the soliloquy well:

Liam W. observed that Hamlet's words work nicely with the setting, arguing that Hamlet asks questions as he surveys different movies and aisles.  The movies become symbolic representations of "To be or not to be," suggesting the different paths, options, and outcomes Hamlet might encounter as he chooses to act and become the revenger of the classical myth cycle we have discussed in class (aka 1) atrocity, 2) creation of the revenger, 3) atrocity).

This interpretation redeems the scene for me immensely because it shows that on top of being a huge product placement for renting at-home movies, it is also a modern construct of what it means "to be" or "not to be."

In the comments below—
1) discuss your response to Liam's observation.  I know that Ivy, Hannah, and Caroline all had interesting ideas to chime in, and I'd love to hear them again.

2) What do you think of the setting, the words, and the ideas that Hamlet is grappling with in this scene?

3) Moreover, how would you tie this scene into the the classical myth cycle (atrocity, creation of the revenger, atrocity)? How would you tie it into the theme of the outer and the inner world? Or, the idea that what happens in the external world is echoed by what is occurring in the internal world?

You do not have to answer all of these questions, but please respond as fully as you can.  I am eager to hear your thoughts on this important part of the play!
-Dr. Brigman