Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Christmas with Hamlet?
"Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes
Wherein our Savior's birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long;
And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad,
The nights are wholesome, then no planets strike,
No fairy takes nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallowed and so gracious is the time."
--Marcellus, Hamlet. Act One Scene 1
An obscure (and often cut) indirect reference to Christmas time in Hamlet. I always thought it was a bit odd to have in there. And while I don't know if what Marcellus says is true or not, I do know that as we enter the Christmas season, I am reminded of Hamlet, along with a few other of Shakespeare's plays.
I have read Hamlet in its entirety eight times. (Though not for several years, sadly.) And most of these readings were during the Christmas season.
I really have no idea why I have read Hamlet at Christmas time so often. I speculate it had a lot to do with the fact that initially, when I was in school, I had more time to sit down and just enjoy the play, as I was on a long vacation during the holiday season. Then after the first few times, it became a quasi-tradition. (Which as I mentioned, I have not kept up in recent years.)
When it wasn't Hamlet, I would sometimes read a few of the other plays. Probably because I would often get a copy of any given play as a present at Christmas, and would then read large chunks of it during the holiday. Or otherwise receive movie versions of same, and watch them.
Yet it applies mostly to Hamlet, which clearly does not take place at Christmas. However, I always saw it taking place in the cold, dark, candle lit corridors of Elsinore, where the very cold air bites shrewdly. Most of the events take place within the castle walls, providing a bit of a claustrophobic sense. At least it could be seen like that. And this image lends itself well with staying inside, out of the night and the cold and the wind, and, by tradition back then, spirits and demons and of course...ghosts. (Though of course in this case, Hamlet opts not to avoid a very particular ghost.) When viewed in this fashion on the stage in my mind, it does have a sort of Winter Solstice atmosphere to it, in a way. At least as far as the environment and the supernatural. Perhaps that also contributes to my tendency to think of the play when I think of the holidays.
It is quite possible, however, that like so many mental associations that accumulate within our distracted globes, there is no cogent explanation for it. Perhaps in the apartment building within my mind, the Hamlet (and other Shakespearean) stuff just happen to have taken up residence down the hall from some of my Christmas thoughts, and the inhabitants of both have mingled over the years. At parties or tenants meetings or some such. (I won't beat the metaphor into oblivion. You get the idea.)
It has been a disconcerting and disorienting last few weeks for me, loyal blog readers. I don't know If I will have the time to dedicate to reading the entire play before the end of the season this year. Perhaps I will try. Or perhaps I will read highlights. But in any event, there will always be that small part of my mind that thinks of the Prince of Denmark during the birth season of the Prince of Peace.