Writing Samples

Bad Hamlet (excerpt)

Bad Hamlet

Pictured: Tess Primack as Sarah Bernhardt. Photo by Heather Kresge.

Dr. Tennant: Now it should probably be noted that Ophelia’s onstage for the “To be or not to be” soliloquy.

Prof. McCoy: Which makes it not a soliloquy if he’s talking to her. Or if he’s performing for Claudius and Polonius’ benefit.

Dr. Tennant: He’s really quite the manipulator. You know, it makes a certain amount of sense for Hamlet to be an action star.

Prof. McCoy: Do tell.

Dr. Tennant: Well, even in the later versions he’s the man’s man.

Prof. McCoy: I wouldn’t go that far.

Dr. Tennant: Why not? He’s always running around stabbing people through curtains, jumping into graves, having swordfights . . .

Prof. McCoy: Yeah, but I don’t see why we need to call those inherently manly traits. There have been plenty of people who claim Hamlet is actually really feminine.

Dr. Tennant: Right – he’s indecisive, languid, emotional, passive–

(A skull is thrown onstage, more flashy than the rest. Everyone stops and looks at it.)

Sarah (off-stage) :
Now I could drink hot blood,
And do such bitter business, as the day
Would quake to look on!

(SARAH BERNHARDT, costumed as Hamlet, enters and strikes a pose.)

Sarah: Hamlet is passionate! Why on Earth should anyone want to watch a passive Hamlet?

Dr. Tennant: . . . Hello?

Luka: Can we help you?

Prof. McCoy: Seriously?

Sarah: I, mesdames(to Hamlets) et messieurs – am Sarah Bernhardt, the First Lady of the theatre.

Prof. McCoy: And the first Hamlet on film, in 1900.

Sarah: Le Duel d’Hamlet. Though my first turn in 1899 was considerably better.

Prof. McCoy: The critics called you “boyish.”

Sarah: Pah! He is a boy. He is a very young man, Hamlet. “For you your self Sir, should be old as I am, if like a Crab you could go backward.”

Dr. Tennant: There are textual references to Hamlet being old . . .

Prof. McCoy: Which text?

Sarah: He answers like a boy. “Where is Polonius?” “In Heaven, sent thither to see. If your messenger–”

Quarto 2: –Find him not there, seek him i’the other place–

(Sarah turns and glares at him for upstaging her.)

Quarto 2 (wilting): . . . yourself?

Sarah: But indeed, (back in character) if you find him not this month, you shall nose him as you go up the stairs to the Lobby.

Folio: He will stay till ye come.

Sarah: And the critics called me a schoolboy. Well, and well they might! He certainly behaves like one.

(HAN emerges from behind a piece of scenery, having always been there.)

Han: Don’t oversimplify it, ystäväni. (Finnish: my friend.)

(Everyone turns to look at her.)

Sarah: And you are?

Han: Han.

McCoy (in recognition): Leea Klemola. Helsinki, 1995. The Finnish punk Hamlet.

Luka: Okay, where are all these female Hamlets coming from?

Han: There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Dr. Tennant: Cute. But seriously–

Han: You may as well ask where those (waving to Q1 and Q2) came from. We’ve always been here. You just don’t pay us much mind.

Sarah: Maybe they pay you no mind.

Prof. McCoy: Maybe some academics.

Dr. Tennant: But why cast Hamlet as a woman?

Han: I am not a–

Dr. Tennant: No, no, look. I’m all in favor of gender equality and everything, but you can’t just switch things around like that. I mean, um, Miss Bernhardt–

Sarah: Monsieur.

Dr. Tennant: Why did you play Hamlet?

Sarah: I am the greatest actress of the age, and it is the greatest role in the theatre. Of course I should play it.

Prof. McCoy: That’s not really a dramaturgically strong reason.

Han: Sir, I am not a–

Dr. Tennant: I’m sorry dear, but you are.

Han: No, I am not. I’m–

Prof. McCoy: More than that. Finnish has a gender neutral pronoun. When Leea Klemola played “Han,” Hamlet was neither man nor woman. She — I mean, he-slash-she–

Han: He-slash-she? How clumsy.

Prof. McCoy: Uh, okay. Zhe?

Han: Your language is terribly inadequate for this. Call me han.

Prof. McCoy: Great, okay. Han. Han was a ruler, in love with a woman but resembling one. Han’s ambiguity was manifold. How can a son revenge a father when he doesn’t always feel like a son? Or know if zhe wants to be one?

Han (to self): My father, my country, my love… O cursed spite.

Luka: Look can we please try to stay on target here?

Dr. Tennant: This is what I’m saying! Don’t we have to have some modicum of respect for the original text? This part was written for Dick Burbage, an older man, an icon of his time. If we’re going to have three twenty-something Hamlets and play him as a

(Tennant looks from Han, then to Sarah.)

Dr. Tennant: -woman, I mean, we may as well have a man playing Ophelia!

(Beat. The MALE OPHELIA – OM – enters, looking slightly sheepish. There is no hint of playing femininity about him; he is Ophelia, and he’s a man, and that’s that.)

Dr. Tennant: Like . . . real men playing Ophelia. Not boys in dresses. Or Billy Crudup.

(OM walks straight up to Han, grabs her and kisses her forcefully. Think James Bond.)

Dr. Tennant: . . . Really.

Han: Look, theatre is a game based on roles. It doesn’t matter whether you play a part which is older than you, or younger, or the opposite sex. Hamlet was human. And very much a player.