Thoth Tarot (Aleister Crowley and Frieda Harris):
(image used by permission of the Ordo Templis Orientis, Secretary General/ International Headquarters,
Who are the people inhabiting this theatrical Elsinore, Hamlet's World, that kingdom turned into hell on earth by Claudius, the dark King? Like pretty much everything else in this play, they exist on several levels. Many of them are, of course, first and foremost created as highly complex individuals; and none more so than Prince Hamlet, the title character himself. But significantly, they are also archetypes – indeed, Shakespeare himself tells us so by typically just referring to them as "The King," "The Queen," etc.; and although these days the unnamed Gravemaker(s) appearing in the last act are often designated as "e'en that," or as "Gravedigger(s)," what does the Bard call them in unusual bluntness (and unlike similar characters in his other plays, such as Launcelot Gobbo in "The Merchant of Venice," Dogberry in "Much Ado About Nothing," and even the Porter in "Macbeth")? Why, "Clowns." You can't get any more direct than that, I think.
While the characters' individual properties are the features that primarily drive this tragedy's plot, as archetypes they in large part reflect those characters that a Globe Theatre audience would have expected to find in any play of their era, such as, for example, the aforementioned King, Queen, and Clown(s). Some of them, however, are also taken from other contexts: there are characters directly stemming from a real-life court environment, such as the Counsellor; others are reminiscent of chess pieces (and what is a chess board but a representation of a royal court?), such as the Pawns and the Knight, yet others are figures from the world of classic mythology and the great Greek tragedies (also a highly styled, allegory-laden context), such as Cassandra; and on the highest level of abstraction, there are even Players whose monologues and roles in the disastrous mid-tragedy "play within the play" mirror those otherwise occupied by some of the drama's principals. And, I believe, Shakespeare even found a way to insert himself and his audience – and no, I don't just mean in the more obvious (as well as highly symbolic) context associated with the "play within the play," but as veritable principals.
In this section of the website, I will be asking each member of the cast to step before the curtain for purposes of their introduction on three different levels: their individual personality, the archetype they represent, and the actor I most associate with that role; at least the way I read this play and its characters. You can, of course, start with anyone you see fit; but my suggestion would nevertheless be to stick with the order given below, because it follows a particular build-up that's crucial to my understanding of the play.
Visually, there are a number of ways you can express the multi-level existence of the play's characters – one way to do it in a movie would be to contrast highly recognisable actors in the roles of Hamlet, Claudius, the Ghost, Gertrude, Ophelia, Polonius and Laertes with lesser known faces in the other roles. A nice bit of symbolism can also be found in Grigori Kosintzev's adaptation, in that he emphasizes two key moments – Hamlet's encounter with the Ghost and Hamlet's and Horatio's return to the castle after the graveyard scene in Act V – by prefacing them by the image a clock with turning figurines, the last of which is Death. For purposes of this website, I have chosen to represent each character (or group of characters) by way of a tarot card: not necessarily because my interpretation of the play leans towards the religious or the mystic – it doesn't; and to the extent that this occasionally seems to be the case, I am merely using certain religious allegories and imagery suggested by the play itself in order to express more abstract and general ideas. But like the designation of this play's characters as "King," "Queen," "Clowns," etc., tarot cards primarily represent archetypes; and just as the play's archetypical characters, in turn, assume individual traits in the hands of the protagonists and the actors playing them, a tarot card's general meaning turns individual and specific in the course of a given reading. Whether or not you follow the card reader's advice is of course entirely up to you ... just as it is up to you whether or not you ultimately agree with my reading of this play's characters.
DISCLAIMER: Among the actors mentioned in this section of the site you'll see a fair number of pretty big names; and some of them even in what I suspect you'll find rather unexpected roles. But don't worry, I'm not delusional. Much as I honestly believe each and everyone of these actors would be perfect for the respective parts I associate with them (at least as I read those parts – and I'll explain why in each individual case), of course I don't know a single one of them in person, nor do I believe for a moment that any of them would ever consent to being rul'd by me. The sheer number of little golden statuettes and other awards represented in this group alone mandates against any such notion. (Besides, even getting half this kind of cast would probably blow even the most generous budget.) This would be my dream cast, nothing more; nothing less. And what are dreams but ambition? For the very substance of the ambitious is merely the shadow of a dream ... So take my casting choices in that spirit, and with a major grain of salt.
But now get you a place, and without any further ado ...
– Flourish [within] –
Copyright 2002 – 2009: Ulrike Böhm, all rights reserved.