Citing Shakespeare Makes You Seem Smart

Last night was the second week of the Writing Is Rewriting workshop, and I found myself once again referencing Hamlet, which makes me seem smarter than I actually am. That's the power of Shakespeare. Cite him every once in a while, and whatever you say has the air of authority and the ring of gospel truth.

We've been talking a lot about the idea of a play's thematic journey and how most plays express certain thematic ideas at the beginning and usually express nearly opposite thematic ideas at the end. And that thematic journey from beginning to end often dictates the development of the narrative, the characters, and the emotional core.

For example, one of the major themes that Hamlet tackles in its opening scenes is the necessity for revenge. By the end, of course, that idea is turned upside down, and we see that the play is about the futility of revenge. That's one of the thematic journeys of the play, of which there are many and include ideas of familial obligation, betrayal, action vs. inaction, and the very meaning of life itself.

All this reminds me that Kenneth Branagh's four-hour, word-for-word 1996 film version of Hamlet was finally released on DVD recently. It doesn't consistently keep me riveted, but a lot of it is fantastic and visually stunning, and it is undeniably gratifying in its ambition (excess?):

As bizarre (and gimmicky) it is to cast Jack Lemmon, Billy Crystal, and Robin Williams, what the hell is Gerard Depardieu doing in that movie?

Holy crap! Have you heard John Wesley Harding's absolutely brilliant five-minute song, "Hamlet," which summarizes all of the play with intelligence, irony, and wit? Hear it now!

Please note that this blog entry is not as smart as you think it is.


  1. Point out that Hamlet's letter to Ophelia references Descartes's method of doubt 20 years before Descartes invented it and you'll have 'em rolling in the aisles, thinking you're a mathematician too!

  2. Thanks for the song; it's brilliant! But I thought you hated Shakespeare....

  3. Jojo, all I have to do is SAY "Descartes," and that raises my IQ several points.

    Tim, I never said I hated Shakespeare. All I said was that if I had to choose between saving the only remaining copies of the TV show, 24, and the original folios of Shakespeare from a burning building, I would choose 24. Besides, I actually LIKE Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet and any movies that adapt Shakespeare plays into a high school setting.

  4. Reduced Shakespeare Company rocks my world.

    About three minutes into this is my favorite version ever of the play within a play.