One reason why my favorite collection of capsule film reviews is Pauline Kael’s 5001 Nights at the Movies: Expanded For The ’90s With 800 New Reviews (Holt, 960 pp., $35, paperback): Kael begins her comments on a 1969 Hamlet with, “Bearded, and with a nasal twang, Nicol Williamson is a surly Hamlet.” Hamlet with a nasal twang: what else do you need to know?
May 18, 2009
January 6, 2009
Will the bestsellerdom of the Hamlet-influenced The Story of Edgar Sawtelle lead to more fiction that nods to Shakespeare? Hard to say, in part David Wroblewski’s first novel is so long, it may leave you feeling that you’ve had your fill of the Bard for a while. But if you’d like to find more fiction inspired by the Shakespeare, you might track down the classic mystery Hamlet, Revenge!, which made the cut for Richard Shephard and Nick Rennison’s 100 Must-Read Crime Novels (A&C Black, 2006).
“For 50 years, the Oxford don J.I.M. Stewart used the pseudonym Michael Innes to publish a series of self-consciously erudite, whimsical crime stories, crammed with literary allusions and featuring the urbane and intelligent police inspector, John Appleby,” the authors say. “The best of the series, Hamlet, Revenge!, is set, like so many novels from the Golden Age of English detective fiction, against the backdrop of a country house party. During the party, an amateur production of Hamlet is staged and, at the moment Polonius is due to be stabbed behind the arras, the actor playing him, a political high flyer named Lord Auldearn, is shot dead. Inspector Appleby finds himself pursuing the murderer down the corridors of power and looking for suspects among the great and good of the land.”
Shephard and Rennison note that Innes belongs to what the novelist and critic Julian Symons once called the “farceur” school of English detective fiction, a group of books that often have improbable characters and over-the-top plots.
“No one should pick up a Michael Innes novel expecting social realism or mean streets,” the authors add, “but in books like Hamlet, Revenge! And Appleby’s End, he did create his own unmistakable word in which to unfold his fantastic and often farcical plots.”
Question of the Day: Another Hamlet-influenced novel is Iris Murdoch’s literary thriller The Black Prince. What are some of the others — good or bad — inspired by the play?
© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
September 22, 2008
A Few Words on ‘Hamlet’ — Were Your English Teachers Right When They Told You That the Prince of Denmark Was a Man of Inaction?
A lot of people may be returning to Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy now that Oprah has selected the Hamlet-influenced The Story of Edgar Sawtelle for her book club. And I may say more about that play closer to the date of the discussion of David Wroblewski’s novel. For now, I’ll mention one of the most perceptive scholarly comments I’ve read about the play: Many of us learned in school that Hamlet is “a man of inaction,” defined by his hesitations, but you could make a strong case that the opposite is true.
After becoming suspicious that his uncle killed his father in order to marry his mother, Hamlet vows revenge and devotes himself to achieving it. When traveling players arrive at Elsinore castle, he arranges quickly for them to put on a play that will confirm his beliefs, giving us the line: “…the play’s the thing/ Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.” Hamlet certainly deliberates, as in the “To be or not to be” soliloquy in which he ponders whether it’s better to live or die when we don’t know what death will bring. But it might be more accurate to describe the Prince of Denmark as contemplative, meditative, or ruminative, words that describe his thoughts, rather than as a man of “inaction,” which describes his behavior.
© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
September 3, 2008
August 28, 2008
August 27, 2008
You know how I wrote yesterday about five books I was planning to read this week while dog-sitting for literary friends? Those books are going to have to wait a day or two. My friends left behind a copy of David Wroblewski’s first novel, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (Ecco, 562 pp., $29.95) www.edgarsawtelle.com. And although I’ve been reading the over-the-top reviews of this bestseller for weeks, I’d somehow missed that – to oversimplify – this is a canine version of Hamlet in which a) Ophelia is a dog and b) the story is told partly from “Ophelia”’s point of view. Is Wroblewski’s novel closer to Shakespeare or Millie’s Book, the book former first lady Barbara Bush wrote in the voice of a White House spaniel? I will sort this out soon on One-Minute Book Reviews. To avoid missing this and other reviews, please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed.
© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.