Students pitched and designed for the concept of a Punk Rock Hamlet returning to an early 80's royal palace. All costumes, set, hair, make-up, lights, and sound were student-designed and executed. Including the 3D Printed Skull.
Original Music and Broadcasts
Students created original punk-inspired music for the original Shakespearean lyrics and also wrote broadcast reports that played between scenes, updating the audience on the progressing war and civil unrest. Filmed by the Broadcast Journalism class, with a special The View-style roundtable with pundits played by the English Department.
When is the truth more important than survival?
At our first rehearsal, I posed this question to the cast and crew as the central question of the play. When is truth and justice more important than the survival of your family, your country, or yourself? Each character has a different answer to this question, and the play refuses to make any of them seem like the right answer for long.
When is it more important that the monarchy remain stable -- with an army waiting to invade at the first sign of trouble -- than for the country to launch an investigation into the suspicious death of the previous queen?
Of course it matters if the ghost is telling the truth and Claudia killed her to take her throne. But Claudia seems to be the only one capable of keeping Denmark from sliding into war with Fortinbras, so how important is it that we bring this up now?
Of course it's awkward and awful that the widower of the late queen is already married to the new one. But is it worth tearing apart your family to point that out? When is it okay to let your father and aunt be happy together?
If you have heartbreaking news someone deserves to hear immediately, is it okay to wait until after they've dispersed the angry mob they brought to your door? Would you be brave enough to tell them everything, when pushed came to shove?
Denmark is fracturing at the seams. The very first scene tells us infamously, "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark." So, this play asks, when is it worth holding things together at any cost? When is that cost too high?
At what point does it mean ransoming our souls to the (rotten) status quo?
And at what point would it be mere selfishness to burn down the house with ourselves still inside?
This same tension -- between the value of truth, justice, and what is right; set against the very survival of institutions like the Danish monarchy -- raged in 1980s England, with the side of truth at literally any cost most dramatically represented by the punk rock movement. Last year, the returning designers and I had an irresistible thought: what if Prince Charles had come home from university as a punk rock wannabe? How would the stoic, tight-lipped, traditional House of Windsor have responded to that?
The more we developed the concept, the more I connected Hamlet's destructive tendencies with the punk rock movement. It makes it even harder to watch Hamlet refuse to trust person after person because they fail her almost-arbitrary loyalty tests, leading to disaster after disaster, in her dogged pursuit of the truth about her mother's death.
The clash of cultures also suggested why Queen Claudia, so savvy and quick on her feet with every other political situation, seems lost even trying to fathom what is going on in Hamlet's mind. How can someone banking on the support of the monarchy, for the sake of continuity, really comprehend the heir apparent sweeping into the castle determined to fight the power to uncover the truth?
The answer must lie somewhere between the two extremes -- the conservative, even fearful, tight-lipped stoicism of the monarchy and the wild, even ridiculous and destructive quest for truth in the punk rock movement. But then, so does most of the human experience.
Hamlet offers no easy answers. Even 400 years of obsessive academic study later, all we find are people -- flawed, inconsistent, eventually panicked people -- trying to find their way through the mess. People who always come back to the impossible question:
Is learning, or sharing, this truth worth the risk of losing everything?