Stratford has made theatrical history, casting a black actor (Paapa Essiedu) in the role of Hamlet and featuring a predominantly black ensemble.
This casting serves as an example of literary re-negotiation, with director Simon Godwin attempting to enter the play on his own terms, shifting Shakespeare’s geographical co-ordinates from a stark Scandinavian scene to a west African dustbowl. Hamlet’s own sense of acute dislocation – the paralysis so famously encapsulated in his “To be or not to be” soliloquy – is thus re-invested with new cultural meaning.
Students applying for English Literature might consider this landmark issue as invoking the age-old debate surrounding the virtues of ‘adaptation’: has Simon Godwin performed a kind of literary violence against the playwright, dissevering the text from its original roots? Or has he enabled his audience a new, enlightening insight into Shakespearean psychology? If word-for-word faithful translations yield only dreary, academic fruit, perhaps any director’s aim is to pitch a play so that the resonances intended in an entirely different time and culture are still sparking today.
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