Thursday, February 11, 2010
Hamlet hearts you
Hamletomanes, Portland has been good to you this winter. First CoHo Productions mounted a revelatory slenderizing of Shakespeare’s masterpiece, adapted by Chris Murray and directed by Kristan Seemel, using just five actors and running at a scant two hours (and running through February 20, by the way), that turned the classic into a rollercoaster ride. And now Portland author Myrlin A. Hermes (yes, that’s her real name, okay?) turns the tale inside out with her latest novel, The Lunatic, the Lover and the Poet.
Ms. Hermes dazzling sleight of hand is to give us the events that led up to the part of the Hamlet’s life familiar to us from the Bard’s version -- much of which is seen through the eyes of a student comrade of the Prince’s, better known to us as Horatio. From his perspective, much in Shakespeare’s play that begs question is answered here, often incidentally. Why was Hamlet so peremptory with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern? How did Hamlet’s royal father come to be napping alone in an orchard when death came creeping up on him, and what exactly was the poison? Did Ophelia know more than she let on? And who exactly was this Yorick that Hamlet (alas) knew so well? Even “Polonius” turns out to be a snarky nickname that explains a great deal indeed.
What makes all this so much fun is that the author insinuates these revelations so subtly that you find yourself saying: of course, now I understand. Without changing Shakespeare a jot, Ms. Hermes utterly alters our understanding of what back story (in her fevered imagination) informs characters’ actions, attitudes, and even specific utterances. In this way her book takes its place with revisionary works of fiction such as Wicked and The Wind Done Gone.
While already knowing Hamlet, or The Wizard of Oz, or Gone with the Wind will heighten your appreciation for their descendants, in all cases this isn’t actually necessary to love any of these novels -- such is the power of excellent writing and a story well told.
BONUS: Myrlin A. Hermes reads from The Lunatic, the Lover and the Poet at Powell’s Bookstore TONIGHT at 7:30 pm. I’ll be there, but of course! If the author’s histrionic skills bear any correspondence to her storytelling talent, I expect a compelling evening.