Tag Archives: shakespeare

Inspired by Shakespeare: Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

24 Nov


As a creative and artistic high school student, I was naturally drawn to the Drama Club and became smitten with theater when I was cast as Christopher Robin in “Winnie the Pooh” and then as the Emcee in “Cabaret.” Many other leading dramatic roles followed throughout high school, which cemented by lifelong love for theater. And in college, while majoring in English Literature, I developed an ardent passion for Shakespeare, which I studied for a year. I even had the opportunity to spend a summer abroad at King’s College in London intensely studying Shakespeare and did an internship at the Globe Theatre. A rewarding and exhilarating experience that has remained etched in my memory all these years later. So, when I learned that the award-winning Irish-British novelist Maggie O’Farrell had written the historical novel “Hamnet: A Novel of the Plague,” I knew that I had to read it, because it combined my fervent love of theater and Shakespeare.

This compelling and mesmerizing novel focuses on the untimely death of Shakespeare’s beloved son Hamnet, a name interchangeable with Hamlet, in 15th century Great Britain. Much like today’s COVID 19 Pandemic, England was ravaged by the Bubonic Plague in the 15th century and approximately 5 million people perished. According to the story, Hamnet was one of the young, innocent victims who succumbed to the plague. However, the plague is merely a backdrop in this deeply moving novel about a young, penniless Latin tutor (Shakespeare, although the author never refers to him by name) who falls in love with Agnes, a wild, eccentric and headstrong young woman who is known throughout the countryside for her unusual gifts as a healer. She has a better understanding of plants, herbs and potions, than she does of people. However, when she becomes pregnant, they are forced to marry, much to the dismay and disapproval of both families. She soon becomes a devoted and over-protective mother and an influential force on her young husband, whose writing career is just taking shape. After the birth of two more children, he becomes restless with family life and parts for London to pursue playwriting. The story then shifts to Agnes as she essentially raises her children alone, including the cunning, mischievous, and much favored Hamnet.

Ultimately, the story is a revealing portrait of a struggling marriage, a family ravaged with grief and loss, and a tender re-imagining of a boy whose life has been all but forgotten. How ironic, yet profoundly meaningful, that Shakespeare named his most celebrated play after his son. This novel captured my attention from the opening page and held my interest throughout. The intriguing and well-drawn characters came to life for me and the compelling story quickly transported me to another time when life was simpler, yet just as complicated, and full of hope.

Written by:
Ethan Galvin
Information and Digital Services Librarian

She’s the Man on the Twelfth Night: A Modern Movie and a Classic Play

24 Oct

In the comedy of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night it is ironic how there is a romantic happy ending but only tragedy is his romances – but that is the irony and beauty and also frustration of Shakespeare’s genres.

Now, although I’m sure while Shakespeare may have seemed ahead of his time, he would thoroughly appreciate being labeled as one of the original Rom-Com artists there were. And in this label of rom-com comes a modern twist on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night called She’s the Man. In case some were not aware – yes, Amanda Bynes’s She’s the Man was based on Shakespeare’s comedy Twelfth Night.

Now, while some of the originality of the comedic twists and satire may be lost in this modern day version, what shocked me the most was the accuracy in its depiction – while I’m aware of this contradiction this portrays, let me elucidate.

Shakespeare was very direct in his meanings – even if they seemed hidden within his plays – about sexuality, gender and love. He always found a way to get across how blurry all the lines can seem when it came to one’s identity in romance and attraction and even personality. Twelfth Night was one of those plays that all the lines were so blurred that they almost came across as very clear. It was evident that his plays were meant to entertain – just as the modern day rom-com movie interpretation – but what it also revealed was the reality of mixed identity in all of us.

What the performance reveals by way of concealing in Twelfth Night as a text, is how the way one dresses suggests the existence of a sense of “truth.” It is with this suggestion that we are presented within this “truth,” “true” identity. On the same note, it elaborates on having more than one “true” identity. It is suggested that if the true self is a performed self, then this justifies moreover that the many layers of clothing one can put on, allows them to perform – reveal – many “true selves”.

In turn, in “She’s the Man” Viola of course changes her attire to match that of Sebastian’s, but in actuality she is only putting on another layer of her true self in order to fit in and succeed in love, in identity and in life. It’s not that her true layer is a man, it’s what her true layer as a man represents within the movie, and within the play.

More so, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, or, What You Will alludes this within the second title What You Will. This suggests that what you will – will power – yourself to do is who you are at that moment. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “will” as “desire, longing, and disposition” (OED). It is in this very definition of “will” meaning “disposition” that we see another suggested implication of the title meaning. So, What You Will could possibly translate into “What You Control”, and what one controls within this play are the clothes they put on. It is the tangible covering of the different layers of clothes that each character puts on that only reveals another “costume” or performance of themselves.

It is in this act of “will” that we see Viola try to take control of her identity, of her disposition. But all this is hidden in a comedic plot line with witty quips, satiric innuendos, and “happy endings.”  Having read the play, it is interesting to see the deeper development within each scene in the film adaptation. It’s also strange to feel a sense of relation to Disney’s classic Cinderella, whom also identified and changes her future in love and personality by what she wore only for it to be stripped away at the stroke of midnight. It’s strange to see how powerfully Shakespeare was onto something way ahead of his time – and the shear fact of how one can be identified by the layer they put on, both metaphorically and literally.

If you often find Shakespeare intimidating, you can borrow a variety of accessible versions of Twelfth Night from BCCLS Libraries including the original text with a modern version side by side, a retelling in rhymed couplets for kidsa filmed version starring Helena Bonham Carter, and even a comic Manga adaptation.  Also check out our previous post on how to stop hating Shakespeare!

Written by:
Sherissa Hernandez
Adult Programming Assistant

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