Auden's AdvicePoet and critic W.H. Auden once advised in his "Essay on Hamlet":  "Be suspicious of people who want to play this part."  (Of  Hamlet)  Why? 

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jeff-hauge's profile pic

jeff-hauge | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted on

I am suspicious of anyone that wants to sing "The Star Spangled Banner" in public for the same reason (or run for President, or decipher Revelation). The job should provoke humility and a healthy dose of fear.

If actors need to normally flesh out the motivation for a role, Hamlet gives the oppositie problem. They have to portray the character's hesitation in spite of a wealth of motivating factors to act.

malibrarian's profile pic

malibrarian | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

Yes, I can completely picture Daniel Day-Lewis as Hamlet - I wish he would do some Shakespeare...I think he would be wonderful!!!

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Jamie Wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted on

Hubris (overreaching pride), perhaps?  All-consuming tragedy in one's soul if one played that character, perhaps?  The sheer number of lines one has to learn to play the character???? :)

He's saying, "Be suspicious," not "Beware!!!"  And he's not saying "Be suspicious of PLAYING the part," but rather, "Be suspicious of 'want' to play this part."  So he's telling people (actors, I would assume) to suspect any desire to act out the character of Hamlet.

Okay, enough random thoughts...here is my proposal:

Auden was warning actors against two things -
1. The desire to play Hamlet could be a sign of extreme hubris as an actor.
2. The desire to play Hamlet could be a sign of some sort of melancholy or depression within the soul of that actor, and too much "becoming Hamlet" could lead them down a depressed, maybe even suicidal path in real life.

Jamie, where could I find a copy of that essay?  I'd love to read the rest of it!!

Hubris, yes, indeed.  My thoughts exactly.  You do have to wonder about someone who would want to take on such a psychologically taxing role, don't you?  (That said, wouldn't Daniel Day-Lewis be a great Hamlet???)

As to the Auden:  I have a page up with the full citation which you can find by going to this linK: 

http://blogs.enotes.com/literature-101/works-cited-hamlet/

It's been on my bookshelf for years!   

malibrarian's profile pic

malibrarian | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

Hubris (overreaching pride), perhaps?  All-consuming tragedy in one's soul if one played that character, perhaps?  The sheer number of lines one has to learn to play the character???? :)

He's saying, "Be suspicious," not "Beware!!!"  And he's not saying "Be suspicious of PLAYING the part," but rather, "Be suspicious of 'want' to play this part."  So he's telling people (actors, I would assume) to suspect any desire to act out the character of Hamlet.

Okay, enough random thoughts...here is my proposal:

Auden was warning actors against two things -
1. The desire to play Hamlet could be a sign of extreme hubris as an actor.
2. The desire to play Hamlet could be a sign of some sort of melancholy or depression within the soul of that actor, and too much "becoming Hamlet" could lead them down a depressed, maybe even suicidal path in real life.

Jamie, where could I find a copy of that essay?  I'd love to read the rest of it!!

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