How do different interpretations of Hamlet reflect their historical context?

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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It appears from the assignment sheet that you are being asked to think about how the same text changes in performance depending on the target audience, so that, for example, a modern film Hamlet would be quite different from the original production. Thus you have two possible strategies, either analyzing a passage of the text, along with your knowledge of the original performance, to understand Shakespeare's period, OR looking at how the film versions responded to the changing nature of the audience.

The best strategy for succeeding in this sort of assignment is first deciding on what you want to say about the vales and worldviews of an audience and then finding a passage that illustrates those points, rather than choosing the passage first and then struggling to find something to say about it (my guess is that this is why you are finding yourself stuck).

One of the major issues we see illustrated in the play is gender roles. If you choose a scene with Ophelia or Gertrude present, then you can talk about how in Shakespeare's period these roles were played by men, and use that as a way of talking about how the performance responds to audience's gender expectations (a modern version would expect females to play female roles). Next, you could talk about how costuming and other elements of staging and reflect social hierarchies (e.g. think about how Ophelia, even in her madness, or Hamlet feigning madness could not be mistaken for a rustic)

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