Watch a New Virtual Reality Production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet: A Modern Take on a Classic Play

Often com­pared to The Tem­pest, Samuel Beck­et­t’s Endgame may have as much of Shakespeare’s Ham­let in it, though the author was unwill­ing to acknowl­edge the influ­ence to Theodor Adorno. Beck­et­t’s cen­tral char­ac­ter, the blind, aged Hamm, spends all of his time in a throne harangu­ing the oth­er three, in a gloomy place, The New York Times’ Brooks Atkin­son wrote, “some­where between life and death.” Hamm might have been the Dan­ish prince grown old and bit­ter, left with noth­ing but what Beck­ett called Shakespeare’s “fat greasy words.”

In any case, Ham­let has long been thought of as a pro­to­type of the absurd, a play where lit­tle hap­pens because its pro­tag­o­nist is too haunt­ed to have rela­tion­ships with the liv­ing or make deci­sions, a con­di­tion he com­plains about in scene after scene. Trau­ma, exis­ten­tial paral­y­sis, crip­pling doubt punc­tu­at­ed by fits of rage and violence—these are the mak­ings of the 20th cen­tu­ry anti-hero. If the play has a clas­si­cal hero, a man of action and resolve, it is, absurd­ly, a dead man, Hamlet’s father, who testi­ly declares his pur­pose in his final speech, “to whet thy almost blunt­ed pur­pose.”

Should Ham­let be turned into an immer­sive VR and aug­ment­ed real­i­ty expe­ri­ence, allow­ing view­ers to inhab­it a char­ac­ter’s point of view, they might not opt to see things as the moody, depres­sive, speechi­fy­ing prince. In Ham­let 360: Thy Father’s Spir­it, we instead get to inhab­it the ghost, who only appears in the play a hand­ful of times but still fills every scene with his glow­er­ing pres­ence. The 60-minute VR “mod­ern adap­ta­tion” is a co-pro­duc­tion of Boston’s Com­mon­wealth Shake­speare Com­pa­ny and Google.

“Both extreme­ly long by the stan­dards of vir­tu­al real­i­ty and extreme­ly short by the stan­dards of Ham­let,” writes Eliz­a­beth Har­ris at The New York Times, the film “can be watched in 3‑D using a V.R. head­set or in two dimen­sions on a desk­top or mobile device” (see it above). On a vast, dark­ened set clut­tered with fine but shab­by fur­nish­ings in heaps, glow­ing lamps, a bath­tub, and a car, actors per­form con­densed scenes while we, as ghost, freely roam about, view­ing the action in three dimen­sions, a device intend­ed to give the view­er “a sense of agency and urgency as an omni­scient observ­er, guide and par­tic­i­pant,” the pro­duc­tion notes.

The film’s cre­ators, Har­ris writes, “hope that beyond the fresh expe­ri­ence it pro­vides, it will also serve as a tool to bring great the­ater to wider audiences—and bring big­ger audi­ences to the­ater.” It may have that effect, though one might feel it priv­i­leges dig­i­tal effects over the tru­ly immer­sive, full expe­ri­ence of Shakespeare’s “fat greasy words.” It’s hard to think the “great Shake­speare­an” Beck­ett would approve, but he found lit­tle to his lik­ing.

Younger, less can­tan­ker­ous audi­ences might, how­ev­er. “Many young people’s first expe­ri­ence of Shake­speare is not all that great,” says direc­tor Steven Maler. Ham­let 360 allows the Com­mon­wealth Shake­speare Com­pa­ny to “scale up” their mis­sion to “tru­ly democ­ra­tize Shake­speare and the­ater.”  Expe­ri­ence it for your­self above or on YouTube and learn more at Boston’s WGBH, who recent­ly pre­miered the film. The actors “deliv­er pow­er­ful per­for­mances,” the PBS sta­tion writes, “that bring the play for­ward to today, mak­ing it both cur­rent and time­less.”

via The New York Times

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free Online Shake­speare Cours­es: Primers on the Bard from Oxford, Har­vard, Berke­ley & More

Google Gives You a 360° View of the Per­form­ing Arts, From the Roy­al Shake­speare Com­pa­ny to the Paris Opera Bal­let

30 Days of Shake­speare: One Read­ing of the Bard Per Day, by The New York Pub­lic Library, on the 400th Anniver­sary of His Death

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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