MERCEDES KILLEENPROF. ESONWANNEENG435H1 S30 JANUARY 2018The Al-Hamlet-Summit: More Titus than HamletINTRODUCTIONThe most striking part of Al-Bassam’s The Al-Hamlet Summit is the dramatic choice to have Ophelia as a suicide bomber. The Al-Hamlet Summit is almost as if Hamlet were re-written to be more like Titus Andronicus: bloody, violent, and shocking.The original Hamlet explores the same basic themes as The Al-Hamlet Summit, but with a bit more subtlety. Things which Shakespeare hints at, Al-Bassam says outright. The more colloquial language in Al-Bassam’s adaptation emphasizes certain aspects of Shakespeare’s original text. The central example used in this argument will be of Gertrude’s speech to Laertes announcing Ophelia’s death—both Shakespeare and Al-Bassam’s versions.
More minor details will also be cited.Gertrude’s speech to Laertes announcing Ophelia’s death (Central example)The Al-Hamlet Summit resonates with the Shakespearean text, Hamlet, most vividly when it deviates dramatically from the original in regard to Ophelia’s death. In Shakespeare’s text, Ophelia drowns in a stream, after having wrapped herself in flowers. The reader learns of her death through a speech given by Gertrude to Laertes:There is a willow grows aslant a brookThat shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream.There with fantastic garlands did she comeOf crowflowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples,That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,But our cold maids do “dead men’s fingers” call them.There, on the pendant boughs her coronet weedsClambering to hang, an envious sliver broke,When down her weedy trophies and herselfFell in the weeping brook.
Her clothes spread wide,And mermaid-like a while they bore her up,Which time she chanted snatches of old laudsAs one incapable of her own distress,Or like a creature native and induedUnto that element. But long it could not beTill that her garments, heavy with their drink,Pulled the poor wretch from her melodious layTo muddy death.(4.7.162-180)Here, Shakespeare uses embellished language and natural imagery to create a gentle effect: Even though Gertrude is describing Ophelia’s death, the language which she uses is very drawn-out and poetic. Ophelia is characterized as submissive—She seems unable to even notice “her own distress.” Furthermore, Shakespeare writes that she “Fell in the weeping brook.” The natural imagery is again delicate: Although Ophelia dies in the brook, it doesn’t seem vicious.
Additionally, Ophelia’s garlands are described as “fantastic”—which The Oxford English Dictionary defines as “fabulous, imaginary, unreal.” (OED Online.) In The Al-Hamlet Summit, Ophelia’s death can hardly be called “fabulous.” Even though Ophelia dies in Hamlet summary, her death is a kind of “weedy trophy.” Gertrude’s speech to Laertes announcing Ophelia’s death (Central example)In The Al-Hamlet Summit, Ophelia dies as a suicide bomber, which the audience learns from a speech by Gertrude to Laertes. In Shakespeare’s original text, Gertrude’s description of Ophelia uses delicate language and imagery (i.
e. she describes Ophelia as “mermaid-like.”) Conversely, in The Al-Hamlet Summit, Gertrude’s speech is much more brutal, bloody, and striking:Your sister, Laertes.
She came into the palace when the sun fell into the trees.Her eyes were blazing and alive,her dress swollen with the wind;I went towards her and she raised her armsas if to salute the world; A button came loose off her shirt.I remember this button, Laertes,and leaning over to retrieve no..
.no- when I was there,The rolling flesh in the twitching limbs and her body was a wellI washed myself in: how hot it felt across my face,how hot her lungs, her intestines how hot,No one is exempt. Exemption is impossible.I carry my guilt, I carry it.
Am I still beautiful?(1:15:15-1:16:35)Here, Al-Bassam uses language that is more colloquial and shocking than in Shakespeare’s original text. In particular, when Gertrude says, “Her body was a well/I washed myself in: how hot it felt across my face,/how hot her lungs, her intestines how hot,” the audience is faced with details of Ophelia’s death which are both graphic and disturbing. But even so, Al-Bassam picks up on Shakespeare’s objectification of Ophelia’s death.
He references Ophelia’s original, fantastical death by giving Gertrude her final line in the speech: “Am I still beautiful?” It’s a strange choice, and it’s shocking. Even with blood on her face, Gertrude is worried about appearing palatable. One might compare this to the Act 2 Scene 4 in Titus Andronicus, when Marcus finds Lavinia, maimed, in the woods: “Speak, gentle niece, what stern ungentle handsHath lopped and hewed and made thy body bare …Alas, a crimson river of warm blood,Like to a bubbling fountain stirred with wind,Doth rise and fall between thy rosèd lips,Coming and going with thy honey breath.” (2.4.
16-27)In both passages, we have young women, maimed and bloody. The imagery of fluids is central to both, in which the flow of their blood is likened to a well, and to a fountain. The natural imagery is used to describe horrific images: of Ophelia, blown to pieces by her suicide bomb, and of Lavinia, raped and left with her tongue and arms cut off. And here we see that, again, even though Lavinia has been brutally attacked, Marcus focuses on how beautiful she is. The speech continues at length, which is especially inappropriate seeing as Lavinia’s wounds require immediate attention.In both Titus and The Al-Hamlet Summit, young female characters suffer extremely bloody wounds, and there is immense focus placed on their physical appearances even in the midst of emergencies.Existential angst in Hamlet’s soliloquies In The Al-Hamlet Summit, Hamlet says, “The self is a bitch that won’t let go.” (0:41:25-30).
This colloquial phrase, which uses profanity, captures Hamlet’s existential angst very well. It picks up on ideas mentioned in Shakespeare’s original text, such as when Hamlet says, “To be or not to be,” or when he refers to “this mortal coil.” Both versions play with the idea of selfhood and mortality. Again, concepts introduced in Hamlet are made more obvious in The Al-Hamlet Summit.Claudius’ prayer scene: Greed and RotIn The Al-Hamlet Summit, Claudius says, “Petro dollars:/ Oh God, teach me the meaning of petro dollars.
. . . I adore the stench of rotting peasants gassed with your technology,” (0:58:20-1:02:00).
This emphasizes the theme of greed and the repeated imagery of rot/rottenness from Shakespeare’s original text. Claudius’ preoccupation with “Petro dollars” is an especially resonant twist on Claudius’ original greed in a post-911 context. And the shocking line about “rotting peasants” explicitly echoes the infamous line, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” and its repeated echoes throughout the rest of the play. (The Al-Hamlet Summit was written in 2002 and this version was performed in 2004.
— MIT Global Shakespeares.) What is alluded to in the original version—Al-Bassam makes blatant in his. The Oedipus complex between Hamlet and GertrudeIn The Al-Hamlet Summit, Gertrude asks,”Do you find me attractive Hamlet? Is that it? Do you find me irresistible? You are sick!” (1:05:10-20). The infamous Oedipus complex from Shakespeare’s text is made clear and obvious, here. Al-Bassam uses colloquial language to explore this theme from Hamlet. While Shakespeare originally left his audience to come to their own conclusions about Hamlet’s relationship with Gertrude, Al-Bassam makes the Freudian undertones very explicit.
This is an interesting choice. In this case, he emphasizes the possible sexual tension present between Hamlet and Gertrude. Again, The Al-Hamlet Summit shocks its audience, harkening back to its similarities with Titus.
CONCLUDING STATEMENTSIn considering Gertrude’s speech to Laertes announcing Ophelia’s death, in both versions of Hamlet, we see how Al-Bassam’s choice to make Ophelia a suicide bomber is shocking to its audience. In considering textual details such as Gertrude’s speech, we can see how The Al-Hamlet Summit is similar to another Shakespeare play: Titus Andronicus. Both are revenge plays. Both are laden with blood and bloodiness.
Both tend to objectify women even in the midst of their traumas. Al-Bassam successfully represents and extends from Hamlet by playing up its bloodiness, violence, and shockingness.