Monday, July 10, 2023

Book Note: Hamlet, Revenge!

Innes, Michael. Hamlet, Revenge! New York: Penguin, 1979.

Here at Bardfilm, we've talked about the frequent Shakespeare allusions in Agatha Christie (q.v. for one example). And we've addressed the two Ngaio Marsh novels that incorporate Shakespeare to a great degree (for Death at the Dolphin, q.v.; for Light Thickens, q.v.). But I've recently found a couple works of older classic detective fiction where Shakespeare figures largely. 

Michael Innes (the pen name of J. I. M. "Jim" Stewart) wrote dozens of detective novels. His second, Hamlet, Revenge!, is set in a grand manor house in the country where an amateur production of Hamlet is underway. The title comes from a work by Thomas Lodge that describes a play in which a ghost "who cried so miserably at the Theatre like an oyster-wife, 'Hamlet, revenge!'" [The work is Wits Miserie, printed in 1596, several years before Shakespeare's Hamlet was first printed; it provides evidence for the so-called Ur-Hamlet, an earlier version of Hamlet (now lost) that has some obscure connection to the play by Shakespeare.]

The Lord Chancellor of England is playing Polonius; when his character is killed behind the arras, the Lord Chancellor is actually killed behind the arras.

Leading up to that, the house is plagued by threatening Shakespeare quotes from a number of different plays.

Here's a representative sample from early in the novel:

You get your classic Scottish gardener and your classic Scottish play there, with Shakespeare quotations and allusions thick on the ground. And the amazing notion (or is it just a joke?) that someone has borrowed a First Folio for the production—and that they're fearful she'll start making notes in its margins. 

All in all, it's a good story (thought the solution is a bit fantastical), and it's fun for the Shakespeare aficionado to imagine the ins and outs of a production of Hamlet.

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Bardfilm is normally written as one word, though it can also be found under a search for "Bard Film Blog." Bardfilm is a Shakespeare blog (admittedly, one of many Shakespeare blogs), and it is dedicated to commentary on films (Shakespeare movies, The Shakespeare Movie, Shakespeare on television, Shakespeare at the cinema), plays, and other matter related to Shakespeare (allusions to Shakespeare in pop culture, quotes from Shakespeare in popular culture, quotations that come from Shakespeare, et cetera).

Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
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