Friday, September 14, 2018

Book Note: Hamlet's Father

Card, Orson Scott. Hamlet's Father. Burton, Michigan: Subterranean Press, 2009.

While we're talking about Orson Scott Card, I suppose I'd better mention his rare, limited-edition novella that retells the story of Hamlet. I read it many years ago and really didn't feel like writing it up right after finishing it. I still don't feel much like writing it up, but I do feel a bit obligated to do so.



Spoilers will inevitably follow—and, in this case, they're rotten spoilers.

Additional Note: This post will not be as family-friendly as most posts at Bardfilm are.

Hamlet's Father keeps to the basic premise of Hamlet, but it spends the majority of its time setting up the ending. Hamlet returns to Denmark for his father's funeral around page seventy—of this ninety-two page novella. He returns and puts on a kind of half-hearted antic disposition. Here are a few pages to give you a feel of that:

After Hamlet returns, he starts poking around to discover how his father died and who killed him and goes so far as to kill Claudius and Laertes before the real murderer steps forward to confess and to explain his reasons for killing King Hamlet.

Horatio did it.

In Clue parlance, it was Horatio in the garden with the sword in the ear (Horatio suggests that the sword must have felt like poison to the dying man, which is why his ghost mistakenly thought it actually was poison).

King Hamlet was a pedophile who was in danger of molesting Hamlet but instead turned his attention to Horatio, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and others. When Horatio found himself about to repeat King Hamlet's misdeeds, he turned from them and decided to kill the king instead. Here's part of the denouement:

I certainly don't like thinking of Hamlet, Sr. as a child molester, but it does fit my general criteria for modern Shakespearean fiction: it invites a return to the text based on an imagined version of events or on different characterizations. Still, it's a very bleak, dark portrait that we're asked to look on.

The novel is quite controversial. The best statement of the controversy is in this review from Rain Taxi. Their argument is that the novel presents Horatio, Rosencrantz, and the others as gay—and that the molestation is presented as the cause of their homosexuality. Card responded here, saying that the characters weren't gay—so molestation didn't cause a homosexual orientation in them.

My own reading of the novella didn't give me the idea that homosexuality was being attacked—though molestation and abuse certainly were. And I didn't see the molestation as causing anything more than the cultural naturalization of molestation and the desire for revenge on Horatio's part.

What bothered me most was the way the novella takes us into a chilling afterlife. Here's the end of the book:

In punishment for his misdeeds (killing Claudius and Laertes, who were innocent) or for not having been molested by his father (which led to the molestation of numerous others), Hamlet is sent to Hell with his father.

It's a dark and exacerbating ending to a dark and exacerbating novella.

Next up: A Thousand Acres! A light retelling of King Lear set on a farm in Iowa will be a welcome change.

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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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