Always something new in Shakespeare, isn’t there? I have seen a couple of Hamlets but never known that the expression ‘a palpable hit’, which often pops up in reviews, comes directly from this play. In fact it must once have been a little in-joke by a theatrical critic, then endlessly recycled ever since. Hamlet is well known as a rich source of expressions which are still widely used, though one wonders for how much longer as we all move further towards text-speak and e-mail language. It’s one reason why exposure to Shakespeare plays, as with the King James’ Bible, is said by our elders and betters to be a must if one seeks to be familiar with the culture of these islands, at least through the written or spoken word.I believe it now, though it took a long time!
Anyway, Laetes’ foil touches Hamlet’s arm and yes, it’s a palpable hit. Of course, so too is the production at the Barbican, which nears the end of its limited run. It is excellent – don’t ever be tempted to believe negative sounding newspaper reviews that focus on marginal matters. Critics will often tend to react against hype and PR by finding things to be sniffy about in an attempt to convince us that they are bravely resisting the general tide of opinion.
Somehow I had seats in the front row, while a camera on a sort of railway track glided noiselessly along two rows behind me, with the fireman and driver perched on little seats either side listening to The Bay City Rollers (possibly) on their headphones. Somehow it was the night that the play was being relayed live to 87% of UK cinemas and many more around the world, and being recorded too, meaning an audience of millions (who may well be treated to glimpses of my ever-growing bald patch -I’ll have to buy the DVD when it comes out just to see how bad it’s getting).
Today I went to Smithfield, which lies just to the north of the Barbican. Or maybe it’s Clerkenwell. Either way, this trip was entirely unconnected to yesterday’s, or so I imagined. I visited a museum of the Order of St John’s, located in a Tudor gatehouse (pictured) of the long lost priory of the original Order, a rebuild of an earlier building destroyed during the so-called Peasants’ Revolt led by Watt Tyler. It‘s a long fascinating story, but one fact connects the gatehouse to Shakespeare’s play. He would have brought his manuscript along to this building to get clearance to its performance from the Master of the Revels, the official stage censor of the day, who happened to occupy some of the rooms a while after the building was confiscated from the Order of St John by King Henry the Eighth. I can’t resist a coincidence like that.
In the end, it was time to find The Road to Jerusalem*. A thousand years on.
* a pub round the corner. An amazing one.