Hamlet in Bukit Brown: A Creative Exploration


Hamlet in Bukit Brown: A Creative Exploration
Performing Art (Proposed Directorial Vision)
An Interpretation of Hamlet
Death, Mourning and Memory in Medieval Literature (YHU3345)


The oft quoted “To be, or not to be – that is the question”1 in Shakespeare’s canonical text, Hamlet, is a solemn meditation on existence. It is a reflective grappling with states of life and death, a vacillation between doubt and certainty, and a question that is suspended within the intermedial throes of madness and sanity. Such a general utterance invites three potential interpretations on what “the question” in this context could be, moving from macro to micro spheres of agentic discourse: (a) whether life is worth living, (b) whether he should take his own life, and (c) whether he should act against the King.

These three possible interpretations suggest that while the play seems to centre around avenging his father’s death, Hamlet is essentially about identity and existence, as explored through the different proxies of politics, family, and romance/friendship – with the formation (and/or fragmentation) of the self taking on expressions of loyalty, duty, and love. This idea of identity and existence is not only embodied in the titular character, Hamlet, and in the relationships that he has, but also in the Ghost that appears and adds supernatural spice to what would be, otherwise, a plot without precedent.

In this way, Hamlet is a story that seems to be about a man’s search for “heimlich” (homecoming; belonging), wherein the themes of death, mourning, and memory are relevant to that struggle. The sense of “heimlich” is motivated by the presence of the Ghost, which is the interpretive crux to Hamlet’s character and the device that moves the plot of the play. The Ghost’s roaming and existence is also possibly a lack of eschatological “heimlich”, which surfaces an interesting cultural debate about the existence of Purgatory and theologically sanctioned practices of remembrance.

This creative exploration thus aims to reimagine how Hamlet participates in the debate about Purgatory and memorialising the dead through a proposed directorial vision of the play – an exploration of site-specific theatre, set in Bukit Brown Cemetery. This vision is inspired by itinerant cinema practices that have screened films in cemeteries for the dead (a cinema night for spirits), and commedia dell’arte as one of the first recognised theatre practices to perform in non-conventional production spaces.

The Ripple Effects of Hamlet’s Murder


The Ripple Effects of Hamlet’s Murder
An Interpretation of Hamlet
Death, Mourning and Memory in Medieval Literature (YHU3345)

Artist’s Remarks

Breakdown of Animation: Scene 1 of my animation begins with Yorick’s skull in frame. The skull then splits into several pieces which recombine to form a knife. Prince Hamlet’s hand then comes into frame as he grabs the knife and plunges it into Polonius’s heart in Scene 2. The heart starts bleeding in an explosive fashion as the camera pans upwards to show Polonius’s shellshocked face. The blood pouring out of the heart then fills up Ophelia’s gown in Scene 3. The camera zooms out and Ophelia’s face pops into the scene with her person being enclosed within Hamlet’s eyes. Hamlet cries in blood as his tears drown Ophelia. The wave of blood then transforms into Hamlet’s eyeballs as his mouth appears uttering the lines:

“Alexander died, Alexander was buried, Alexander
returneth to dust, the dust is earth” (Shakespeare, 5.1.205-215)

The camera, then, pans downwards onto Scene 4 to reveal the cup of poison that kills Gertrude. A tree grows out from the cup and extends out of frame. The camera, for the last time, pans upwards to reveal Gertrude, Laertes, Claudius, and Hamlet all impaled by the tree.

The animation ends with the camera zooming in on Hamlet’s face as his own soliloquy about Alexander the Great’s remnants being part of the soil plays in the background.

Commentary: My visuals and the lines spoken in this animation contradict each other. While the soliloquys I have chosen as the audio suggest that Hamlet is a meditative spirit who understands how intangible, feeble, and pathetic human greed, emotions, and desires are, my visuals – that depict him committing murder and the ripple effects of his murder – suggest otherwise. They suggest that he is an impulsive creature who is so swayed by the happenings in his environment that he possesses no understanding of the ramifications his actions might have.

These soliloquys suggest that human might, wealth, greed, or, in the case of Yorick, even idiosyncratic traits that a person is remembered the most by, hold no weight over the all-levelling nature of death. Yet, Hamlet is constantly propelled by his emotions and swayed by his propensities. For example, upon seeing a player become so overwhelmed by emotion while acting The Aeneid out, Hamlet wonders why he was not as consumed by emotion when it came to enacting revenge on his uncle. (Shakespeare, 2.2.530-605) Similarly, he is once again spurred into a vengeful state when he hears about all the Poles and the Norwegians dying over plots of land. (Shakespeare, 4.4.60) But if he were to apply the essence of his soliloquys onto these thoughts, he would know that there are no emotions or goals worth pursuing when you think of them in a wider timeframe.

My Scene 1 punctures these soliloquys by having Yorick’s skull, a symbol of this meditative aspect of Hamlet, being torn apart and put back together as a knife – a tool that symbolises death. Hamlet’s act of murdering Polonius thinking it might be his uncle goes to show how propelled by tendencies he is. There was nothing calculative at all about his actions and therefore, just like Yorick’s skull, so do his ruminations on death break apart.

I begin to show the ripple effect of Hamlet’s murder by having the blood pouring out of Polonius’s heart drench Ophelia’s clothes in Scene 3. I also wanted to capture Gertrude’s expression about the river drenching Ophelia’s clothes and carrying her away. (Shakespeare, 4.7.181) This expression reduces Ophelia’s culpability in her own death: it was not just suicide but the river also played a role in killing her. Similarly, since Ophelia’s psyche shows a clear deterioration following Polonius’s death, (Shakespeare, 4.5.30) I wanted to put Hamlet partly at fault for her death. This is why I had her drown inside his eyes with her clothes drenched from Polonius’s blood: she is the first victim of Hamlet’s propensities. Ophelia’s site of death turns into Hamlet’s eyeballs and his talking mouth takes over the scene. I wanted to show Hamlet’s short-sightedness and ego through this scene. He does not think about Ophelia at all when he finds out that he had accidentally killed Polonius. His indifference is to be blamed when we are talking about Ophelia’s death.

Similarly, I animated a tree in Scene 4 because it was a good visual representation of the branching effect of Hamlet’s actions. Claudius and Laertes wishes to kill Hamlet because of his involvement in the deaths of Polonius and Ophelia. The glass of poison and the sword laced with the poison become all of their undoing as one thing leads to another and they all die by the end of the events of the play.


Audio Recording obtained from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ilZn_1MPrE&t=473s.


William, Shakespeare. Hamlet. The Arden Shakespeare.

Boyle, Danny. Trainspotting. PolyGram Filmed Entertainment. 1996.