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.