terça-feira, outubro 17, 2017

I Can No Longer Bear the Aggressiveness of Poetry: "Berlin-Hamlet" by Szilárd Borbély, Ottilie Mulzet (Translator)

"When I came to Berlin, I no
wanted to live. Why isn't
   there a way, I thought, if 
  someone doesn't  want to live
any more, simply to 

In "Berlin-Hamlet" by Szilárd Borbély, Ottilie Mulzet (Translator)

"I do not believe in poetry"

In "Berlin-Hamlet" by Szilárd Borbély, Ottilie Mulzet (Translator)

"I can no longer bear the aggressiveness of poetry,
and I do not wish my deeds to be investigated."

In "Berlin-Hamlet" by Szilárd Borbély, Ottilie Mulzet (Translator)

"My need is for those who will know/how/all of this will end."

In "Berlin-Hamlet" by Szilárd Borbély, Ottilie Mulzet (Translator)

I can't give any more quotes...The book is a long quote.

After having finished reading this heart-wrenching poetry book, my thoughts come back to Hamlet, as always. It's always about indecision... 

Borbély is masterfully able to give us this indecision in a modern version.

The Hamlet's main soliloquy reflects the character's conflict and uncertainty after his father's ghost has told him of the sins of his mother and the crimes of his uncle, and he's asking himself what best to do with that knowledge. The best point for this introspection can be debated and played with. It isn't likely that treating it as Hamlet's greatest hit and getting it out of the way first thing is appropriate for character development. Although I haven't seen the production and it may be awesome. But the soliloquy really doesn't refer to his particular situation at that particular moment. There are no first person pronouns in it at all, and his other soliloquies are much more specific about what's happening to him. It is a generalised piece of philosophical thinking. Beautiful, insightful and compassionate, it may be, but it isn't a man deciding whether to kill himself or not. It isn't even especially emotional: there are no exclamations in it (two of his other soliloquies begin "oh").

It isn't an accident that the line 'to be or not to be' is such a passive, neutral construction; it's a meditation on the human condition, not a great emotional outpouring. It only touches Hamlet's own case, and then obliquely, when it gets to "lose the name of action" right at the end. And it's really not anchored very securely in Act III, since nothing immediately before it seems to provoke it, and it isn't the cause of anything that directly follows. I think it might work well as a prologue (though I don't know how well this production made it work). It might set the whole up thematically. Olivier in his film used a different speech as prologue, and added his own words: "this is the story of a man who could not make up his mind" (doesn't he also move "to be or not to be"? - Sacrilege!

It's perfectly possible for a specific individual to make a general philosophical argument, especially if it is entirely in keeping with their character. Hamlet is intelligent and skeptical, a thoughtful student and scholar. All of that is reflected in the way he thinks. You can't imagine Laertes ever having these thoughts. It is the generalisation within the speech that makes it so effective. Hamlet isn't just talking about his own situation (in fact he doesn't really mention it at all) he's talking about all of our lives and doubts. "... And makes us rather bear those ills we have, than fly to others that we know not of," is a wonderful way of turning the whole argument out towards the audience. The context is of a man capable of such extraordinary philosophical thought, trapped within this destructive narrative of revenge. Szilard played with an un-fucked-about version of Hamlet, but he still fucked with my head. Everybody fucks about with the words and rightly so. That's what makes this kind of stuff so gut-wrenching.

Should have gone with "the rest is silence". God, I hate this kind of poetry...5 stars because of that. I'll say no more...

NB: This collection was published in the original Hungarian in 2003 and this English version has been translated by Ottilie Mulzet.

NB2: If you want to hear what this particular soliloquy sounds like, look no farther. I built an Android App where you can find all the classical actors reciting it:

Kenneth Branagh
John Gielgud
Laurence Olivier
Derek Jacobi
Paul Scofield
David Tennant
Christopher Plummer
Ethan Hawke
Kevin Kleine
Ben Crystal
William Belchambers
Richard Burton
Vincent Price
Mel Gibson
Toby Stephens.

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