The Goofball's Guide to Hamlet in Four Steps
How to Enjoy the Greatest Drama Ever and Drink Beer Too, I Did It and Even the Lowest Brows of You Out There Can Alsoby Bill Tuomala
Step One: Hamlet. (Tragedy, the Everyman Shakespeare Edition.) I scored this paperback years ago for two bucks used. This edition is highly recommended if you are like me and have trouble understanding seventeenth-century English. The right side of the open book's pages contains the play's text, while the left side features definitions and explanations of all the non-modern words and phrases. If you think the classics are stiff, it turns out this Shakespeare guy had a knack for making naughty double entendres.
Step Two: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. (Movie, 1990.) This is a play by Tom Stoppard that he later turned into a movie. Gary Oldman and Tim Roth turn in brilliant performances as the title characters, boyhood friends of Hamlet who are called by the King of Denmark to help see what's going on in Hamlet's maybe-mad mind. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were minor characters in Hamlet, here they contemplate their roles outside theirs in the play while also joining in the action of the tragedy and reciting their written lines flawlessly. Oldman is a na•ve simpleton who repeatedly comes on the verge of accidentally discovering various laws of science, while Roth is a scowling punk whose patience easily reaches its limits. Typical dialogue Ð from when the two find that the king is sending them to England with Hamlet:
Rosencrantz: I don't believe it anyway.
Guildenstern: Just a conspiracy of cartographers, then?
(Bonus! The opening track in the movie is from Pink Floyd's Meddle album.)
Step Three: Mystery Science Theater 3000: Hamlet. (Television show, 1999.) The MST3K crew send up a version of Hamlet that was made for German television in the early sixties. Maximilian Schell, in the same year he was in Judgment at Nuremberg, stars as Hamlet and also does his own English dubbing. Ricardo Montalban dubs the English of Claudius. The set is dark, minimal, and dismal, which leads an MST3K-er to riff: "San Quentin Prison presents Hamlet." Other great lines include:
Step Four: The Adventures of Bob & Doug McKenzie: Strange Brew. (Movie, 1983.) I watched this years ago while drunk with my cousin and thought it was merely silly. Turns out that not only does it get funnier as it moves along, it's also loosely based on Hamlet ... e.g. the Elsinore Brewery is run by a guy named Claude who is married to his late brother's wife Gertrude. Said late brother used to run the brewery prior to his demise. His daughter, Pam (in this version, Hamlet is a girl) returns to the brewery and is told by her father's ghost that his brother murdered him. Bob and Doug McKenzie act as Horatio-type helpers in her plans to thwart Claude ... Get it?
Okay, Max von Sydow as the conquer-the-world villain and Pam's hockey-player tough guy love interest don't exactly have parallels in Hamlet. (Wait a minute ... the hockey player does almost meet the same fate of Ophelia, though she couldn't hip-check like him - but since when do Danes play hockey well or at all?) Bob and Doug's flying dog Hosehead has no equal in Hamlet either, but since the story told here is by no means a tragedy there is room for a dog painted to look like a skunk. This film is silly, yes, but at times hilarious and worth it for the hockey and beer references. Or when the judge yells "order" and Bob asks for some back bacon. A recent viewing made me run out and buy a sixer of Molson Canadian. Beauty, eh?