Sunday, December 22, 2013

Hamlet, Prince of Charming

We have a joke at my house that I see Hamlet everywhere. To be fair, things around here have been kind of Hamlety. My graduate lecture was about modern novels that echo older works, one being Daniel Wroblewski's The Tale of Edgar Sawtelle, which is a modern retelling of of the play. I've been mired in the details. A bit.

But this summer, Eric suggested I sit down and watch Sons of Anarchy with him, and from episode one I was like, Okay, Ghost Dad (the journals), a murder, Mommy's involved in the plot and there's a "kingdom" (club) to be had. This is Hamlet with bikes. I've since come to read a lot about this being Kurt Sutter's intent. This makes Eric nuts, though, and I'm not allowed to talk about anything that happens in the play if and until it's already happened on the show, too. It's been a really interesting study, watching it side by side and experiencing it differently.

Jax Teller, doing his best emo scholar-prince.

Anyway, here's the debate in my house, which is notable because it's the same question (essentially) that I got asked at the end of my graduate lecture the other day: Does knowing how a story ends (or what happens) because you know the original somehow make it less enjoyable? Eric says yes; he doesn't want to read Hamlet until he's done with the show. He'd rather be surprised. I say no, obviously. Even Shakespeare gave away the endings to his own plays. In the Prologue to Romeo and Juliet, he drops that bomb about "a pair of star-cross'd lovers" that "take their life" before anything even happens. It's the unfolding of it all that's the interesting part.

I'm completely intrigued by how these stories are retold and in different settings and with different accessibility. It blows my mind that these stories are still relevant. The interpretation of the original work, when done well--and even in a macho, violent show about a motorcycle club--is fascinating to me. The idea that a story about the murder of a Danish king and his emotionally unstable son could be made completely palatable and relatable to a bunch of people who don't give a fig about monarchies or Shakespeare or Classical literature? LOVE IT.

Don't read any more if you don't want me to spoil anything that's happened in SOA (thus far). I promise not to give away the ending of Hamlet. But once upon a time, I did make a handy chart.

So last week, when I was away at residency, I got a text from Eric just as he was watching the season finale. I don't remember it exactly, but it was something like Holy shit, SOA. Followed by something like You probably know what happened, because Hamlet. I had to wait until I was home to finish this season, but the fact that Tara died--no, that wasn't a surprise. I figured that was coming from the start. Jax has to finish his story alone. But when she died? How she died, and that in her death, Sutter seemed to be sending a confirmation that she was Jax' Ophelia? Fascinating, interesting choices.

Let me back up. The Ophelia thing is complicated with SOA. (I'm sure at this point I've lost probably everyone, but if there's one soul who has read the play and seen the show, thanks for hanging with me.) Jax really had two Ophelias, and, really, two trusted advisors. The roles of Ophelia and Horatio seemed to be split between Opie (Ophelia? Hello.) and Tara, each loving Jax with too much vulnerability, each getting pushed away when Jax had too much to deal with, each offering sound advice when he needs it most. That Opie dies essentially by suicide and Tara dies in the water suggests that the Ophelia role is shared. And even though Tara's death was at Gemma's hand rather than that of a tree branch, you could make the argument that in the play it's Hamlet and family that drive Ophelia to her death. The family pushes her out, she has to die. Same, in SOA. Tara's drowning in the kitchen sink was a message. (And let's be fair, SOA isn't one for subtlety.)

Watching how things play out, waiting to see just how much parallels the original story, that's the fun part for me. Looking for the nuances of interpretation. Waiting to see what choices are made about the source material. But at the same time, I don't think anything is lost if somebody isn't familiar with Hamlet. And SOA has enough original storytelling that it's not just regurgitation.

What I'm saying is: I can't wait for the end.

1 comment:

  1. Love this! My husband and I have similar debates about SOA and Hamlet.