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Hamlet is formidable, which does not prevent his being ironic. He has the two profiles of destiny. By the end of the nineteenth century, the mythical image of Hamlet, a noble hero pitted against a hostile society, had contaminated that of its creator. Based on distortions, sentimentalism and the assimilation of the character to a living figure, the myth was well-established. The romantic figure had absorbed the classical idiom. The very existence of such a parody works as a confirmation of the myth.

Laforgue here depicts a histrionic Hamlet, who has disposed of Polonius before the story begins, thus causing Ophelia to disappear. His main preoccupation is arranging the performance of a play. He is constantly determined to act but drifting off into soliloquies on existence. In the course of the following century the sweet prince will at times be dislodged by the arrant knave, yet even the maelstrom of two successive world wars will not disintegrate the Hamlet myth but only displace it.

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As the nineteenth century was coming to a close, Sarah Bernhardt started making history with her famous interpretation of the Prince. The production was an enormous success; it toured the States before going to Stratford-on-Avon. But in the early years of the century, French audiences definitely associated the figure of the Danish prince with that of Sarah Bernhardt, in black tights and holding a skull, or as she was represented on the poster by Alfons Mucha, in a white cloak, hands crossed on a sword, with the ghost barely distinguishable in the background.

The play-within-the-play was reduced to a few lines and the dumb-show disappeared altogether. Some seventy years after the romantic playwrights and poets, it was the turn of the stage-directors to shake off the shackles of the traditional theater, and the battles were, again, fought under the Shakespearean banner. His Roi Lear was the first Shakespearean drama to be performed in its entirety in France.

The complete text translated by the novelist Pierre Loti was performed with one interval only, without the then traditional interruptions at the end of each act or tableau.


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This staging was made possible by the use of a single set made up of drapes which served as a background for unlocated scenes and could be drawn back to reveal painted cloths evoking the castle, the heath or the Dover cliffs. The only previous appearance of a Shakespeare comedy on a French stage had been a heavily adaptated version of As You Like It by George Sand, some sixty years before. But now the new focus on Shakespeare as a man of the theater induced a few directors to extend their Shakespearean repertoire beyond the traditional tragedies. In the center of the single set, a medieval arch opened onto mobile backcloths which suggested the battlements or the chuchyard, and could also be closed off for indoor scenes.

The costumes were gorgeous but the only prop was a bench which could serve as an altar, a table or a coffin. This new emphasis on the wide theatrical appeal of the English dramatist is to be related to the policy of commissioning translations for the stage which took into account the experience of acting and directing.

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Antoine had initiated the practice with his Lear. Copeau himself had spent part of the war years translating the tragedies, then the comedies, in collaboration with Suzanne Bing, with a view to producing stage-texts both faithful to the original and easy to deliver in French. The production was based on the Morand-Schwob translation without any cuts. The original Geneva set had been constituted of grey steel panels which, at the outset, suggested the front of the Danish castle.

Seen under different lights or from new angles, they later evoked a court-room, a closet Polonius was killed behind a red curtain or a graveyard. After a hundred performances in Paris, the grey panels had disappeared. The actor-director, who was sometimes accused of puritanism because he kept stripping down his sets, also rejected any naturalistic stage-business that might distract the spectator from concentrating on the words. Baty considers Q1 as the authentic stage-version, its logical succession of scenes having been conceived by the actor Shakespeare, while Q2 is a text for readers, judging from the unnecessary monologues and verbose descriptions presumably added later by some literary-minded nobleman.

The transition from the pre-war wild and extravagant Hamlet to the post-war lucid character, divided between doubt and faith, is best appreciated through the work of this famous actor-director who not only interpreted the part several times, but also wrote several texts analyzing his evolving conception of the play. This was a period when actors and stage-directors definitely had more to say about Shakespeare than critics and literary figures.

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Having surmounted the temptation of suicide, he sacrifices himself to the advent of a new world where faith will become possible. Such pronouncements signify the social function which post-war France conferred upon the theater at a time when it was opening up to new audiences both in Paris and in the provinces. The move towards decentralisation had been initiated by touring companies during the war. But the death of the romantic Hamlet was not due to the war alone.

Between the two world wars, as directors widened their Shakespearean repertoire introducing comedies as well as other tragedies , the play had lost its emblematic status, just when it was stripped of its elaborate ornamental stage-effects. Rather unexpectedly, it was through the History plays that this popularisation occurred, in a political context which was probably favourable to their reception. It is symptomatic that, in , Jean Vilar should have opened the first Avignon festival with Richard II, a play never staged before in France, whose story and references were totally alien to a French audience.

The tragedy of Richard, the deposed king, whom the actor interpreted in incantarory tones, moved thousands of spectators, and since , every Avignon festival has presented at least one Shakespeare play. Directors like Monnet, Vilar or Barrault rejected motivations unsupported by the text. But the new focus on the plays as texts for the stage coincides with a comparative dearth of critical analysis on the page. The First World War, with its heritage of disillusions and spiritual questioning, strips Hamlet of his mythical aura.

The world no longer needs you. Nor me. Mackinnon Robertson Legouis, then a Professor at the Sorbonne, was known in Britain for his masterly History of English Literature written with Louis Cazamian which had been published in English in English Literature, Shakespeare, and particularly Hamlet , were now part of university curricula, as indicated by the publication, in , of the first scholarly edition of Hamlet aimed at first-year university students.

The work of R. The amount of information couched in a flowery style and complicated by cross-references and second thoughts is impressive. Academic critics of Shakespeare were on the whole content to echo the concerns of their British counterparts, with no particular interest for Hamlet. Knights or G. But, beyond a similarity in title, the French essay is very different in content. In this context, T. This list is revealing of the respective importance of performance, translation and criticism in the reception of Shakespeare in the first half of the century.

Another well-documented biography is that by Clara Longworth de Chambrun The French fascination for the Shakespeare Mystery also spawned a number of anti-Stradfordians, the most famous being Abel Lefranc, the champion of the Earl of Derby. His personal commentary on the tragedy following the usual considerations on text, date and sources combines a concise synthesis of twentieth-century criticism with some personal insights.

This is generally considered as a token of the abiding quality of these still famous translations which keep being reprinted in cheap editions , rather than a sign of the incompetence of French translators in the fifties. Yet this monolingual edition also reflects the undetermined status of Shakespearean translation in the late fifties, the translations by Hugo fils being aimed at the reading-public, while some other plays e.


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In the Foreword appended to volume 1 ix-xiv , Gide indeed explains that this translation is the outcome of a long difficult process, Shakespeare being the most difficult playwright to translate and Hamlet his most intricate text: all his other plays, he writes, are crystal-clear in comparison.

The novelist also states that his object was to translate the play for performance. The contents of the twelve sumptuous leather-bound volumes confirm that at that time the French felt on safer ground with translation than with critical issues. Because, Pierre Leyris explains, translations have to bridge the gap between different ages as well as between different languages and our age must find an equivalent to the oral style of the Elizabethan stage. For him, translation approached as a dramatic activity is not synonymous with adaptation.

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The Hamlet that had haunted the Symbolist poets, then disappeared in the trenches of the first World War, was being resurrected in the Paris of the s. Beyond this resurgence of Hamletism in a deconstructed guise, the country of Foucault, Lacan, Derrida and others has nurtured surprisingly few militant analyses of Hamlet among its natives.


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One amusing side-effect of the hunt for both mirror-images and fathers-and-sons, is that Fortinbras now has his own back and becomes flanked by his absent father a subject for debate. As a comparatist, he also emphasizes the French reception of the play. Similarly, in the introduction to his own translation of the play , 1: , Michel Grivelet combines the traditional scholarly approach on text, date and sources with a clear style and commentaries to smooth down access to the play for the general public and inform the student.

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His study of the dramatic development of the plot, rooted in historical criticism, also glances at contemporary precedents and views on revenge, the ghost, the play-within-the-play and ends on an overview of French reception and the myth surrounding the play. But in both collections, even though the influence of Lacanian concepts is sometimes perceptible as in J.

Whatever its avatars, the French fascination for Hamlet has never been denied since Voltaire and we find it reasserted on the stage of the end of the twentieth century. The more Hamlet is considered as a monument, the more it attracts directors there are at least ten productions worthy of note in the eighties alone ; many feel that they must grapple with the play at some stage in their career.

Although Hamlet is not as much of a classic in France as in England, directors may be motivated by the desire to do something different or to experiment for better or for worse. Amidst this tangle of material, their choice of text may serve as a guide. In spite of increased reverence for the Shakespeare canon, adaptations have not disappeared from the French stage, even at the end of the century. In fact, the poster for the production, which showed a headless Shakespeare holding the head of Olivier in the part of Hamlet, said it all: this brilliant iconoclastic version went for the metatext more than for the text which Michel Vittoz reworked for each new production.

The ghost did not appear, but then the play coexisted with its own ghost in a production often pronounced to be about the play more than of the play, which is in fact emblematic of the status it had acquired in twentieth-century France. Conversely, the Hamlets of the eighties seemed to vie for authenticity but with varying results.

The prince was interpreted by a comedian, Philippe Avron, as an alien in a world of caricatures. He very neatly derided a court peopled with flatterers and liars who popped up, puppet-like, on the various levels of the set; but, by all accounts, the tragic feeling was lost in the process. It was plastically beautiful, stylized, even verging on the abstract; the set designed by Yannis Kokkos a recurrent name in Shakespeare production was an immense white, polar perspective, sometimes broken up by red velvet curtains creating smaller spaces. A raised platform running across its breadth was used by Claudius as a long table, by Hamlet as a sort of catwalk.

The ghost rose from behind it in full Renaissance armor and so, later, did Fortinbras, galloping between rows of pikes. Though acclaimed by critics and audiences alike, this production was also felt to be too intellectual and to lack emotion and sensibility. Marthouret, a disciple of Peter Brook, started in Lyon before ending up at the now mythical Bouffes du Nord. In this country of living dead, the ghost returned as Fortinbras, the director making significant use of a tradition of sometimes purely economical doubling.

The cast was limited to ten actors: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were telescoped into one who then came back as Osric. Shakespeare is expensive to stage, compared to the French Classics, and many smaller companies cannot afford to produce his plays. This stage-floor, a metaphor for the disrupted order of the kingdom of Denmark, would sink in parts to offer a space to the play-within or a tomb to Ophelia, or, more strikingly, rise to follow the mole-like progress of the ghost or gape open to reveal the underworld from which he had suddenly erupted, galloping noisily on horseback accompanied by eerie music.

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Claudius who doubled as the ghost in Nanterre and Gertrude Marthe Keller had sparkling scenes. After this decade of Shakespearean effervescence, the nineties may seem anticlimactic. Terry Hands had written his own adaptation, sticking close to the English text. The Hamlet of Peter Brook, which closed the twentieth century at the French Bouffes du Nord and opened the twenty-first in London and New York, rejected both nationality and iconicity.

Others noted a deliberate intent to deconsecrate the icon, to play down the purple patches, and to reduce the French text, shown as surtitles, to literal translation. Shakespeare et la folie. Paris: Maloine, The Hague , Aynard, Joseph. The Hague, Barante, Prosper de. Paris: Ladvocat, Barrault, Jean-Louis.