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Hamlet's Father by Scott Orson Card

1/04/2011. Contributed by Pauline Morgan

Buy Hamlet's Father in the USA - or Buy Hamlet's Father in the UK

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pub: Subterranean Press. 96 page deluxe hardback. Price: $35.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-59606-269-6.

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Authors get inspiration from many sources. Folk tale and myth are commonly used but just as popular are twisted versions of the Bible and Shakespeare. Except for the latter they are handed down stories, collected later as literacy became more widespread. Shakespeare’s works have always entertained controversy. At the time they were first performed, they contained the same kind of satire and scathing wit we would expect from any modern stand-up comedian. The wit is still as sharp even if we do not understand the finer, biting points of it. What needs to be remembered is that Shakespeare was borrowing his plots from elsewhere, especially in his historical plays. He is therefore fair game as an inspiration for the modern writer as long as they have a new twist on the traditional tale.

The much loved film, ‘Forbidden Planet’, is a Science Fiction take on ‘The Tempest’. Even if the viewer is unfamiliar with the source material, it is an enjoyable piece of cinema. With added knowledge, the pleasure is increased. ‘Prospero’s Books’ was a totally different film that used the same play as inspiration.

‘Hamlet’ is play stuffed full of quotes and the lead regarded as a prize role. Playwrights like Tom Stoppard have taken single lines and created whole new works, such as ‘Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead’. This novella, ‘Hamlet’s Father’, takes the play and adds its own twists. While Shakespeare’s version took place over a few days after the death of the king of old Denmark, Orson Scott Card explores the relationship between Hamlet and his father. This Hamlet grows up believing that his father, whom he admires, finds him unworthy. Why else would his father take Hamlet’s companions hunting and leave his son behind? From early on, the modern reader can gather an inkling of what the truth actually is. Hamlet’s father is portrayed here as manipulative even after death, his ghost urging the son to seek revenge by playing on the desire for paternal acknowledgment. The events of the play are fairly well followed until the revelations at the end give story a different slant and the characters different motivations.

There will be purists that will condemn anyone who distorts the plots of the Stratford bard but ‘Hamlet’ was based on historical events in Denmark and the details are sketchy. Both Card and Shakespeare could be right as to the motivations of the characters. Certainly there was nothing illegal about the crowning of Hamlet’s uncle, Claudius, as king. Under Dane Law, there was no absolute right of succession and the King’s ascension to the throne had to be approved by the Council. With the prospect of war with Norway, the choice of Claudius was sensible. Also, nothing untoward was thought of a king marrying his predecessor’s wife if they were not blood relatives. Henry VIII did it until Catherine became inconvenient and he broke from the Catholic Church in order to change the law.

‘Hamlet’s Father’ is an excellent novella, well up to Card’s usual standard. Though it might be regarded a little expensive for all but the collector of his work but the exquisite interior drawings by Tom Kidd add to its value.

Pauline Morgan

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