The Summer of Hamlet

I have been working hard on my life story. I’m up to 2003, the year our oldest son went off to college.  The summer before he left, my friends and I sewed Scottish outfits for ourselves and our kids, and we went to the Scottish Highland concert. We had our annual Mad Hatter’s Un-Birthday Party, with prizes for the best hats and the best original poetry. We spent a lot of time at the beach and in our friends’ pools. We watched movies, read books, went out to eat, and visited with family and friends.

However, my fondest memory of that summer was when I gathered up some of the neighborhood children, and we made a movie of Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet.  Danny was the cameraman, Sammy was the film editor, I was the director, and everyone else played a part in Hamlet. While Michelle and Jimmy had swimming lessons, I sat in the bleachers with a copy of Hamlet and reworked the dialogue and scenes so that young children could play the various parts. We designed scenery, costumes and props out of what we had at the house. The handles of the fireplace tools became the swords. Bowls became helmets. I simplified the dialogue for most of the children, wrote the words for each section of each scene onto a big whiteboard, and they practiced. Laura, who played Hamlet, could handle the original script, so she had the most words. She was very serious and did a wonderful job as the star of the show. Michelle was Ophelia and did a marvelous job at her part, especially in her death scene when she floated in the neighbor’s pool, wearing a long dress and clutching flowers. Jimmy was Polonius, her father, with a long robe, beard and hat. Kei was the dramatic, beautiful Queen Gertrude; Kate was the wicked King Claudius as well as faithful Horatio. Charlie played a guard, Fortinbras, Voldemand, and other characters as needed. Kyle was a guard, sailor, player, and messenger. Drex was Laertes. Liesl was the Ghost King, with a long white beard, draped in a sheet. Gabriella and Glorianna played the dashing duo, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, as well as other parts. Michelle and Victoria were the gravediggers, and Victoria also played Osric. Sandy put on a puppet show, dramatizing the player’s skit. We designed a graveyard in the back yard complete with tombstones, crosses, and a skull. Most of the play was filmed in the family room or out in the yard, in spite of interference by the dog and the noisy jets that passed overhead.

 All the children were so excited about the play. They came over every day, eager to work on it. I served snacks and sandwiches when mealtimes hit. I had never had so much fun in my life. The house was a mess, with costumes and props piled everywhere, but we were having a blast.

When we had finished filming, Sammy took all the scenes on the video camera, transferred it to his computer, and edited it, making it all one movie, complete with a title page, dramatic background music, and credits.

My sister, Beryl, came down to visit the weekend we showed the film at our version of the “Academy Awards.” For the Oscar awards, Beryl and I took some plastic bowling pins, spray-painted them gold, drew piggy faces on them, and called them the “HAM-let” Awards. We sent out invitations to all the parents and families of the children who had been in the movie. Then the big night came, and we gathered across the street at my friend Sandy’s house. She handed out brown paper bags of popcorn as everyone squeezed into her family room. Sammy set up the TV and computer, the lights were turned off, and he started the movie.

I’ve never laughed so hard in my life. As far as movie quality goes, it was terrible. As far as creativity, ingenuity, gaining an appreciation for Shakespeare, growing friendships, and just plain old having fun goes, it was amazing. The children all loved seeing themselves on the screen. They had put a huge amount of effort into the play, and now they saw the whole story from beginning to end. I think they were proud and excited for what we had created. I know I was. When the film ended, everyone clapped and cheered. Then I gave out the HAM-let awards to all the actors, and to our cameraman and editor.

Sammy made a couple of video copies of the movie for me, and I eventually made one into a DVD to keep. Sammy took off to college, the other kids went back to school, and life went on. It was a lot quieter at home, and I missed the fun we’d had.

I’ve always loved children, and I’ve had an abiding interest in teaching. I taught school for three years in public schools and two years at a private school. Because I had a difficult time with discipline in the classroom, I’d always considered myself a failure at teaching. However, as I’ve read through my old journals, I’ve come to realize that I have done a lot of successful teaching over the years — in Primary children’s classes on Sundays, as a Cub Scout leader, as a parent volunteer teaching art in my children’s classes, as a storyteller and mother to my children, and once as a one-time film director of Hamlet.

I will never forget that summer — the time we put on Hamlet. It remains one of my fondest and happiest memories.

1 thought on “The Summer of Hamlet”

  1. Carol, This is a wonderful post. Such great memories for you and your kids to have! What a wonderful summer!!!! I love you. Kathy P.S. You are such a good writer. Your writing felt like I was there. Thanks.


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