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Foreign Literatures & Comparative Literature

What Happens in Hamlet when Hamlet Goes to Asia?

20180122 Keith Andrew Jones

Prof. Keith Andrew Jones

Department of English and Literature

University of Northwestern – St.Paul

In his magisterial Chinese Shakespeares, Alexander Huang posits three ways Shakespeare and China have interacted: “Universalization,” in which a given play, translated into Chinese, is presented without deviation from its plot or characterization; “Localization,” which occurs when Shakespeare is assimilated into the particulars of Chinese culture; and “Truncation,” which involves rewriting the plays “so as to relate them to images of China” (17).  I would like to use Huang’s terminology to explore three film versions of Hamlet—one set in post-occupation Japan, one set in ancient China, and one set in ancient Tibet—and to develop a provisional understanding of what happens when we return to the text of Hamlet after considering these versions of the play. 

            When China and Shakespeare meet, each of these abstractions is transformed into something rich and strange—or, less ideally, something merely strange (to both western and Chinese audiences)—and Huang’s book attempts to navigate and negotiate the waters of this sort of transformation.  Huang comments on the dissatisfaction that can arise when a particular instance of Chinese Shakespeare is erroneously classified as too Shakespearean or too Chinese.  Instead of attempting to classify interactions between China and Shakespeare in this way, Huang argues, the entities themselves must stand on their own merits.

            Such an approach is viable and interesting, but other considerations may provide an even more well-rounded reading of adaptations and the plays they reflect.  Huang’s approach has a tendency to insist that “Adaptation has to be considered on its own terms” (32); however, this may be just as limiting as an interpretation that merely points out the Shakespearean aspects of an adaptation.  An understanding of the process of adaptation may be only a starting point for deeper analysis, but it seems necessary for an examination of any given example of Asian Shakespeare.  For the films under consideration here, the comparison with Shakespeare seems both inevitable and desirable.   

            Margaret Jane Kidnie’s Shakespeare and the Problem of Adaptation suggests that we should not measure adaptations of Shakespearean plays against the text of the plays.  To do so is, in her view, to ascribe too much authority to that text.  Instead, any production—adaptation—derivative—should be looked at as “a dynamic process that evolves over time in response to the needs and sensibilities of its users” (2).  She develops her argument in terms of the perceived danger of searching for “authenticity”:

While resisting a relativistic position which assumes, wrongly, that anything can mean anything, this book argues that there is no ideal iteration of any Shakespearean play toward which one can or should strive, either textually or theatrically.  This is not to say that at any given moment it is impossible to identify texts and performances that are regarded as authentically Shakespearean; however, the production which today seems fully to capture or embody a supposed original—and this is true whether one speaks of text or performance—enjoys only a potentially temporary and limited currency.  Precisely what constitutes authentic Shakespeare is a question that can never finally be resolved since there is no a priori category that texts and stagings are productions of.  (9) 

Although I’m not convinced that searching for the most legitimate (if not the most authentic) text is an impossibility, I agree that labeling a given production or a given portion of, in particular, an Asian version of a Shakespeare play as “authentic” does not take us very far.  If searching for authentic Shakespeare in performance is a dead end, the wise course for the Shakespearean may be to return to the text to examine it anew in light of a given production’s presentation of the play.

Kurosawa’s The Bad Sleep Well

            Kurosawa’s The Bad Sleep Well (Warui Yatsu Hodo Yoku Nemuru), which was released in 1960, can be compared to Hamlet, though to what degree and with what viability is frequently debated.  The film has been dealt with critically at some length (cf. Kaori Ashizu’s “Kurosawa's Hamlet?”).  Measuring the film’s success or failure on its ability to critique Hamlet is unfair; however, it seems clear that the film forces us to reconsider certain aspects of Hamlet, enriching our experience of it—whether we view it through western or eastern eyes.

            Clearly, Shakespeare is one of Kurosawa’s primary influences.  Throne of Blood (Kumonosu jô), a derivative version of Macbeth, had established this in 1957; Ran (1985), with its affinities to King Lear, was one of Kurosawa’s last films.  The modern viewer is thus predisposed to find Shakespearean elements in The Bad Sleep Well—indeed, many viewers may, like me, have come to the film expecting to find Hamlet there.  Such a viewer may spend too much energy and become too distracted during the first forty-five minutes of the film in trying to decipher who the Hamlet analogue is, who represents Claudius, and whether Gertrude and Ophelia have been conflated in a particular character.  The predisposition to find Hamlet in the film may lead to the dangers Huang and Kidnie warn against:  the search for the authentic Shakespeare may prove shallow at best and fruitless at worst.

            Taken on its own terms, The Bad Sleep Well may be seen as Kurosawa using Hamlet to comment on contemporary Japanese politics.  As such, it fits Huang’s category of “Truncation.”  It also has much to teach us about filmmaking, acting, and the fear of censorship.  But the film also enables us to wonder whether an Asian approach to Hamlet finds something in the play that we haven’t noticed before.

            One such possibility involves a new examination of Ophelia and Laertes.  Briefly, the plot of The Bad Sleep Well involves a Hamlet-like character named Nishi who marries Yoshiko, the daughter of a corrupt official, as part of a secret plan to bring that official and the entire company to justice for its corruption and its role in his father’s suicide.  Yoshiko and her brother Tatsuo are similar to Ophelia and Laertes; their father, Iwabuchi, is likewise like Polonius.  Iwabuchi is, on the whole, a more successful, more powerful Polonius, serving a unheard, unseen Claudius figure.

            The relationships between these four is foregrounded throughout the film, but the opening sequence—the reception after Nishi and Yoshiko’s wedding—is particularly significant.  Neither Nishi nor Yoshiko speak during the first scene, which lasts nearly twenty minutes; however, there’s enough talk about them to excuse their silence.  During the preliminaries, Tatsuo is twice described as Nishi’s friend and once as Iwabuchi’s son before he is described as Yoshiko’s sister.  When Yoshiko enters, limping, a close-up reveals that one of her legs is substantially shorter than the other.  She stumbles while ascending the steps, and Tatsuo, rather than Nishi, helps her up and escorts her to the banquet.  Rumors fly among the journalists that Nishi is only marrying Yoshiko to advance his position in the company, but Tatsuo, when he gets the chance to make a speech, passionately defends Nishi—adding this as his conclusion:  “Listen, Nishi.  If you make my sister unhappy, I swear I’ll kill you.”[1]

            During the course of the film, Tatsuo does discover that Nishi has been using his sister—to further his revenge rather than to advance his career—but we also learn that Nishi has truly fallen in love with Yoshiko.  As a final element of the plot, Tatsuo leaves the family’s house with his shotgun.  Iwabuchi tells Yoshiko that Tatsuo has left to kill Nishi, and he convinces her to reveal Nishi’s hidden location.  When Tatsuo returns from a mere duck-hunting expedition, they both realize that Iwabuchi is, indeed, corrupt.  They race to Nishi’s hiding place, but they are too late.  Iwabuchi has managed to kill Nishi and to cover up all the proof of his and the company’s corruption.

            These changes to Shakespeare’s plot are clearly “inauthentic,” but they invite us to return to the play with a greater attention to the family dynamics of Polonius, Ophelia, and Laertes.  Indeed, the film may help us to see the play through less Hamlet-centric eyes.  For example, Laertes and Tatsuo are equally protective of Ophelia and Yoshiko, but The Bad Sleep Well provides a reading of Laertes’ advice to his sister—“His greatness weighed, his will is not his own” (I.iii.17ff)—that runs across the grain, suggesting that a sincere desire for his sister to be happy in a marriage lies beneath Laertes’ caution.  

Feng Xiaogang’s The Legend of the Black Scorpion

            One of the best-known and most accessible modern examples of “Chinese Shakespeare” is Ye Yan, a 2006 film first released under the English title The Banquet and more recently marketed under the (possibly) more alluring title The Legend of the Black Scorpion.  In my own teaching of the film, I have found that its title and its over-the-top, slow-motion martial arts violence (the genre of the film is Wuxia, a kind of Kung Fu action film that developed in the Hong Kong cinema) make it prone to the attitude that Huang describes as the “This is how they do Shakespeare over there; how quaint” (36) mentality.  A reading of The Legend of the Black Scorpion will be incomplete unless it recognizes something about China and something about Shakespeare.

            When I teach The Legend of the Black Scorpion, I provide a chart of the film’s characters and their rough equivalents in Shakespeare’s play (see Table 1).  In doing so, I hope simultaneously to bring the Hamlet aspects of the film to the foreground while preparing students for some—but not all—of the ways the film departs from Hamlet’s Dramatis Personae and plot.

Table 1

Characters in The Legend of the Black Scorpion and their primary counterparts in Hamlet

Legend of the Black Scorpion Hamlet
Wu Luan Hamlet
Empress (“Little Wan”) Gertrude / Ophelia
Emperor Claudius
Qing Ophelia / Horatio (?)
Yin Sun Laertes / The Pirates
Minister Yin Polonius
Pei Hong Fortinbras (?)

The multiple entries for some characters and the question marks establish from the beginning that we will be viewing something that is both like and unlike Hamlet

            From the beginning of the film, some major departures from Hamlet’s plot are evident.  The opening narration provides us with the year A.D. 907 as the setting of the film.  These events take place at the beginning of the period known as the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms.  At this point in Chinese history, the Tang Dynasty is collapsing into political chaos and warfare, but the opulence and grandeur of the Chinese Empire remain.  This sets the stakes very high.  Other film versions of Hamlet vary the relative value of the kingdom of Denmark.  In Kenneth Branagh’s film, the kingdom is rich and beautiful, but it seems limited to one manor house—exceedingly grand though it may be.  Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet is set primarily in a much less grand castle.  In Michael Ameryda’s film, the kingdom has been replaced by a business.  It is admittedly a big business, but it is not quite on the level of a kingdom.  In the Finnish film Hamlet Goes Business (Hamlet Liikemaailmassa), directed by Aki Kaurismäki, the center of power boils down to control of a rubber duck factory.  The Legend of the Black Scorpion places the entirety of the Chinese Empire on the table, heightening the value of the Hamlet analogue’s patrimony.

            After that introduction, the film presents a rustic and simple—but beautiful and intricate—structure where Prince Wu Luan (the Hamlet analogue) has retreated, “seeking solace in the art of music and dance.”  The narrator tells us that “A tender affection has blossomed between the maiden Little Wan and young Prince Wu Luan.”  However, three years prior to this moment in the film, Wu Luan’s father, the Emperor, married her instead. 

            We next learn that Wu Luan’s uncle has killed the emperor and married Little Wan (the language of the introduction states that the uncle “usurped the throne and the Empress”).  Further, we are told that Empress Wan has secretly sent messengers to warn Wu Luan of the assassination and to urge him to return to the royal court; however, she does not know that the Emperor has also dispatched messengers—who are to kill Wu Luan. 

            After only four minutes of the film, we are presented with a character who shares some attributes of Gertrude and some aspects of Ophelia, embedding Hamlet’s Oedipal complex in a relationship with a woman who later became his stepmother.  We also are invited to consider how consensual Empress Wan’s marriage to her dead husband’s brother is.  Finally, the new Emperor and his Empress seems to have diametrically opposed views on Wu Luan.

            Even though it does not follow the script exactly, the opening of the film emulates Shakespeare in its characterizations and its basic outline of the plot.  It seems that, for much of the play, we are in Huang’s category of “Localization”—Shakespeare is assimilated into the Chinese culture of this time period.  Later in the film, we are presented with a scene with greater weight given to the “Chinese” side of “Chinese Shakespeares.”

            About a third of the way through the film, the new Emperor is discussing his desires for restoring the parts of the palace that have fallen into ruin under the reign of his stingy brother.  Part of the redecoration involves the unveiling of an enormous stone carving of a snow leopard.  That carving becomes the center of a very subtle political struggle. 

            At first, the Emperor seems pleased with it.  He says, “When it snows, this creature stays inside the cave to groom his fur.  When the sun comes out, it emerges shiny and sleek.  It knows about changing with the weather.  This is a clever beast.”  The speech might simply be a comment on the natural history of the snow leopard.  But there is a subtle suggestion that those who know what is good for them will emulate the snow leopard, knowing how to adapt to the new Emperor.

            On cue, Minister Yin, the Polonius analogue, sycophantically suggests that a tiger would be more appropriate:  “According to the Book of Change, a great man descends from a tiger, a gentleman from a leopard.  Your majesty is a great man.  The tiger has an appropriate air of majesty.”

            Almost immediately, the Emperor addresses Pei Hong, the Governor of You Province, asking him why he is silent—even though he has had no opportunity to be either silent or noisy.  Pei Hong says that he was thinking that “this snow leopard should be gifted to Minister Yin . . . because he, too, knows how to change with the weather.”  At this statement, Yin Sun, Minister Yin’s son, begins to draw his sword, but his father grabs his arm and forces him to sheathe it again.  The Emperor then agrees to give the carving to Minister Yin, though it’s unclear whether he intends the gift as a compliment, rewarding Minister Yin for his ability to change and follow the new Emperor, or an insult, showing distain at Minister Yin’s weakness while still refusing to acknowledge Pei Hong’s strength.  Later, we learn that Yin Sun considers it a humiliating insult while Minister Yin considers it an insult as well as a test of his loyalty.

            The Emperor turns back to the decorating business, ordering a tiger carving as a replacement, but he is interrupted by the Empress, who suggests a flying dragon instead.  Her entrance seems unexpected, but the crowds part to make way for her, bowing and saying, “Long live your Majesty the Empress.”  Pei Hong, kneeling at her side as she passes the front row of spectators, says, “Your servant Pei Hong bows before the Empress Dowager.”

            A western audience may not notice anything strange about such a comment.  But the ramifications of that title are enormous.  There is tremendous potential for loss of face by either the Empress or the Emperor or both.  Pei Hong’s statement heavily implies that Wu Luan is the true Emperor and the current Emperor is merely a usurper. 

            The Emperor’s reaction is careful and thoughtful.  He first explains the implications: 

The late Emperor has ascended to the heavens.  If the Crown Prince succeeds the throne, the Empress will become the Empress Dowager.  Thus, I am the usurper.  Have we understood you correctly, Governor Pei?  No wonder you are a respected scholar.  With three words, you have rearranged the hierarchy of the court.  According to our ancestral customs, the Emperor kneels to the Empress Dowager as a son to his mother.  But the Empress kneels to the Emperor as a wife to her husband.  Are you the Empress Dowager or the Empress?  Should I kneel or should you?  Please advise us.  Which is the correct procedure?

After a ten-second pause, the Empress quickly drops to her knees.  Pei Hong laughs enormously and calls it a “vile exchange.”  The Emperor takes the governance of You Province from Pei Hong, giving it to Yin Sun instead.  Further, Pei Hong is sentenced to be beaten to death and his entire clan to be executed. 

            After he is led away by the guards, the Emperor raises the Empress to her feet, returning to the discussion about the carving almost as if nothing had happened:  “Let’s make it a dragon and a phoenix,” he says. 

            A solid knowledge of Hamlet helps reveal the interest and significance of the opening scene of The Legend of the Black Scorpion; a deep understanding of Chinese culture (deeper than I possess, I freely admit) helps make sense of this scene.  The subtleties of the forms of address and the traditions surrounding them are partly explained by the film itself, but the emotional resonances of the loss of face nearly sustained by the Emperor and the Empress and certainly endured by Minister Yin lie deeper than that.

            In many ways, The Legend of the Black Scorpion is an ideal test case for Huang’s main thesis.  In it, both Shakespeare and China are opened for examination, and each speaks volumes to the other.  The play-within-the-play, the way the Laertes analogue takes on the plot position of the pirates, the unusual ending (which I am desperately trying to avoid spoiling for those who have not yet seen the film), and the multiple uses of these characters combine to create a fascinating entity that is fully Shakespearean and fully Chinese.

Sherwood Hu’s Prince of the Himalayas

            The Shakespeare Association of American showed the film Prince of the Himalayas at its 2011 convention.  The movie was filmed in China, is set in ancient Tibet, and is performed in Tibetan.  It has not yet been released in North American markets, but I remain hopeful that it will eventually be marketed.

            The film’s opening establishes two intriguing themes:  a prophecy and the character who delivers it.  We are presented with several images in rapid succession.  First, an establishing shot show us that it is snowing; we then cut to a solitary figure walking quickly across a snowy landscape with vast mountains in the background.  The next shot shows a close-up of the bundle the man is carrying:  it’s a puppy wrapped in a blanket.  The man approaches the edge of a stream and says, “Spirit of Heaven.  He is dead.  I beg the shelter of your forgiveness.”  He then lets go of the puppy and watches it amble off.  Almost immediately, a female figure appears and makes this announcement:  “The King is dead—with a new king, a river of blood will flow.”

            The first figure is Kulo-ngam, the Claudius analogue.  The woman is called “The Wolf Woman” thorough the rest of the film—except for one point where she is called “Po.”  Her prophecy will motivate or explain or equivocate many of the other actions in the film.  The role of the Wolf Woman is central to an exploration of what Prince of the Himalayas does to Hamlet.

            Much of the plot of the film is tightly parallel to events in Hamlet, though these events are not always presented in the same chronological order—and the motivation for many of the events is notably different from that given in Shakespeare’s play. 

            Prince Lhamoklodan (the Hamlet analogue) rushes home and insists on knowing why they did not delay his father’s funeral until his arrival.  Nanm (the Gertrude figure) tells him that his uncle will rule as regent until Lhamoklodan becomes of age.  Soon after, we hear the announcement that Kulo-ngam intends to marry his sister-in-law.  At that news, Po-lha-nyisse (the Polonius analogue) gasps, letting us know that, for the culture of this time, this is shockingly unexpected.  Lhamoklodan meets an old friend named Horshu (who stands in for Horatio), and the events of Act I, scene iv of Hamlet play out nearly identically.  Although we aren’t privy to the conversation between Lhamoklodan and the ghost, the film shows the men swearing to be secret; soon after, the film turns to a scene parallel to the first half of the play-within-the-play scene (III.ii).

            The scene is interrupted by a vision.  The Wolf Woman has, somehow, drawn Lhamoklodan out of his current time to meet with him on an otherworldly shore by the bank of a body of water.  She tells the story of two men and of a battle between the two (the film, conveniently, visualizes elements of her narrative for us).  We learn that the late king had, at some point in the past, tried to kill the Claudius analogue, suspecting him of infidelity with his queen.  But the ghost appears on the horizon, and the Wolf Woman breaks off her narrative.

            She re-enters several scenes later as the head of a troop of performers.  At a feast, she tells a story as dancers with masks on both sides of their heads enact a scene of violence.  It’s in the middle of this that we cut to a flashback of Hamlet’s encounter with the spirit, who reveals that he died at the hand of Kulo-ngam.  When we return to the dance, one of the performers holds a small stuffed dog.  The Wolf Woman says, “This lap dog conceals murderous thoughts,” and the dancer who had been playing with the dog falls to the ground.  The Wolf Woman then adds, “The younger brother released the king’s lap dog back to the hills and received a prophecy.”  At those words, Kulo-ngam starts to cry. 

            Later, the film presents us with a scene in which the ghost and the Wolf Woman have an argument about what Lhamoklodan should be doing.  The Wolf Woman tells the ghost that his “thirst for vengeance will bring disaster and offend the spirit world,” but the ghost insists on Lhamoklodan seeking revenge. 

            From this point forward, the history of the relationship between Kulo-ngam and Nanm becomes clearer and more distinct.  Nanm had already told Lhamoklodan that she was in love with Kulo-ngam before Lhamoklodan was born but that she was forced into a marriage that she neither sought nor desired seventeen years ago.  At this point in the film, Kulo-ngam confesses to Nanm that he killed her husband and his brother, but he says that he did not do so for the throne.  He insists that he did everything out of love for her—and out of a desire to protect Lhamoklodan.  He repeats the Wolf Woman’s opening prophecy—“The King is dead—with a new king, a river of blood will flow.”  He has interpreted the prophecy to mean that the new king will be the one to shed his blood, and he has selflessly taken on the kingship so that Lhamoklodan will not suffer from the bloodshed prophesied.  However, the prophecy is equivocal.  Kulo-ngam’s interpretation of it may be wrong.

            The Wolf Woman continues her narration in voiceover.  She reveals that Nanm slept with Kulo-ngam before her wedding to the late king.  In flashback, we see some of that encounter.  It becomes plain that Kulo-ngam is Lhamoklodan’s biological father.  The alteration to Shakespeare’s plot is intriguing, altering as substantially as it does almost all the major relationships in the play.  Kulo-ngam’s motivation to protect Lhamoklodan, his desire to marry Nanm, and Nanm’s hatred of her husband all click into place at this point.

            As the plot of the film continues along the lines Hamlet sets down for it, Lhamoklodan is sent away—ostensibly to protect the country against an invasion but, given the plot developments, actually in an attempt to protect him from the river of blood that is to come.  Lhamoklodan soon meets a Fortinbras analogue (a female warrior named Ajisuji), delivers the equivalent of “How all occasions do inform against me” (IV.iv.32ff), and determines to return to his home and to fulfill the spirit’s demand for revenge on Kulo-ngam.  As he nears home, he encounters the Wolf Woman once again.  She warns Lhamoklodan not to return.  Lhamoklodan and his companions are on one side of an enormous gulf; the Wolf Woman is on the other, shouting her warning across the gulf to enable herself to be heard.  We can read the scene as symbolic of the gulf between the spirit world and the world of the living and of the potential for miscommunication between the two worlds.

            Various hints and subtleties in the preceding scenes have suggested that Odsaluyang is pregnant.  At this point, the film makes it completely clear that she is not only pregnant but that she is about to give birth.  In the pain of labor and with a considerable amount of bleeding, she approaches the stream.  She lies on her back in the stream, and the water runs red with blood.  This is a partial fulfillment of the Wolf Woman’s prophecy.  What might have been a figurative prophecy turns out—at this point, at least—to be literal.  The film provides a haunting image of Odsaluyang, lying dead or dying in the water, and of the baby to whom she has just given birth drifting away from her.  At the very last instant before a jump cut, the baby seems to move very slightly.

            We cut to the Wolf Woman, who hears a cry and rescues the baby from the stream.  She says, “Prince .  .  .  prince of the Himalayas!”

            After his return, Lhamoklodan learns from his mother that his uncle is his father and his father is his uncle.  In the scene immediately following that revelation, the Wolf Woman reveals the ghost’s motivation for his desire for revenge—but she tempers it with the assurance that Lhamoklodan need not seek that revenge:  “The late King wished for you to kill your [biological] father.  This was to be the manner of his revenge.  The sins of the past generation will not cause you to see revenge in the present.”

            The ghost appears at that moment, yelling at the Wolf Woman and continuing to demand revenge.  However, he vanishes, and the Wolf Woman continues the narrative she began during the first play-within-the-play scene.  It deepens Kulo-ngam’s motivation:

The King had decided to execute his queen.  You[r] mother had revealed you were not his flesh and  blood.  In order to protect your mother and you, Kulo-ngam took the greatest risk of all. The mountain spirit granted a rare poison lap dog to Kulo-ngam.  Despite this tribute, the King did not pardon his brother in accordance with tradition.  But he had no inkling that the poison of the lap dog was already pervasive. 

Before the late King died, he knew that Lhamoklodan was not his son; moreover, he knew who the father was—but Kulo-ngam was able to kill him before he destroyed them all.

            At the end of the equivalent to the duel scene, Lhamoklodan, dying from the wound inflicted by the poisoned sword, enters the spirit world and encounters the ghost once again.  The ghost urges revenge with these words:  “He slaughtered in the name of love.  He is a criminal who must be punished . . . .  His poisoned sword is taking your life, too.”

            Despite the ghost’s repeated demand to “Kill him,” Lhamoklodan utters a speech that frees the land from the vengeful spirit:

Let the spirit of heaven judge his soul.  I cannot kill him . . . .  I no longer have the strength to love, to hate, or to raise my sword.  If my death remind[s] people about love and hate, then I shall have no regrets.  May your soul return to your pitiless darkness:  no longer defile the Jiabo people.  Be gone!

After this pronouncement, Lhamoklodan returns to his reality, witnessing the deaths of Nanm, who has drunk the poisoned wine that Kulo-ngam had prepared for Lessar (the Laertes analogue) in an attempt to protect Lhamoklodan if the duel should turn against him; Lessar, who was wounded by the poisoned sword that Kulo-ngam had prepared for Lhamoklodan to use in another attempt to protect him; and Kulo-ngam, who cuts his own throat with the poisoned sword in order to join Lhamoklodan and the others in the next life.

            The last thing Lhamoklodan witnesses is a glimpse of the baby Odsaluyang bore him.  The Wolf Woman shows it to him, and it seems to give him some hope—some comfort.  His last words are “Jiabo:  King of Jiabo.”  The prophecy has taken its final turn:  “With a new king, a river of blood will flow” has been fulfilled in the blood of Lhamoklodan, Nanm, Kulo-ngam, and Lessar.

            The addition of the soothsayer character is one of the most remarkable and intriguing things about this derivative version of Hamlet, particularly as her role in all of this encompasses (after a fashion) a narrator, the Players, providence, Fortinbras, the Ghost, Osric, and the Weird Sisters from Macbeth.  She bridges the gulf between this world and the spirit world, and she enables us to see a background that would otherwise remain blank.

            The alterations and / or additions to Claudius’ and Gertrude’s characters also have wide-reaching ramifications.  What are the implications of Nanm’s marrying a man she didn’t love?  Is Lhamoklodan’s grief not shared by Nanm?  Did Nanm desire her husband’s death?  Did she encourage Kulo-ngam to bring his death about, either consciously or unconsciously?  Did Kulo-ngam truly desire Nanm’s love and Lhamoklodan’s safety above all else?  Is his taking the throne solely motivated by those concerns? 

            Finally, do any of these questions now apply to Hamlet?  In recasting the narrative in this way, has the film disclosed any residual elements of Claudius, Gertrude, Laertes, Ophelia, or Hamlet?  Foregrounding and deepening the love Claudius and Gertrude share does tend to humanize them to a greater degree—a degree that is certainly part of the text but which isn’t necessarily continually on the minds of its readers.  The overall effect of returning to Hamlet after encountering Prince of the Himalayas is to shake up the usual Hamlet-centered reading of the play.

            The title of this essay alludes to J. Dover Wilson’s What Happens in Hamlet—but perhaps it contains the wrong preposition.  “What happens to Hamlet when it is viewed through the lenses provided by Asian derivatives of Shakespeare’s play?” might be more apt.

Works Cited

Ashizu, Kaori. “Kurosawa's Hamlet?” Shakespeare Studies 33 (1995): 71-99. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 23 February 2012.

The Bad Sleep Well [Warui Yatsu Hodo Yoku Nemuru].  Dir. Akira Kurosawa.  Perf. Toshirô Mifune, Masayuki Mori, Kyôko Kagawa, and Tatsuya Mihashi.  1960.  DVD.  Criterion, 2006. 

A Dream in Hanoi:  A True Story of Love, Stage Fright, and Noodle Soup.  Dir. Tom Weidlinger.  Perf. The Central Dramatic Company of Vietnam; Artists Repertory Theatre of Portland, Oregon; F. Murray Abraham.  2002.  Videocassette.  Bullfrog Films, 2002.

Hamlet.  Dir. Kenneth Branagh.  Perf. Kenneth Branagh, Kate Winslet, Richard Attenborough, Brian Blessed, Richard Briers, and Robin Williams.  1996.  DVD.  Castle Rock, 2007. 

Hamlet.  Dir. Laurence Olivier.  Perf. Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Basil Sydney, Eileen Herlie, Norman Wooland, Felix Aylmer, and Terence Morgan.  1948.  DVD.  Criterion, 2000.

Hamlet.  Dir. Michael Almereyda.  Perf. Ethan Hawke, Julia Stiles, Sam Shepard, and Bill Murray.  2000.  DVD.  Buena Vista Home Entertainment, 2001.

Hamlet Goes Business [Hamlet Liikemaailmassa].  Dir. Aki Kaurismäki.  Perf. Pirkka-Pekka Petelius, Esko Salminen, Kati Outinen, Elina Salo, and Esko Nikkari.  1987.  DVD.  Villealfa Film, 1998.

Huang, Alexander C. Y.  Chinese Shakespeares: Two Centuries of Cultural Exchange.  New York: Columbia University Press, 2009.

Kidnie, Margaret Jane.  Shakespeare and the Problem of Adaptation.  London:  Routledge, 2009. 

The Legend of the Black Scorpion [a.k.a. The Banquet (Ye Yan)].  Dir. Feng Xiaogang.  Perf. Zhang Ziyi, Daniel Wu, Zhou Xun, Ge You, Ma Jingwu.  2006.  DVD.  Dragon Dynasty, 2008.

Prince of the Himalayas [Ban dao yin xiang; a.k.a. Ximalaya wangzi.]. Dir. Sherwood Hu. Perf. Purba Rgyal, Dobrgyal, Zomskyid, Sonamdolgar, Lobden, and Lopsang. Hus Entertainment, Shanghai Film Studios. 20 October 2006.

Shakespeare, William.  The Riverside Shakespeare.  2nd ed.  Gen. ed. G.  Blakemore Evans.  Boston:  Houghton Mifflin, 1997. 

Throne of Blood [Kumonosu jô (The Castle of the Spider’s Web)].  Dir. Akira Kurosawa.  Perf. Toshirô Mifune, Minoru Chiaki, and Isuzu Yamada.  1957.  DVD.  Criterion, 2003.


[1] When the subtitles of the films lack punctuation, it has been silently provided.  The exact wording and capitalization have been preserved.
 

 Vietnamese Version: "Điều gì xảy ra trong Hamlet khi Hamlet đến châu Á?"