Tuesday, January 27, 2009

"A Bit with a Dog"

This is the story of a production that came up with a rather strange way to justify a single line, indeed, a single word in Shakespeare. Whether this production is true of just a theatrical myth, it still manages to highlight how much trouble people can have with Shakespeare interpretation.

This particular production gave Hamlet a companion; a dog. This little dog was Hamlet's closest friend and followed him around for the entire show. Why might we ask? Well, when Hamlet discoverers Claudius praying and alone. Hamlet's first line is:

Now might I do it pat, now he is praying;
And now I'll do it. And so he goes to heaven;
And so I am revenged.

This production took a very literal, if not comical, interpretation of the line so that the reading became "Now might I do it, Pat" wherein "Pat" became the name of Hamlet's dog.

As you can see, this is one of those stories that I desperately with wasn't true. But then again, you can never be sure and we've all heard of strange and silly things happening in the theatre. This is a caution against closed-mindedness when dealing with interpreting Shakespeare's meaning.

Happy Birthday: W.A. Mozart (1756-1791)


  1. I heard a similar-- and equally strange-- and possibly apocryphal-- "dog interpretation" of Hamlet. Apparently, they took Hamlet's line "and dog shall have his day" quite literally, i.e., that Hamlet is the "dog" in that particular turn of phrase. So, the actor playing Hamlet showed his madness throughout the ENTIRE play by barking like a dog. (And then Shakespeare rolled over in his grave... and growled.)

  2. O'Toole mentions a tradition of a "Dog Hamlet," from the 19th century in a discussion of Hamlet with Orson Welles. You can find it on Youtube. Strange.