What’s Hamlet to us? (Or us to Hecuba?)

Twitchin, Mischa. 2023. 'What’s Hamlet to us? (Or us to Hecuba?)'. In: "Acting, Reacting, Enacting. Theory and Practice in Performing Arts." ANTS Conference 2023. Latvian Academy of Culture Theatre House, Latvia 3-4 November 2023. [Conference or Workshop Item]

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Abstract or Description

Of all plays, Hamlet famously stages the relation between characters and actors – presenting characters as actors (“to suit the action to the word, the word to the action”) – “to hold as ‘twere the mirror up to Nature”; or, indeed, “to show Virtue her feature”. As Lotman observes: “Nowadays Hamlet is not just a play by Shakespeare, but… also the memory of all its interpretations, and… all those historical events which occurred outside the text but with which [it] can evoke associations. We may have forgotten what Shakespeare and his spectators knew, but we cannot forget what we have learnt since their time. And this is what gives the text new meanings” (1990: 18-19). It is this anachronism that makes the figure of Hamlet a dialectical image for “the times”, a figure of the “contemporary” – and a key to that dynamic of “acting, reacting, enacting” called “the Hamlet syndrome” in a recent Polish-Ukrainian film (2022). Here, I wish to explore the play’s haunting first line, its opening question – “who’s there?” – as this is quite literally reflected upon at the beginning of Korsunovas’ canonical production (2008). This scene, where the question becomes a metaphor in and of the very performance we are watching (“who are you?”), is staged as the mirroring of relations between voice and mask, dressing room and auditorium, actor and ensemble, theatre and society. It exemplifies what, for Korsunovas, is essential to any question of and for theatre – “the inadequacy between a word and an action, a word and view… [which] helps new meanings to appear” (2021: 94-95). In reviewing this instance, I will explore how Didi-Huberman’ engagement with Benjamin’s concerns with citation – as, for example, of Hecuba – illuminates the potential “new meanings” (or actions) in and of “old words” (or translations) that appear in the actors’ work.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Theatre and Performance (TAP)


3 November 2023Completed

Event Location:

Latvian Academy of Culture Theatre House, Latvia

Date range:

3-4 November 2023

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

06 Nov 2023 11:27

Last Modified:

06 Nov 2023 11:27



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