Onur Ünsal on Hamlet

Moda Sahnesi is famous for its thought-provoking plays, warm atmophere, and its controversial adaptation of Hamlet. It was first staged over a year ago, and since then, it has received various comments. In this rather avant-garde adaptation, Onur Ünsal, a 29-year-old thespian, plays the title role. Below, you can read what Ünsal thinks about his character, the play, and the common perception of Shakespeare adaptations.

Hamlet - Moda Sahnesi
Hamlet – Moda Sahnesi

1.You have starred in movies which were directed by women, about women, or had a leading female figure in the center. Right now, you play the title role in Hamlet at Moda Sahnesi. At one point, your character says “Frailty, thy name is woman!”, what do you think of his regard on women?

Hamlet’s thoughts on women are not that simple, not as simple as “Frailty, thy name is woman!” It is difficult to interpret what Hamlet thinks about women by looking at the play. I mean, it would be over-interpretation. But we can say this: woman, in this play -we must define it like that- is an object of desire for Hamlet. His mother as a mother, and his girlfriend as a girlfriend, each is an object of desire. In fact, Aydoğan (director) has said that, according to Lacan, the play is about Hamlet taking revenge from the ones who attack his objects of desire. Hamlet, in one sense, loses his mother and girlfriend. He loses -or gives- his mother to another power. For example, Ophelia starts her tirade with these lines: Where is the beauteous majesty of Denmark? (4.5.2) The quote actually means we cannot see where this woman is, I mean, where is this woman? It is asking the woman -who stands in front of her- where she is. It is the same thing for Hamlet. “Have you eyes? … You cannot call it love…” (3.4.4) This is his reaction to the loss of his mother. When Ophelia starts living under the obedience of her father, he loses his girlfriend. Thus, it is not about Hamlet’s thoughts on women but a craving for people who can actually think. “Frailty, thy name is woman!” might not be strictly about Hamlet. Women are maybe frailty for the uncle. We cannot figure out what Hamlet thinks of women, but if you ask me, Hamlet is at the same time a feminine character. Therefore, I guess this is the only way I can respond this question. There are two women in the play, and both are related to him. So I do not think we can figure his point of view out from the play. He is probably interested in women too.

2.While most of the adaptations of Shakespeare use the original text and modernize the ambiance, you have a more avant-garde standpoint. Can we say that for your Hamlet, it is an adaptation which gives importance to function before form?

Yes we can say that. Our priority is rather the function than the form. We do not know the form of the play. You do not know it either, no one knows it. What was the form in Denmark in 1600s? Does anyone know anything about it? Can someone correct me if I applied that form? Can anyone confirm that form? We do not know enough about this issue. Besides, the story does not take place in Denmark. Denmark is a cover. Shakespeare has written it for his own country, and I guess, for everyone. If we can still playing it, it is obvious that he has written it for us too. Denmark is a cover he has made up in order to save himself from death penalty. Shakespeare has many covers like this in his plays. Kings do kill, it was impossible to stage such a thing but Shakespeare had written it in such a way that he was not found guilty. Therefore, we do not have an audience who knows that form. We only have a habit, a habit of playing Shakespeare. We are not a theatre who would do such a thing anyway. We are not people who would do that. We did not change Hamlet. People say that we did. Actually, many of Shakespeare’s works are not known properly. “Hamlet does not swear,” he does, it is on the original text. The gravedigger says “whoreson”, all is in the play. (5.1.8) Shakespeare’s language can be very vulgar too. He was a man who held various aspects in himself. His theatre was also like that. It was a place where people from every stratum could go, where he could earn money from everyone, and it was a place where he could say everything to everyone. Thus, we did not aim to adapt the play to our modern day. We did not try to apply a chain of logic to it. When we were translating the play, we paid attention to what it says. Of course we live in today’s world, and we interpret everything according to our time. While we were staging this play, the case of Gezi Parki was taking place. We experience those happenings; if we make these plays for today’s audience, do we not care what today is about? Or do we not interpret things based on today’s world? So, just wearing a t-shirt does not make a play modern, if only it was that easy to modernize something. It only means we do not know the costume of that period, and we do not apply that to our play. We did not “modernize” the play. There are such sayings that we do not know, another one is “post-modern”…  We know neither “modernism” nor “post-modernism”, we did not live such things, and we did not try to take the play to that point. We only thought about how to construct the play in such a way so that it would be a better and more comprehensible play, a better metaphor. I do not know if it is to modernize the play, such words are dangerous because everyone gets another meaning from them. Yes, the play is a bit modernized, because I am saying those words today. We did not include every scene in the translation process. There are five acts in the play. We cut certain parts out. There are too many things in Hamlet, the important part is to decide which direction you will take. You exclude the rest. Again people reacted, they think we modernize the play, but we play the same Hamlet.

-The other way round would be predictable.

Of course it would be predictable and why would you wonder it? Then, we should continue watching television. Why would we bother to stage a play, then? Theatre is a troublous field. It is not easy; you work for three or four months, you are embarrassed, bored, tired… I mean, that place, it is a cave, and you cannot leave. Then the audience comes, and says such a thing to what you have been working on for months that you cannot rationalize it. Then I suggest that we keep watching television. Let’s go and continue our lives there. This place, it is theatre. There is a different standpoint here. First, we invite you outside; it means we are not going to include that kind of entertainment. This place is a bit different, is it not? Here we deal with who says what, with characters, roles, the play,… We should let the costume, decor go. Therefore, we are not doing something extraordinary; we think we are doing what we are supposed to do. Besides, theatre is simple, I mean, it is not simple, but it is those seven coffins on the background. That is it. It is complete. It is the right ambiance.

– It is very simple and yet it is effective enough to give the message.

Of course it is. People ask why we excluded the gravedigger scene; we made it the decor of the play. Did we exclude it? No, you did not get the message. That is the situation.

Hamlet - Moda Sahnesi
Hamlet – Moda Sahnesi

3.If Hamlet was a colour, which one would he be?

I believe Hamlet starts as grey, but in the end, he is red. Hamlet’s colour changes. At first, he is in depression.

4.In a book called The Hamlet Doctrine: Knowing Too Much, Doing Nothing, the author talks about how each of us has become a modern Hamlet in the tragedy of modern life, how we know a lot, yet do nothing. Would you define yourself as a modern Hamlet?

I am not sure about it, because it is not how I define Hamlet; maybe he is like that. I do not see him as a man who knows a lot but does nothing. People usually say that despite knowing lots of things, he does not take action, he is never sure… but everyone dies. He kills everyone. He kills someone by “mistake”, another one with sword, another one with another thing… Everything happens at the end of the play, what kind of stillness is this? I think it is a misunderstood stillness. Then, was Yasar Kemal passive? Of course not, he is “the action”. Why did he not do anything? He wrote. Can you call it inaction? What is action? Action exists in the thought too. The result of a thought can too lead you to an action. If not, everyone who stays in his/her place is passive; we would be saying he/she is experiencing an internal crisis. Is that possible? Hamlet is a man of action. The difference is that his action is a different kind of action. He does not draw his sword and attack, he does something different. He goes mad, pretends to go mad. People go to him to learn what is going on; he learns everything by pretending not to do anything. We did a similar thing in Gezi Parkı: people wrote “Care Drogba,”, “Ay resmen devrim.” What is that? It is funny, it is irony. It is actually saying something. It means that I do not speak the same language with you. You cannot call this stillness. This is the action. It means that I will not use your tools to fight, because I would lose. You have the power, you have the money, you have everything. I have one thing, my mind, my soul. I only have my mind and I will use it to fight. For that reason she/he will write “Care Drogba,” and you will not get it. I will laugh and you will not. What Hamlet does is something similar. Hamlet says “Then I will go mad,” and no one understands what is happening. Why is he mad? What happened to him? Because of this, because of that… Hamlet is a man who sees how a utopia decays, how rotten and corrupt it is. It would not be right to call such a man passive. Hamlet is a man with a great action. Actually, I believe Hamlet’s act is the only valid action in today’s world. He is not doing nothing throughout the play; indeed Hamlet is doing a lot. We just do not see something physical. He does not do that, he thinks in a different way. Besides, in this play, I believe Shakespeare tells us that we must think in a different way. He tells us to do something different. What do you do, today, to fight against authority? What do you do? Do you draw your sword? Do you carry a gun? No, you cannot do any of them anyway. Are you passive? Can that happen? You too think a lot of things, you straighten things out, you try to reproduce… Hamlet does the same thing. We should give up thinking with an extreme right or left mind. “He does not do anything, then he must be passive. His inner struggle…” He already lives his inner struggle, look around, everyone does. Maybe in Hamlet this is voiced more frequently, but it is in all texts of Shakespeare, in every person. This, again, is about not getting the metaphor.

Hamlet - Moda Sahnesi
Hamlet – Moda Sahnesi

Works Cited

Critchley, Simon, and Jamieson Webster. The Hamlet Doctrine: Knowing Too Much, Doing Nothing. London: Verso Books, 2013. Print.

Crowther, John, ed. “No Fear Hamlet.” SparkNotes.com. SparkNotes LLC. 2005. Web. 11 May 2015.

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