Hamlet does a pretty good job of giving Claudius dimension and depth, as a man tortured by guilt. Claudius’ perspective is not neglected by Shakespeare. So why feel the need to put on a one man show from his perspective? If that weren’t enough, the show hardly touches on the most interesting aspects of his complex character. Guilt isn’t mentioned once, and Robert Cohen’s Claudius shows no remorse for his actions.
Yes, we get a nice backstory about how the queen was originally supposed to marry Claudius, but his brother allowed the aging king to be confused, and so Claudius’ fiancé became his brother’s wife. But he doesn’t talk about his love for his beloved, just about how his brother stole her, and even then he shows no emotion or anger about this. The script is completely narrative-based with no pause for displays of emotion. I have no idea whether or not Cohen could perform with emotional depth, but the script certainly doesn’t allow it.
There are so many examples of poor interpretations of the script, and of misunderstandings of the source material. Even at the very end, when it is spelled out for the audience that Claudius did in fact murder the king, he doesn’t come across as villainous at all. Maybe because throughout the entire show he is utterly outraged about how anyone could accuse him of murder, then makes a U-turn at the last second, rather than playing fear, guilt or any compelling emotion at all. Seconds are spent on his decision to have Hamlet offed in England, whilst hours are spent talking about Yorick the jester. Did you know Claudius murders him too? Neither did Shakespeare.
The story is meant to run parallel to the events in the source material, set out as Claudius confiding in his privy council. However, rather than focusing on what people might say about how “the funeral baked meats did coldly furnish fourth the marriage tables”, the first act revolves around Ophelia and Hamlet’s relationship. Cohen seems to have entirely missed the point, not only of Claudius, but of every other character in the play.
Now the show in and of itself is not unamusing. It wouldn’t have been the best show I’d seen, but not the worst either. But the bar is so high in terms of dialogue and storytelling. If you are going to pay homage to a man who is considered one of the greatest writers in the world, you best have something amazing up your sleeve. And Something Rotten just isn’t amazing.
Cohen’s Claudius portrays neither the lust, greed nor corruption of the character as a villain, nor the guilt, remorse or sensitivity that is shown of Claudius as a person. This is a shoddy adaptation that shows that the creators did not understand the nuances of Shakespeare’s work, or the screaming overtones. Something may not be rotten in the state of Denmark, but something certainly is in this show.
Something Rotten played a one off performance at the Tristan Bates Theatre on December 17. For more information about future shows, see the Tristan Bates Theatre website.