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Hamlet's Father
Orson Scott Card
Subterranean Press, 96 pages

Hamlet's Father
Orson Scott Card
Born in Richland, Washington, Orson Scott Card grew up in California, Arizona, and Utah. He lived in Brazil for two years as an unpaid Mormon Church missionary, and received degrees from Brigham Young University and the University of Utah. He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Kristine, and five children.

In an unprecedented fashion, Card won the Hugo and Nebula awards for best novel two years in a row for Ender's Game and its sequel, Speaker for the Dead, in 1986 and 1987.

Orson Scott Card Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Enchantment
SF Site Review: Stonefather
SF Site Review: A War of Gifts
SF Site Review: Space Boy
SF Site Review: Shadow of the Giant
SF Site Review: The Crystal City
SF Site Review: Wyrms
SF Site Review: Songmaster
SF Site Review: Ender's Shadow
SF Site Review: Ender's Shadow
SF Site Review: Enchantment
SF Site Review: Heartfire
SF Site Review: Homebody

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Soyka

Authors have been riffing off of Shakespeare just as Shakespeare himself lifted the plot of Hamlet off of Thomas Kyd. The trick to appropriating someone else's characters and story line, particularly those as canonical as Shakespeare is saying something beyond mere mimicry. Hamlet would be long since forgotten had not Will imbued an old (even for his time) Danish tale with personalities Harold Bloom famously termed "the invention of the human" -- multidimensional characters whose motivations are unclear, open to interpretation, neither wholly heroic or wholly evil, with Freudian complexities before Freud came around centuries later to point them out.

Perhaps the most famous of modern reinterpretations of The Tragical History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (as it's officially known) is "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead," in which Tom Stoppard cross-breeds Samuel Becket to portray what's "rotten in Denmark" from the perspective of a pair of clueless bit players. John Updike's Gertrude and Claudius took the point of view that Hamlet was something of spoiled brat and the title characters were actually the more noble. More recently, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski refracts elements of the play by ironically recasting the hyper-verbal Hamlet as a mute boy and Ophelia as a dog (a conceit which might sound silly, but actually works). Now along comes Orson Scott Card's novella, Hamlet's Father1, whose startling punch line is perhaps not as sophisticated as these other retellings, but, still, an addition worthy of consideration.

Card is, of course, probably most noted for the Ender and Alvin Marker series, as well as his religious and political views. What you may not know (I didn't) is that, according to the blurb on the cover of the advanced reading copy I have, Card has "translated" several Shakespeare plays "so that modern audiences can understand them instantly and easily while still remaining all the flavor of blank verse in Elizabethan English."

Putting aside a debate of the relative merits of that undertaking, Hamlet's Father would be a really good introduction of the play to a high school class except that schools might be uncomfortable with Card's take on Hamlet's classical Oedipal complex. Here, for example, is a description of Hamlet's frame of mind while away from the court at his studies in Heidelberg:

Out of his father's shadow, he was happy. There were people who loved and admired him, not for his birth or his beauty (though neither was ignored), but for his mind and wit and loyalty and kindness. He liked being loved, and looked forward to the day when he would govern Denmark with generosity and rectitude… He would not go a-conquering; he would labor to keep the peace and help his kingdom prosper, unburdened by a luxurious court or excessive military adventures.
p. 28
For the most part, Card follows the source material, filling in a few gaps that we're left to ponder in the original. Without wanting to spoil things, the gaps Card chooses to fill turn out quite disturbing. Suffice it to say that all considerations about the character of Hamlet start with defining the relationship to his parents, Card focuses on Hamlet's lack of rapport with a seemingly indifferent father. The cause of that indifference is, to paraphrase the Bard, "the thing of Card's play, by which he captures the conscience, or rather lack of one, of the king."

1 In case you're wondering what a reinterpretation of Shakespeare's most famous play is doing in a publication devoted to SF and Fantasy, well, besides that it is written by Orson Scott Card, it does deal with ghosts. Moreover, Will wrote a fair share of fantastical stuff about fairies, witches and pagan gods, which have served as source material grist for genre fiction and films. Perhaps the most famous is Forbidden Planet, loosely based on The Tempest; that same play is also the source material for the Ilium/Olympus duology by Dan Simmons. Sara A. Hoyt wrote a series in which Shakespeare encounters the Faerie who inspire some of his characters: Ill Met by Moonlight, A Night Awake and Any Man So Daring. Isaac Asimov's The Immortal Bard time ports Shakespeare to the 20th century. Short stories by Harry Harrison and Williams Sanders respectively posit the Bard as the first science fiction writer ("A Fragment of Manuscript") and as "Spearshaker" putting on Hamlet for a Cherokee tribe ("The Undiscovered.") Of course, endless comic books are based on Shakespeare, and both Star Trek and Doctor Who are leavened with Shakespearean references in an attempt to upgrade their midbrow pop culture status.

Copyright © 2011 David Soyka

David Soyka is a former journalist and college teacher who writes the occasional short story and freelance article. He makes a living writing corporate marketing communications, which is a kind of fiction without the art.

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