Aha Moment: Hamlet


Friday, September 07, 2012

A listener named Jeff House told us about his revelation experience with Hamlet. As a teenager he watched the Christopher Plummer film on TV with his big sister, who was enthralled; House was nonplussed. “The language didn’t make sense,” he remembers. The hero was all doom and gloom, consumed by questions about the nature of existence. “I couldn’t figure out what Hamlet’s whole concern was. … I thought he was ‘much ado about nothing.’”

Then, in his early 20s, House had a trauma of his own. He lost his first serious relationship and his faith — and with that, the support of his family. “I remember having a strong sense that I had failed.” One day, at a community theater, he found himself sitting in the audience for Hamlet. He chose the back row, figuring he’d slip out when he got bored. Instead, “I was stunned. I was watching my life on stage — and I wanted to see what happened.”

One of Hamlet’s famous lines is a personal motto for House: “The readiness is all.”


→ Is there a play, book, song, or other work of art that has changed your life? Tell us in a comment or by email.

    Music Playlist
  1. Lacrymae
    Artist: Melodium
    Album: The Island
    Label: Audio Dregs Recordings
    Purchase: Amazon
  2. Crystalline Rain
    Artist: Pantaleimon
    Album: Cloudburst
    Label: Durtro Jnana
    Purchase: Amazon
  3. White Chapel
    Artist: Melodium
    Album: Coloribus
    Label: Abandon Building
    Purchase: Amazon

Produced by:

Jenny Lawton


Thomas Seely

Comments [5]

Michael Rectenwald from Pittsburgh, PA

As a student and educator of the arts I have had many "Aha!" moments, but very few have spurred me to immediate action the way one particular production of Hamlet did in the Summer of 2000.

I was studying in Oxford and had a chance to see Hamlet at the Globe having heard the play was well done from my peers who had seen it, but this was a gross understatement. (We were ignorant yet wonderfully curious Americans.) Needless to say Mark Rylance was playing Hamlet--he hadn't finished his first line and my eyes were welling with tears. Never before had I cried at the first line of an actor.

I had seen some film versions of the play which I thought were "good" (Branagh, Gibson, Olivier). They had nothing on Rylance. From this moment on in the play I was enraptured that an actor could play a part so well as if he had been mourning for weeks prior to the opening scene. I remember the line clearly since his voice was shaky, as if holding back tears. He was not the cunning madman he becomes later in the play--he was terribly sad because his father had died! Of course, I thought! I was pulled into the character like never before--despite identifying with Hamlet previously. Apart from the sheer genius of Rylance's art on stage, from this moment on it was clear that I MUST act.

After my summer in Oxford I returned to my undergraduate institution, tried out for a small part in Twelfth Night. Despite mispronouncing the word "albeit" as "allbite," I got the part of Antonio and fulfilled a dream I didn't know I even had until I heard those words spoken shakily, with deep sadness, "A little more than kin and less than kind."

Sep. 17 2012 09:54 PM
Andy Kreyche from Santa Cruz, CA

OK, so I'm working out at the gym listening to Studio 360 like I do every week. I'm excited because "Aha Moment" comes on and it's one of my favorite of their occasional features. It starts and I fail to hear the particular contributor's name. The piece goes on and it's absolutely absorbing.

I'm thinking about how I can't wait to tell my son about it, replay it for him, and talk about it. He studied Hamlet two years ago as a high school freshman and got totally into it. His teacher that year even arranged a class trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to see a particularly memorable production. I'm thinking I also want to send a link to that teacher, so she can hear it the story too.

So the piece ends and they say the name of the contributor. I'm floored because Jeff House was my son's English teacher from last year! I had my own "Aha moment" right there. My son has had some exceptional teachers and Jeff House is but one of them. I'm so grateful for all the wonderful teachers he's had in his school career.

Here's to all the great teachers past and present out there. The best ones help open their students' eyes to marvelous depths of human experience and understanding. For that, the whole world should be grateful.

Sep. 13 2012 03:58 PM
Maureen Sestito from Pennsylvania

my AhHa moment of inspiration came from a book, "The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax" by Dorothy Gilman. I was a very tired ER nurse, working night shift, with two little kids, while my husband worked a thousand hours a day on his career, our house and taking care of us all. I always dreamed of becoming a Doctor, since I was 14 years old. But, life was so busy and there was always somethng more important than a dream. Then, I read this book. It centered around an older woman who always dreamed of becoming a spy for the CIA. It is pure fantasy. But, it somehow gets to the sul of the dream, where an average, simple old woman, makes a real difference. After I read this book, I started going to college, part time. Over the years I got my Bachelors Degree in Biochem, was accepted to Medical School, finished Internship, Residency and eventually opened my own Medical Practice. My ragged copy of my inspiration has travelled with me, all of these years. Everytime I would get discouraged I re read my book and Mrs. Pollifax got me through. That was my inspiration. And, I give copies of this book to people who are close to giving up. Thank you for your wonderful, joyous, complex, unique program.

Sep. 11 2012 10:17 PM
Kathy Bell from Brenham, Texas

I have spent most of my adult life as an educator and librarian. I read over 500 books a year and I am nearly 60 years old. So to say that in my lifetime I have read well over 100,000 books is not an exaggeration. I recommend books daily to readers from picture books to large type.
However with the possible exception of the works of Shakespeare, I can only list 3 books which have refined my philosphy of life and help me define who I am.
They are in no paticular order Rosemary Sutcliff's the Lantern Bearers, Madeline L'Engle's Wrinkles in Time and Mary Baker Eddy's Science in Health with Key the the Scriptures. These three books taught me such things as keeping knowlege alive is as important as keeping bodies alive. Individuals are unique and need to be treasured. That women have minds and souls and are more than just the handmaidens of men. That my vision of God is not weird or strange and that other people besides me understand that God is to be celebrated with joy not feared or reviled.
Thank you for reading this,
Kathy Bell

Sep. 10 2012 11:44 AM
Eric Hamell from Philadelphia, PA

At age nine I read Lincoln Barnett's _The Universe and Dr. Einstein_. It was only my third sizable book, and it came at a time when I was distressed by disorder in the family's situation and a feeling that my parents weren't paying attention to me. I was also starting to get alienated from my schoolmates. I was very moody that year and talked a lot about killing myself.

Although my previous couple books already suggested an intellectual bent, I think that deepened with this one, as the idea that the Universe had a more beautiful, symmetrical order below the surface of things deeply appealed in these circumstances. The significance of this book for me may also be suggested by the fact that it was the first book (or anything else) that I mentally associated with a song that was on the air at the time -- and associated it with another one when I reread it the following year.

Sep. 09 2012 09:22 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.