“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” (“Hamlet”, Act I, Scene 5)
When Shakespeare wrote those immortal words, one wonders if even he could have imagined some of the strangeness that would take place in his name. Consider, for example, “Doggie Hamlet,” a theatrical production featuring animals in the starring roles and funded at taxpayer expense.
In 2017, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) awarded a $30,000 grant for the purpose of staging an outdoor production of “Hamlet,” with animals as cast members. As is often the case with anything involving federal funding, this requires more explanation. Although it is classified as a production of “Hamlet,” there aren’t actually any lines from Shakespeare’s immortal play.
The 70-minute production by performance artist Ann Carlson includes five performers, three herding dogs, a dog handler, a dog trainer, and a flock of sheep. Carlson was inspired by David Wroblewski’s The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, which tells the story of a boy who can hear but not speak. He learns American Sign Language to communicate with people, but he also uses a gestural language with the dogs he raises. Carlson, however, does not retell that story, but instead, it explores what it means to be a citizen of the world, with nature included.
Just to be clear, although it is called “Doggie Hamlet,” it does not include any lines from “Hamlet.” Instead, it is inspired by a book, but it doesn’t tell the story from that book. Instead, as Senator James Lankford describes it in his 2017 edition of Federal Fumbles:
“Doggie Hamlet” actually includes humans yelling or running toward very confused sheep and dogs. The production, which does not include any actual lines from “Hamlet,” is conducted outdoors in a 30-by-50-foot field in New Hampshire. The play is described as ‘a beautiful and dreamlike spectacle weaving instinct, mystery, and movement into an unusual performance event.'”
Admittedly, the cultural sophistication of the editorial department of Commonplace Fun Facts does not extend much beyond Doctor Who or Marvel comic books, so we leave it to you to evaluate this artistic phenomenon for yourself and decide whether it was a good use of your tax dollars. The following video is an excerpt from the performance at Westminster, Vermont:
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