Hamlet and Richard Armitage — first impressions?

HamletOne negative, two neutral, three really pleased! Read #3 only if you don’t can’t bear to read criticism.

1. 1-Click ordering MY FOOT. The fact that I am now listening to this is a sheer testament to my devotion to Richard Armitage. I don’t want to scare anyone off — probably if you do what they want and listen to it on your smart phone, you will have no problem. I have no smart phone. I have never bought a digital download that involved this much circumlocution to play on the iTunes on my MacBook Pro, which seems to be no problem for anything else that amazon sells. Went into amazon.com via RichardArmitageNet.com ‘s affiliate program, purchased, was then told to enter email to receive the app. Dude, I don’t want the app. I have iTunes on my laptop. No clue from the page as to how to download anything other than an app. Go to amazon orders to find no record that I’ve actually bought the darn thing, but I do have the screen that says I bought it. Finally go to audible.com to try to figure out if I have even bought it — am told it will download automatically into iTunes. Okay, but I don’t have the fricking link to download anything. Then discover I have a log in at audible.com although I’ve never created one. Creepy, and they don’t even offer to alert me to their terms and conditions when I log in for the first time ever. Then I download — no indication as to how big the files are. Unprofessional. Files don’t download and open automatically into iTunes, they have to be imported and I have to give in my amazon password to hear them. Is this going to happen every time? I have to use a proprietary password to access content stored on my own computer? That’s kind of nasty. Have I bought the book or am I just renting it? Finally, I’m listening, after ten minutes of aggravation. I hope the download onto audio CDs for my car doesn’t cause this much hassle.

2. The material — I need to listen to it a few more times, probably. The adaptation makes more than one assertion as a point of context in the first hour of the piece that I find mistaken, but none of it is that important to anyone’s enjoyment of this piece other than a historian’s, and so I’m going to remind myself forcefully that I’m not in the target audience for this kind of adaptation, something I already knew. Probably the big problem is that I don’t need Hamlet explained to me and this adaptation explains a lot in a clumsy way. It’s interesting that that this doesn’t bother me at all with regard to potential transgressions against canon in The Hobbit, but those are different kinds of transgressions, plot changes to a plot I know little about and am not invested in. I’m pretty familiar with Hamlet — although not, of course, on the level of a Shakespeare scholar — and I know a lot about its historical context, and there are decisions to be made in any “staging,” including an audiobook. I have a picture in my mind of what Hamlet means and this adaption, so far, does not conform. The things that are bugging me here are less about plot and more — atmospheric? environmental? contextual? I will have more time to think about this as I listen to it again.

3. And finally, (2) notwithstanding — I just love Richard Armitage’s voice and the way he reads. Unsurprisingly, that’s the big gift here. I’m not a member of the “I’d listen to the phone book if he read it” contingent. But everything about it is pleasurable, the pitch, his articulation of the consonants in particular, the pronunciation and the contemplative melody, the ups and downs of pitch and emphasis with which he reads. It’s interesting to listen to this as a contrast, right after the D-Day documentary that dropped yesterday, which is very much read in “presenter” style. We all have normal rhythms and cadences in our reading, and we expect to hear these in this things we listen to. In the documentary, we expect the style of war documentary with its alternative excitement, regret, contemplation, as well as a certain regularity of vocal movement that conforms to how people read for television. None of that is present here — which is a good thing.

Armitage aficionados are going to hear familiar voices here from earlier voicings. Such echoes are neither surprising nor troubling (how many female voices can a man do, after all?) Still, I think on the level of a pure reading, we can hear a significant gain in artistry here over the earlier audiobooks. The Robin Hood books show an Armitage very much caught up in the excitement of reading and sharing rousing stories with his audience — there are points at which he gets involved, perhaps against his own inclination as artist, and humorous moments that we can tell he enjoys as well. In Lords of the North, we hear a long, mysterious inhabitation of a single personality, Uhtred, and this is my favorite Armitage audiobook, but I have to admit that emotionally, I haven’t been able to make myself listen beyond disc 3. The Heyer audiobooks are delightfully mannerist — you hear Armitage fitting himself very much into the Regency style and one occasionally hears the wry smile in his voice and the light stepping and conscious avoidance of the potential ridiculousness of the entire affair. He realizes that beyond the stories, Heyer as observer is the main character of these works, but he puts a light touch on that awareness, with a presentation that is equally accessible to those who enjoy these works on the level of entertaining story and those who are thinking about them as middle-brow, neo-historical comedies of manners. A Convenient Marriage is intriguingly edgier, but if it departs from that pattern, then only slightly or almost indistinguishably (I’d wanted to write about this last summer. Maybe some day.)

Hamlet is something different for Armitage (and the fact that I react in this way despite my objections in [2] interests me).

First, Armitage shows (or has gained?) the ability to sustain the energy of a long literary ramble — the rhythm of an extremely long scene — and keep the reader’s attention. (It’s a bit hard to say whether this is a development because earlier outings didn’t offer opportunities like this one does). The impression for the listener becomes less the voices and characterizations (as in Heyer), than the trajectory of a particular section of the work in the entire drama. There was always something a bit gimmicky about all of the voices in Heyer — enjoyable, but as if we could see the tricks he was playing, so that Heyer for fangirls was something like CBeebies for children and their tired mums — part of the enjoyment lay in one’s amusement at the vocal antics. The voices are still here, but they fade a little, Armitage takes less pleasure in the performance of the trick and more enjoyment in the feeling of the interactions and dialogues creating a certain focus for the listener at the end of each scene. He’s often been a master of the vignette, as in much of the poetry he’s read over the years (even if one didn’t necessarily like the material he read, or the artistic choices he made, they were reasoned and masterfully executed). Here, he’s turning into the reader for the long game.

Second, and maybe because of that, because he’s not concentrating so hard on the seconds and thinking much more about the minutes and the hours, one gets a much better sense of how he might read a work something more like philosophy or high culture “literature.” I think one reason I’ve been less interested in the audiobooks, generally, than his acting, is that up until now I’ve gotten less idea of Armitage as mind from his reading than from his acting. There is a consciousness there making decisions, and it’s generally easier to contact it and see its provocative moments in his acting. But because of the pacing here — because it doesn’t feel like Armitage is oriented so much toward the perfect reproduction of the vignette, but rather toward the movement of the scenes — we get more of a sense of a spirit there behind the words than we do in the earlier material, in which he always seems to be performing and meta-performing.

In short — here, he seems merely and totally: absorbed. Richard Armitage as a speaker and interpreter more like I am a reader. Rather than telling and gesturing, as he does in most of the earlier work, he is observing, absorbing, reporting — musing. His voice is not so much motion and indication as it is a current of perception upon which he takes us with him. That effect in itself is a lie — because a reading like this, of such high quality and such sustained energy and direction, can never be casual. But in my opinion, it constitutes a significant gain over against the kind of enjoyable, but heavily controlled, illusion he’s been presenting in the past in his audiobooks. If his work occasionally seemed to result from the calculated pullback of the overlearner, he seems now to have gained a sort of artistic stamina that allows the illusion to move further into the foreground and the work to recede further in the back. As a result we as listeners become ever more easily lost in his voice.

~ by Servetus on May 20, 2014.

46 Responses to “Hamlet and Richard Armitage — first impressions?”

  1. Servetus–So sorry you had to assume such yoga positions to get a copy of the book! I have a Kindle Fire and received my notice this morning that my pre-ordered copy was ready for download. Fired up the Kindle, went to my library at Audible and pushed the button. All done in a minute or so. Sounds like Audible is more geared to Kindle than to your Apple product.

    Am about to embark on my listening journey. I’m very interested in your comments and will add to them if I can after I am done. Cheers!

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    • I have a Kindle Fire but I’d never use it to listen to audiobooks, which are for the car, or maybe my office. So the entire format issue for this publication was huge for me. Even now I don’t have a version I can listen to in my car. Will try to create in a few hours, lol 🙂

      Hope you enjoy the performance!

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      • I have a Kindle Fire and used it to listen to Macbeth and now listening to Hamlet (or was this morning on my commute). I bought a device, not very expensive, to listen to it through my car radio, my car is over 5 years old, (connection through car lighter). It takes a while each day to find the right station to tune to each way, but once I do, I’m happy I can finally listen in my car. There is some static some days and not others, means fine tuning the station. Find no static at night, only in the day. Not perfect but I don’t have to have perfect as long as it’s a workable solution for my old car 🙂

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        • I think I’m going to try the conventional CD burn first — I don’t know if my car has a cigarette lighter or where it is, lol.

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    • oh, and — look forward to your impressions, obviously.

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  2. Haven’t bought this yet (audiobook reluctance), but am very much intrigued after your first impressions here. Technical difficulties aside, sounds as if this is money well-spent?! Sure, Vox Armitagalis is always a pleasure, but a reimagined Hamlet can be a tricky subject. I am going to spoil my ears with D-Day first and then move over to culture. Thanks for your review – it does help to make up my mind.

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    • This is probably a must for Armitage fans — it was a similar pain in the ass to get my hands on LOTN, and for that reason I never said “you have to listen to this” although it was excellent and IMO his best audiobook. There’s a different development here. It’s a more mature reading. Still trying to put my fingers on it.

      As to the adaptation of Hamlet — yeah. I don’t want to belabor it, though. I am not in a position to speculate about whether that will appeal to its target audience.

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      • I am really curious about LOTN. Will probably listen to it soon.
        As for the adaptation – actually, I don’t want to be smug and elitist about it. I find Shakespeare quite hard to follow, tbh, so an adaptation is a win-win for me. Mind you, I was “shocked” by one of the preview clips and literally did a “double-hear” – had to rewind to check that I had really heard what I had heard :-D. But OTOH that is what we do in fanfic all the time – rewrite, add and expand. And I like a fresh take on an old classic. (For that reason I very much liked the Shakespeare Re-Told series, too.)

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        • lol, we are twins.

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        • to be fair, I think that as much time as I’ve spent with this play, an actor and a Shakespeare scholar would spent 20 times that much time — so they probably stand in different relationship to the possibility of “startling” additions to the original.

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          • Very good point. Fits my own attitude towards edits and manips of images, for instance. Source material is sacro-sanct. Which is not a good attitude to have. I’ll keep my “Alexander Text” close at hand when listening to Hamlet – and will mark down any deviations from the original hmph 😉

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        • I liked the Shakespeare Re-Told pieces a great deal, too. IMO this does not reach that level of inventiveness.

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          • Well, the MacBeth reimagining was really inspired, setting it in the modern, competitive environment of a Michelin-starred restaurant. The tyrannical chef an excentric Irishman, oh how I loved it. (Conrad Gallagher possibly?) I love such radical transposing of set-ups – they often add a great deal to the intended message of the original. I have high hopes for The Crucible in that respect. But sorry, I am veering OT now.

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            • I think I tend to enjoy non-historicizing adaptations more, because I’m not having to turn off my “they got that wrong” ticker. I would argue that one problem with this is that they set it around 1600.

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              • Seems quite late?
                Oh, and how well I know that history radar. Really, really annoying because it makes me go on tangents and work myself up over inconsequential details.

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                • well, not really. Shakespeare refers to “Wittenberg” in the play so that means after the 1480s as the earliest date for a historicizing staging. They chose the point at which the play was originally staged, I guess.

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  3. Forget Hamlet — Your next career should be actor/movie/book/audio-book performer critic. Very interesting analysis especially the parts about the differences in the readings and how he’s improved. And I love the ebb and flow of this piece. Makes me want to buy the Hamlet book. So far the only RA readings I’ve heard are on Youtube — which I guess means I’m not a very loyal fan if I’m not actually buying the product.

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  4. Plus you get to hear Richard Armitage say “puke.”

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  5. Also, and others can weigh in on this when they’ve heard more — he sometimes sounds more US-American to me when he’s doing certain accents, like the “Tom Orde” one, for instance, which reappears here, than he used to do.

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  6. Its good to hear that the link to RichardArmitageDotNet worked for someone. I kept getting ‘product not available’ and everything aufiobook had dissspeared from the online store as of this morning. I need to remember to drop Ali a note. I am neither an audio book nor an ereader person. I do have a smart phone. Just have been trying to figure out how to order the book without joining the monthly club. The SO loves audio books. Depending on the jealously level he may purchase for me. Sigh.

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    • huh. I went to the RichardArmitageNet.com website, clicked on the amazon us icon, and then searched for the title there and bought it that way? Maybe they didn’t want to give an affiliate cut on these titles and just got around to closing it off?

      I didn’t have to join the monthly club that way.

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  7. Dear Servetus,
    1) Agree
    2) Agree
    3) Agree. Disclaimer notice: I’ve only heard the first hour, but I’m hooked.

    This downloading business ought to be easier. It took me a good hour to make it work. I would have liked to listen to it on my IPhone. I haven’t figured that one out yet. So, I listen on my laptop for now.

    I find that I like the explanations – so far – Right at the beginning, I got a bit annoyed, because the castle is called Elsinore in the story, but that’s the name of the town in which the castle is situated. The castle’s true name is Kronborg, or for non-Danish speakers, fortress of the Crown.

    This aside, I enjoyed the explanation of Holger Danske (RA does his best with the pronunciation of the name). During WWII, a Danish resistance group took on this name, Holger Danske, because legend has it that this old Viking awakes from his slumber and rises to fight against any Danish enemy.

    The listener must always keep in mind that this is not the original Shakespearean Hamlet. I have to remind myself of this. Nevertheless, I’m hooked; I cannot wait to hear the story unfold.

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    • really — that you can’t listen to it on an iPhone is kind of a disaster — I get the feeling that’s their ideal format.

      My bête noire in this is, unsurprisingly, the frequent reference of “Wittenberg.”

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      • I’ll just have to keep trying, but it ought not be so difficult. When I want to download to my IPhone, I experience similar problems to yours.

        My ‘Hamlet’ is a bit rusty, but I don’t seem to recall any Wittenberg in the original. Maybe the reference has some later importance to the story?

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      • I am listening to it on my I phone but not easy to Download. Got the message Hamlet was available in My Library when I did this an errorless age came up cannot download from this source. Kept fiddling and finally it happened. Plays back OK now.

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  8. The German forum is one long list of complaints about media / download related issues. I don’t think we were alone.

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  9. Not having used Audible before, I found the entire process extremely frustrating. If I had known I could buy Hamlet from iTunes I would have done it that way, but somehow I missed that info. I have transferred the audiobook into my iTunes library and am burning to CD for my car, so far so good. I’m still unable to load onto my phone from Audible – makes me feel stupid sigh – will have to use iTunes for that too I guess.

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  10. Whilst i wouldn’t wish this pain on you all, i’m reassured to see i wasn’t the only one who had problems downloading. I went via the Richardarmitage.net link and downloaded the Audible app from the app store so i could listen to it on my ipad. Having done this and completed my purchase, i went to my library and got a message saying the software was incompatible so i couldn’t listen to it on that device. Much fuming and head scratching as to how i was going to access it (and where it even was) and in the end i cancelled my order. Then i went on the PC, had to download new software (despite having bought lots of things from Audible in the past) and it was finally delivered to MR BOLLY’s itunes account! Hmmmph! All this took over an hour and i’m not even going to get started on how affronted i am it ended up in Mr Bolly’s acount. It is now on my ipod, which isn’t where i wanted it ideally but it will do for now until i figure out how to get it to my iphone or ipad. I haven’t actually started listening to it – by the time i had finished it was past my bedtime. It’s a glitch they need to sort out because if i hadn’t been so keen i would have given up. It really shouldn’t be that difficult.

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    • So, if I understand this correctly Bolly, the audiobook I downloaded automatically loaded into iTunes – and there’s me thinking I was such a clever girl, doing it manually when it was already there!

      Have been listening to the first disc in the car and I’m hooked. 🙂

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  11. After everything that you have gotten though trying to get Hamlet on itunes I think that I will just get the cd in hand. My MacBook Pro is only two months old and I still have toys to play with on it, so far I like it.

    Maybe Richard will get me to put in a cd that is not music, that is all I listen to these days. I also think son2 will enjoy this audio book too.

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  12. Audible was an easy download for me. It took me literally less than a minute to download onto my audible app on my laptop. I have a smart phone, but have absolutely no interest in using it for anything besides a phone, and even then only if I really need to. Listening to audiobooks on my Kindle Fire drains the battery fairly quickly, so I usually don’t bother.

    Since you can listen to music on Amazon Fire TV, I am wondering if I can listen to this audiobook on it….Hmmm I will have to look into that. I don’t have Amazon Fire TV yet, but I am seriously thinking about it.

    Great review! I have no idea when I will get to listening to it.

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  13. I bought the audiobook from Amazon for my Kindle. It works fine and I actually like it. I mean aside from hearing Richard every time. I like the way it is being told. I think it is fine and still enjoy the original Hamlet as well.

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  14. […] familiar with the work and it is an adaptation of something that means something me, even if my general impression of it is positive, any indication that I don’t love every second of it is taken by some readers as snark. On […]

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