'Recruiting the Bard' for Socialism: Introducing Margit Gáspár's Hamlet Is Not Right as Testimony and Shakespearean Appropriation

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This article is published in the inaugural issue of Rhytmos - a thematic issue on Shakespeare in Communist and Post-communist East Europe -, which is edited by Romanian Shakespeare scholar and translator George Volceanov. The study was commissioned for this issue. It explores a Hungarian redramatisation of Hamlet, which reinscribes the Shakespearean classic with socialist ideology. One of the numerous dramatic reworkings of Hamlet, Margit Gáspár's play Hamletnak nincs igaza [Hamlet Is Not Right], written in 1957-58 and first performed in 1962, is an example of the overt politicisation of Hamlet in Hungary. Just as in Ferenc Kazinczy's version from 1790, in this drama the Hamlet figure does not die, but - together with his mother and reconciled with his would-be stepfather - he looks forward to what he believes to be a better socialist future. Gáspár (1905-1994) - a playwright, novelist, translator, theatre manager, theatre historian and journalist - 'recruits the Bard' (to borrow Janja Ciglar-Žanic's term from 1994) to renegotiate and ultimately confirm the justness of the cause of socialism. The play, albeit far from being an aesthetic landmark, is a fine example of appropriating the plot, characters, themes and prestige of Hamlet to suit a post-1956 Hungarian context. It also travelled extensively within the former Soviet bloc as productions were mounted in Czechoslovakia, Poland, Romania and the Soviet Union. The author, a devoted socialist, who was very much troubled at the time over the events of the 1956 revolution, the show trials, large-scale emigration and other phenomena around '56, confronts her own ghost when her Hamlet figure (the young aspiring musician Gábor Tárnok) faces a decision about staying or leaving the country. The question raised (and answered) in this play that is as much about self-assurance as about the reassurance of compatriots is much more than to stay or not to stay - it is to trust or not to trust socialism, and how to go forward.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)74 - 96
Number of pages22
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2013


  • shakespeare
  • hamlet
  • adaptation
  • appropriation
  • shakespeare reception


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