to tweet or not to tweet

This flyer comes from the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Hamlet. The quality of the production is not at issue here; Hamlet isn’t one of my favorite plays but I thought this was amazing and would see it again. I particularly enjoyed Jonathan Slinger’s performance – he starts out looking like a young banker who’s having a bad day on the markets, and then progressively goes nuts – as well as the inventive masque at the end of the first part, and the stormy supermarket lighting. The point is the Twitter blurbs in between the newspaper quotes. Here. Let me type them out for you:




You might read the flyer without noticing the sourcing, and the typography certainly helps that. If you do notice the sourcing, “Twitter #RSCHamlet,” together with the published review quotes, implies that these phrases have already appeared in Twitter posts using that hashtag, yes? And yet I can’t find the quotes on Twitter under #rschamlet or rschamlet or even hamlet rsc, though there are some nice things posted. The RSC has a blog post with Storified tweets, including one from Nana, a former student of mine and fellow veteran of the Helsinki English Department Annual Globe & RSC Trip (hi Nana!) – again, very complimentary but not the ones in the flyer. “Totally mesmerising” is there, but not “mesmerising, powerful” or “totally awe inspiring.” Searching for the most distinctive words doesn’t work either: hamlet gripped, mesmerising brilliant (though those terms are applied to Globe Theatre productions, Game of Thrones, and Andy Murray), awe inspiring (many tweets about daredevils, none about Hamlet that I could find). Using awe inspiring rsc and awe inspiring hamlet to narrow it also didn’t work.

Did the tweets exist and then disappear? People do delete tweets, delete accounts, and older tweets eventually become difficult to access because of volume. Still, my searches find tweets dated before this production, so I have to conclude that either a) I am overlooking something that someone will tell me about by e-mail (comments are blocked till I find a good spamfighting widget); b) the RSC unluckily picked comments from three different people who weren’t committed to leaving a record; or c) these comments never appeared on public Twitter in the form on the flyer, but were just made up or cobbled together. This does not increase my already fragile trust in social media as the press of the future.

The economy of full-length reviewing has also become blurry. There is a practice here and now of theatre owners and promoters asking for students to write reviews “for the website” in exchange for free tickets. I understand students wanting to do them for the tickets or the experience, but I fail to see how those could do the judgment job we’ve always expected of reviews, and how any theatergoer would not mentally class them as just more advertisements. They are not journalism. I can adopt the modern position that journalism is increasingly becoming something one does rather than a professional identity and a permanent job. But the essence of the activity of journalism is writing something that is accurate, efficient and interesting to read – and, crucially, isn’t owned by the people you’re writing about.

Hamlet plays in Stratford-upon-Avon until September 28 and then I hope it gets a West End run. Really, you should go see it if you get the chance.

“Some cynics would deny the existence of any real distinction between fiction and reporting. It doesn’t seem like that if you have to do it, though, and I have sometimes thought that all writers of fiction should be required by law to go out and do a bit of reporting from time to time, just to remind them how different the real world in front of their eyes is from the invented world behind them. To have a fiction in mind – whether you have laboriously created it or whether it has seemed to suggest itself – is already to have made something tractable, already to have isolated some specific characters and events, to have seen some way in which they fit together, some way in which it can all be suggested in words. Out there in the world it’s very different. Nothing, for a start, is in words – nothing is the right shape to be put into words. Nothing has its cause or its result written upon it. Even when you find witnesses who supply you with a testimony already in verbal form, their impressions of the same thing and recollections of the same event are dismayingly varied. And there’s so much of everything! All of it inextricably tangled together.


“To describe is to select – and to select only a microscopic sample from this overwhelming profusion. How even, in the first place, to select a principle of selection – how to decide on a particular subject? One way is to choose aspects of the world that seem to stand out from the rest because they are untypical or extraordinary – the heroic, the despicable, the grandiose, the grotesque, the exotic, the extreme. It is difficult to describe such things and to convey some impression of them to a reader, precisely because they are foreign to our normal experience.”


– Michael Frayn, Travels with a Typewriter, 2009


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