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Shamanism in Korean Hamlets since 1990: Exorcising Han

From: Asian Theatre Journal
Volume 28, Number 1, Spring 2011
pp. 104-128 | 10.1353/atj.2011.0015



During the Korean Shakespeare boom of the last twenty years, Hamlet has been performed more than any other drama. Hamlet productions admired by Korean audiences and critics have, like other successful Shakespeare productions in the same period, shared a common tendency for Koreanization in respect of style and theme. The Koreanization of Hamlet productions, in particular, is closely connected with shamanism. The most prominent of Hamlet productions since the 1990s stage rituals like the gut—in which a shaman appears to be possessed. Looking back over the hundred-year history of Hamlet in the modern Korean theatre, this paper argues that these shamanistic Hamlets, which have emerged with democratization, globalization, and the extended freedom of the 1990s, serve to exorcise pain of a people who have suffered from the problems of "to be or not to be" through times of colonialism, war, dictatorship, and IMF crisis. Examining the major Hamlet productions (1993-2007), this paper explains the relationship between Hamlet and Korean shamanism, which is closely connected with Korean people's han, an indigenous sentiment of pain and regret.

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