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OSC Responds to False Statements about Hamlet's Father

Normally I don't respond to reviews, especially when the reviewer clearly has an axe to grind. But the dishonest review of Hamlet's Father that appeared in Publisher's Weekly back in February of 2011 has triggered a firestorm of attacks on me. I realize now that I should have answered it then and demanded a retraction, because while the opinions of reviewers are their own, they have no right to make false statements about the contents of a book.

The review ends with this sentence: "The writing and pacing have the feel of a draft for a longer and more introspective work that might have fleshed out Hamlet's indecision and brooding; instead, the focus is primarily on linking homosexuality with the life-destroying horrors of pedophilia, a focus most fans of possibly bisexual Shakespeare are unlikely to appreciate."

Since my introduction to the book states that I was not remotely interested in Hamlet's "indecision and brooding" in Shakespeare's version of the story, I wonder how carefully the reviewer read the book. But the lie is this, that "the focus is primarily on linking homosexuality with ... pedophilia." The focus isn't primarily on this because there is no link whatsoever between homosexuality and pedophilia in this book. Hamlet's father, in the book, is a pedophile, period. I don't show him being even slightly attracted to adults of either sex. It is the reviewer, not me, who has asserted this link, which I would not and did not make.

Because I took a public position in 2008 opposing any attempt by government to redefine marriage, especially by anti-democratic and unconstitutional means, I have been targeted as a "homophobe" by the Inquisition of Political Correctness. If such a charge were really true, they would have had no trouble finding evidence of it in my life and work. But because the opposite is true -- I think no ill of and wish no harm to homosexuals, individually or as a group -- they have to manufacture evidence by simply lying about what my fiction contains.

The truth is that back in the 1970s and 1980s, when it was definitely not fashionable to write sympathetic gay characters in fiction aimed at the mainstream audience, I created several sympathetic homosexual characters. I did not exploit them for titillation; instead I showed them threading their lives through a world that was far from friendly to them. At the time, I was criticized by some for being "pro-gay," while I also received appreciative comments from homosexual readers. Yet both responses were beside the point. I was not writing about homosexuality, I was writing about human beings.

My goal then and today remains the same: To create believable characters and help readers understand them as people. Ordinarily I would have included gay characters in their normal proportions among the characters in my stories. However, since I have become a target of vilification by the hate groups of the Left, I am increasingly reluctant to have any gay characters in my fiction, because I know that no matter how I depict them, I will be accused of homophobia. The result is that my work is distorted by not having gay characters where I would normally have had them -- for which I will also, no doubt, be accused of homophobia.

But Hamlet's Father, since it contained no homosexual characters, did not seem to me to fall into that category. I underestimated the willingness of the haters to manufacture evidence to convict their supposed enemies.

To show you what I actually had in mind in writing Hamlet's Father, here is the introduction I wrote for its publication in book form. I'm as proud of the story as ever, and I hope readers will experience the story as it was intended to be read.

Foreword to Hamlet's Father

I have loved Shakespeare's plays since my days as a theatre undergraduate, when I learned to get my head into his characters and my mouth around the blank verse. I have taught his plays to literature students, directed actors in performing his plays, and even fiddled with some of his scripts so they'd be fresh and funny to modern audiences despite the way the language has changed since he wrote them. (See my adaptations of Romeo & Juliet and The Taming of the Shrew at www.hatrack.com.)

I don't like all the plays equally. Coriolanus simply doesn't speak to me. In fact, none of the Roman plays do. But the play that bothers me the most -- because I don't much care for it and think I should -- is Hamlet.

Of Shakespeare's great tragedies, I love Lear and Macbeth; Othello at least I understand. But Hamlet? I have little interest in a dithering hero; nor am I much inspired by revenge plots. Yet I keep hearing that this is the greatest of them all.

So I analyzed the story to see what it would take to make me care about it. "Hamlet's Father" is what I came up with. I'm fully aware of the fact that I have just messed with the play that many consider the greatest ever written in any language. But Shakespeare stole his plots from other people; and nothing I do is going to erase a line of his great work or diminish his reputation in any way. So why not?

If you think it's blasphemous to fiddle with Shakespeare's work, then for heaven's sake don't read this story. I leave his version in shreds on the floor. But my body count is just as high, as long as you don't expect me to account for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. I figure Tom Stoppard took care of them for all time.

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