Benedict Cumberbatch, the new embodiment of Sherlock Holmes, whose star power was only enhanced by his reprise of that role with the Muppets, will play Hamlet on stage at the Barbican Theater in London in 2015. This production, directed by Lyndsey Turner, builds on other intense and mysterious roles he has previously played on stage. Following the interrelationships between these two dark roles for Cumberbatch– though Sherlock is not so dark on Sesame Street– brings amusement but also some real insight into the person within the actor who can become the character.
The British Shakespearean tradition considers the lineage of the role: who played Hamlet with which emotive interpretation of the tortured Prince. One comes to understand the fine points of the play through its dramatic interpretation by different directors on the stage. Actors, and a number of actresses, have reached elevation in the Pantheon of Hamlets. The traditional greats known for their Hamlet include Sir John Gielgud, Sir Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton and Derek Jacobi. Sarah Bernhardt and the German actress Angela Winkler both played notably as Hamlet.
Other Hamlets have come to Sesame Street, and the character of Sherlock has been recurrent, usefully adding suspense to fascinating questions like “Are there more apples or oranges on the table?” After success with the Muppets for Sherlock star Cumberbatch, his decision to take on the Hamlet role may be less challenging. Cumberbatch can count himself lucky to be in the company of Ian McKellen who played Sherlock in 2013 and Hamlet in 1971 when he was 31 years old, the same age as Hamlet by the end of the play. In a guest appearance as himself on Sesame Street, McKellen met the puppet Gandalf on the narrow sidewalk outside Mr. Hooper’s store. Gandalf challenged him with the line “You shall not pass,” which he had spoken to the Balrog in The Two Towers. This precipitated the non-confrontational McKellen turning left into Hooper’s store. Patrick Stewart who played in Hamlet, but as King Claudius, rose to the lofty role of the Prince on Sesame Street with an epic performance of the “Tis this a ‘B’ or not a ‘B'” speech.
In February Cumberbatch turned his detective powers to the mystery posed him on Sesame Street by his arch-nemesis, the tricky Murray Arty, played by a puppet who looks like Elmo. The devious alter-ego of Moriarty challenged Cumberbatch, who declared repeatedly that he was Benedict, and neither Sherlock nor a detective. In the absence of Watson, “not-Sherlock” enlisted the equally dark Count of Count to address the “brain-bending challenge,” determining whether there were more apples or oranges on the table. Outwitted the not-so-frightening Muppet Murray Arty cursed, “Drat, you win this time Benedict Sherlock.”
Presumably it was not solely the success with the Muppets that lead Sherlock star Cumberbatch to take on the Hamlet role. Muppets remain confused about complex interlocking personae of actors and characters in part because of previous detectives on Sesame Street such as Sherlock Hemlock. Hemlock’s tweeds, deerstalker hat and British accent recurred at various points from season two of the show through season 40. In season 21 Sherlock Hemlock had his greatest success starring in all of the Mysterious Theater segments.
Commentary by Lawrence Shapiro