Jan Kott recalls in Aloes that, during one of his many encounters with Peter Brook, the British director was very excitedly discussing what the shadow (or ghost) of Hamlet’s father should do to an audience. After insisting ‘this ghost must make you shiver with fear, it must’, Brook showed Kott a pair of stone figurines – small reproductions of ‘demons from Sumatra’ – and asked: ‘Don’t they make you afraid?’ They didn’t, says Kott; actually, they looked a bit ridiculous. But then,
Peter turned out the lights and placed the larger figure against a window so that it cast a long shadow in the middle of the room. Then he aimed a lamp from another direction. The figure, the shadow, grew in stature; its head was horrible; the shadow was terrifying and disgusting. I shivered. I started to feel afraid.
Despite its evident emphasis on religion and mind (on providence, doubt, scepticism, procrastination, and the like), to me, Hamlet is Shakespeare's most provocative engagement with shadows - the darkest shadows. For the shades, dreams, images and ghosts that appear in other plays seem less dense, less obscure and threatening when compared to the shadows that populate Elsinore. Every character in Hamlet becomes a shadow, or the shadow of another. Following Shakespeare's own example, it is possible to say that the characters of Hamlet are translated into shadows: Hamlet senior stalks Hamlet junior as much as Polonius shadows him and orders Ophelia to play a similar game, while Hamlet drops in on Claudius, who has Polonius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern play the clownish detectives shadowing Hamlet's every move, and so on.