Hacking Hamlet. Sam Esmail’s ‘Mr. Robot’ as Update, Port and Fork of the Shakespearean Source Code


This article reads the television series Mr. Robot (created by Sam Esmail, 2015-2019, USA Network) as a hack of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Deriving the interpretative framework to analyze Mr. Robot from the series itself, the essay first explains the use of the notions of computer hacking and source code in the context of artistic adaptation, outlining how hacking can function as an extended conceptual metaphor which enables a fresh, unified understanding of both processes and products of adaptation and appropriation. The framework of hacking is then applied to an extensive comparative reading of Shakespearean source code and televisual hack which focuses on a tightly integrated complex of issues involving the heroes’ madness, audience manipulation, and narrative consistency. The central argument of this reading is that the updating, porting and forking of the source code of Hamlet performed by Mr Robot amounts to an interpretation as much as to a modification of Shakespeare’s play. Hamlet’s manipulation of the audience throws light on the technologically upgraded means of direct audience communication used in Mr. Robot. Mr. Robot’s reinterpretation of the Ghost as both a part of the protagonist’s mind and a manifestation of his madness in turn suggests an intriguing new reading of Hamlet's madness, and its mode of storytelling enables a reassessment of the various inconsistencies of Shakespeare’s tragedy. Reassessing Mr. Robot and Hamlet in the context of artistic hacking affords new insight into both contemporary complex television series and early modern plays.

DOI Code: 10.1285/i22390359v45p257

Keywords: adaptation; appropriation; television series; complex TV; Shakespeare


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