The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Hamlet in Cold War role

London, Dec. 31 (Reuters): The British foreign office considered employing Shakespeare’s Hamlet to defuse one of its worst Cold War spats with Moscow, documents released today showed.

In September 1971, Britain stunned the world by expelling 105 Soviet diplomats and trade officials in one of its biggest purges of suspected spies. The Soviets responded by expelling 18 Britons the following month.

By February 1972, the British were looking for ways “to pick up the threads of Anglo-Soviet relations which were broken by the expulsions”.

The Kremlin let the British know, via the French ambassador in Moscow, that “a British gesture is needed for restoring Anglo-Soviet relations”.

Enter Joseph Alfred Dobbs, a British embassy official. He had seen a radical Russian production of Hamlet in Moscow and suggested the British invite the production company to London as a show of goodwill. “The cast wear a kind of modern dress, the men for instance being clothed mostly in roll-necked sweaters and jeans,” Dobbs writes in a two-page eulogy sent to the foreign office on February 10.

He enthuses about what he calls the production’s most effective use of the hessian-like arras tapestry. “Ophelia moves along, clinging to it as she seeks some refuge from Hamlet’s ragings,” Dobbs writes.

Finally, though, Dobbs’ enthusiasm runs up against the harsh realities of the Soviet Communist Party.

“It is doubtful if the minister of culture would allow Soviet culture to be represented abroad by so avant-garde a theatre,” he acknowledges.

“(This theatre) is one of the many battlegrounds between the more sophisticated people in the party and the backwoodsmen.”

The Foreign Office thanked Dobbs for his suggestion but, after some consideration, decided not to pursue the matter.

The reports were among thousands released by Britain's Public Record Office (PRO) on Wednesday under the so-called 30-year-rule, which ensures certain previously secret documents are placed in the public domain 30 years after they were written.

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