From time to time, we like to ask actors, designers, and members of the Wilma Staff a single question.
For Hamlet, we asked our Managing Director (and former actor!) - WHAT IS YOUR HAMLET STORY?
James Haskins - In my former life as an actor, my first foray into a full production of a play by Shakespeare was as Laertes in a college production of Hamlet (Pictured, James Haskins center). I recall the first read-through of the play just before winter break. We had not yet spent any time with the script and I had no clue what I was saying to Ophelia: “…your chaste treasure open to his unmaster’d importunity.” What? We were asked to memorize our roles during winter break and be prepared to begin rehearsals without our scripts. And this was to be a production with very few cuts that ultimately ran more than four hours. What had I gotten myself into?
Join us after the Matinee Performance on May 2 for a special Extension Event!
In 1823, a nobleman found a strange document in the closet of the family estate: a version of Hamlet which pre-dated the two versions scholars and performers had been using for a century, which differed radically from those versions in both plot structure and language. Q1, as the text is known, has been declared a rough draft, a piracy, and a pre-Shakespearean "ur-Hamlet," among other things.
Q1 had a large influence on the Wilma Theater’s cutting of Hamlet. In his recent book, “Hamlet After Q1,” UPenn scholar Zachary Lesser examines how the improbable discovery of Q1 has forced readers to reconsider accepted truths about Shakespeare as an author and about the nature of Shakespeare's texts and offers new insights on what we think we mean by Hamlet.
For our production of Hamlet we asked Anthony Howard, author of Women as Hamlet, to select a “Top Ten” list of other women who have played the role since the 18th century.
In Women as Hamlet Howard writes:
“The first Hamlet on film was a woman, Sarah Bernhardt (1900). Probably the first Hamlet on radio was a woman, Eve Donne (1923). The ‘observed of all observers,’ the ‘glass of fashion and the mold of form,’ the ‘hoop through which every actor must jump’ according to Max Beerbohm, Hamlet is also the role that has since the late eighteenth century most inspired tragic actresses to challenge expectations and cross gender lines. Several of the most brilliant performances of the part in our time have been by women, and the issue of Hamlet’s ‘femininity’ has fascinated artists in all media. Crossing boundaries, contesting convention, disrupting or reflecting the dominant sexual politics, this regendering of Hamlet has involved repeated investigations into the nature of subjectivity, articulacy, and action - investigations with radically different consequences depending on the cultural situation. It has been an extraordinary history, but until recently, with the re-evaluation of such unconventional actresses as Charlotte Charke, Charlotte Cushman, Asta Nielsen and Eva Le Gallienne, it was largely ignored.”
“What most female Hamlets have in common is that they are catalysts - inassimilable figures alien to the norms around them. The paradoxes and dissident intensities of Hamlet’s beliefs and language become sharper through the figure of an actress/prince whose very presence exposes artifice - the theatrical conventions we might not otherwise question, the political banalities masking Elsinore’s lies, and the structures of power and gender that normally trap women in Hamlet in the roles of Mother, Virgin and Whore. The female Hamlet is a walking, talking alienation effect.”
To create a soundscape fitting for Shakespeare's greatest play, the Wilma has teamed up with the electronic duo Games Violet to compose orginal music and sound. Games Violet is comprised of Irish composers Alex Games and Emma Violet; two newcomers to the Wilma's design collaborators. Emma gave us a sneak-peek at some of the music you will hear during the show!
Throughout the 19th century, Hamlet rarely encountered Claudius at prayer: actors and audience in the age of melodrama couldn’t abide the idea that a hero, even one pledged to revenge, would consider stabbing someone, even the villain, in the back. Stabbing someone through a tapestry was fine, however.
by Walter Bilderback
Hamlet is almost always cut for performance. What people read in school runs about 4 1/2 hours uncut - and that “complete” Hamlet is actually something created by editors in the 18th century, who saw the First Folio (1623) and what we now call the Second Quarto (1604) as imperfect representations of what Shakespeare “really” meant to write, and tried to create their ideal. Each version has unique passages, and only around 200 lines out of nearly 4,000 are identical in the two versions. This has given editors 300 years to put their own interpretation on the play, hoping to channel Shakespeare’s intent.