Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead dramaturg Nell Bang-Jensen will take us through Tom Stoppard's breakthrough play. Check back for notes and behind-the-scenes content for the Wilma's upcoming show!
“The most expendable people of all time.”
When Tom Stoppard set out to write Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, he was not interested in creating a parody of Hamlet. For Stoppard, it was the characters of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (R&G) who invited dramatic potential; not their Shakesperean context. As he says: “Something alerted me to the serious reverberations of the characters. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the most expendable people of all time. Their very facelessness makes them dramatic; the fact that they die without ever really understanding why they lived makes them somehow cosmic." R&G are so undeniably ordinary that the questions they ask transcend their specific context and point toward larger philosophical ones. As they try to understand exactly what play they’re in (and how to avoid the fate that the play’s very title determines), larger questions are raised about free will, and our sense of purpose. Are we all merely actors in someone else’s script, and if so, how do we gain control of the story? Would we want to?
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!