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Shakespeare Magazine 14

Hamlet is the theme of Shakespeare Magazine Issue 14, with each and every article devoted to the fictional Prince of Denmark and the play that bears his name. Rhodri Lewis asks “How Old is Hamlet?” while Samira Ahmed wonders “Why do Women Love Hamlet?” and we review recent productions of the play starring Tom Hiddleston and Andrew Scott. There's a set report from the making of Daisy Ridley's Ophelia movie and a visit to Hamlet's historic home, Kronborg Castle. We also delve deep into the Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive's Hamlet collection, while Gyles Brandreth tells us about his family production of the play, and Alice Barclay recounts how she taught a group of amateur actors to become Hamlet.

Hamlet is the theme of Shakespeare Magazine Issue 14, with each and every article devoted to the fictional Prince of Denmark and the play that bears his name. Rhodri Lewis asks “How Old is Hamlet?” while Samira Ahmed wonders “Why do Women Love Hamlet?” and we review recent productions of the play starring Tom Hiddleston and Andrew Scott. There's a set report from the making of Daisy Ridley's Ophelia movie and a visit to Hamlet's historic home, Kronborg Castle. We also delve deep into the Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive's Hamlet collection, while Gyles Brandreth tells us about his family production of the play, and Alice Barclay recounts how she taught a group of amateur actors to become Hamlet.

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shakespeare

At last! A magazine with all the Will in the world

FREE

Issue 14

Who the

Hell is

Hamlet?


“...the readiness is all.” — Hamlet V.2

Learn more at shakespeare300.com


Welcome

Welcome

Photo: David Hammonds

to Issue 14 of Shakespeare Magazine

When I decided to devote an entire issue of Shakespeare Magazine

to Hamlet, I assumed it would be a relatively straightforward process.

After all, lots of people have lots of interesting things to say about this

play and this character – all I had to do was fling it on the page.

What I didn’t bargain for, but which in retrospect seems all too

obviously predictable – is that in the process I would become Hamlet.

I hesitated, I prevaricated, I dithered. I underthought things that

required a good deal of thinking, and I overthought things that

didn’t require any thinking at all. I prepared reams of interview

questions, and them scrapped them. I wrote thousands of words and

then chucked them in the bin. I remembered things – like the time

I wrote and acted in a Hamlet spoof at school, over 30 years ago, in

part inspired by an edgy production of the play that wowed me at

Southport Arts Centre. And then I realised that some of my memories

were no longer trustworthy.

I think perhaps my main point here is that we all think we know

Hamlet like we know ourselves. But when we return to the text(s) there

are always shocks, surprises and rude awakenings in store.

And just like Hamlet, my dithering at last ended, I suddenly knew

what had to be done, and the issue finally rocketed to its conclusion.

It’s been an education, and the bodies that litter this particular stage

are, thankfully, all metaphorical. Anyway, here it is.

Thanks as ever, for your patience and support.

Enjoy your magazine.

Pat Reid, Founder & Editor

Donate to Shakespeare Magazine

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shakespeare magazine 3


At last! A magazine with all the Will in the world

shakespeare

FREE

Issue 14

Contents

Who the

Hell is

Hamlet?

Shakespeare Magazine

Issue Fourteen

July 2018

Publisher

JoAnn Markon

Founder & Editor

Pat Reid

Art Editor

Paul McIntyre

Contributing Writers

Samira Ahmed, Alice Barclay,

Maddy Fry, Michael Goodman,

Rhodri Lewis, Stewart Kenneth

Moore, Clare Petre, Jen Richardson

Photography

Tim Gutt, Manuel Harlan,

Jonathan Keenan, Francis Loney,

Johan Persson, Bronwen Sharp,

Julie Vrabelová

Web Design

David Hammonds

Contact Us

shakespearemag@outlook.com

Facebook

facebook.com/ShakespeareMagazine

Twitter

@UKShakespeare

Website

www.shakespearemagazine.com

Newsletter

http://tinyletter.com/shakespearemag

Donate

https://www.paypal.me/

ShakespeareMagazine

How Old is Hamlet? 6

Hamlet is 30 years old – it says so in the text, right? Rhodri Lewis, author

of Hamlet and the Vision of Darkness, explains why this is NOT the case.

The Avenger

Disassembled 14

Maddy Fry savours the “intimacy

and intensity” of Tom Hiddleston’s

Hamlet at RADA.


Soul-searching

with Scott 20

Clare Petre recounts the

shatteringly cathartic experience

of Andrew Scott’s Hamlet.


4 SHAKESPEARE magazine


Contents

Time Travelling

with Ophelia 26



Daisy Ridley’s Hamlet spin-off.


Why do Women

Love Hamlet? 32

Samira Ahmed argues that there

are “Three Ages of Hamlet” for the

women fascinated by the Prince.


Victorian Hamlet

Illustration 38

Michael Goodman picks his Hamlet

favourites from the Victorian

Illustrated Shakespeare Archive.


How’s your

Father? 48

Jen Richardson meets Gyles


family production of Hamlet.


I Capture

the Castle 56

Pat Reid takes a trip to Denmark

to visit Hamlet’s historic home, the

mighty Kronborg Castle.


Hamlet in the heat

of the Night 60

Alice Barclay makes Hamlet the

people’s play on a sweltering

summer’s evening in Bristol.


SHAKESPEARE magazine 5


How Old is Hamlet?

Artwork for

the National

Theatre’s 2015

Hamlet (starring

Benedict

Cumberbatch)

featuring the

play’s characters

as children.

How Old is

Hamlet?

It’s a question every reader of Hamlet has found

themselves asking. And one that Professor

Rhodri Lewis has addressed in his recent major

work Hamlet and the Vision of Darkness.

6 shakespeare magazine


How Old is Hamlet?

“In addition to its role in signifying mourning,

black is also the academic colour”

In writing Hamlet and the Vision of Darkness,

one of the central planks of my argument

is that Prince Hamlet is youthful and a

university student. Approaching Hamlet

– and Hamlet – from this perspective

helped me to make a series of claims about

what I take to be Shakespeare’s attitudes

to the humanistic doctrines of his era

(Hamlet never stops grappling with, and

can never quite escape from, the “saws

and observations” of his Wittenberg education),

and about how Shakespeare uses his dramatic art

both to critique them and to move beyond them.

Hamlet’s youth also offers a plausible explanation

for the decision of the Danish court to elect

Claudius its monarch in succession to Old Hamlet:

Hamlet is on the way to full manhood, but is not

there yet. Claudius kills Old Hamlet shortly after

Hamlet has left Denmark for the new academic

year in Wittenberg, juxtaposing his presence (in

all senses of the term) with his nephew’s absence.

“Young Hamlet” is still learning about himself and

the world around him; his time will come.

A peculiarity of writing books for university

presses is the process of peer review. Your

manuscript is handed by the press to two or

perhaps three anonymous experts, who then

write reports in which they submit your work to

thoroughgoing scrutiny. Even when agreeing in

their recommendations (from “publish as it stands”

to “over my dead body”), these reports frequently

differ so much from one another that you can begin

to doubt whether their writers were reading the

same things; as an author, the best you can hope

for is that what you’ve written will be approached

intelligently and with an open mind.

One of the few topics on which the anonymous

reviewers of my manuscript agreed with each other

was that as I had made a lot of Hamlet’s youth

and student status, I couldn’t sidestep the fact

that, in the Graveyard scene, we are told pretty

unambiguously that he is thirty. So it was that I

decided to write an appendix tackling the question

of exactly how old Hamlet is supposed to be.

Writing it turned out to be more difficult, more

interesting, and much more enjoyable than I had

anticipated: the action of the play not only enables

us to say some concrete things about Hamlet’s

age, but also allows us to witness Shakespeare’s

engagement with what, in the years around 1600,

was the new language of numbers. Familiar though

Hamlet is to all of us, and voluminous though the

literature on it has become, writing my book led

me to the conclusion that we have only begun to

scratch the surface.

Hamlet is described on several occasions as

“young”; he is roughly the same age as Fortinbras,

Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern; he seems to be

a little younger than Horatio and Laertes; he is a

student at Wittenberg; he thinks and speaks like

one in the midst of a humanistic education. And yet

his exchange with the Gravedigger at the beginning

of Act 5 appears, anomalously but unambiguously,

to suggest that he is thirty years old. However, the

age given in the graveyard scene does not stand

up to scrutiny: it emerges from a textual crux, is

at variance with the manifest signs of Hamlet’s

age given elsewhere in the play, and relies on an

authority – the Gravedigger – whose arithmetical

skills are very much open to question. I also suggest

that thinking about Hamlet’s age in terms of the

number of years he might have been on the earth is

misconceived.

After satisfying himself that the Ghost is not

purely a figment of Marcellus and Barnardo’s

imaginations, Horatio decrees that they should

impart what they “have seen tonight / Unto

young Hamlet” (1.1.174-75). “Young” here

differentiates the son from his father: deutero-

Hamlet, Hamlet Junior, Hamlet the Younger. But

it is also the adjective with which Shakespeare

chooses to introduce his disaffected prince, and

reveals something not only about his royal status

but about his quality of being. Versions of it

reappear frequently throughout the play. Claudius

counsels Hamlet that his enduring display of grief

shakespeare magazine 7


How Old is Hamlet?

“Hamlet’s desire to return to his studies at

Wittenberg tells us that he is a teenager”

Benedict

Cumberbatch

played the role

of Hamlet at

the age of 39,

having just

become a

father for the


for his father is “unmanly” (1.2.84), a term that is

normative rather descriptive, but whose persuasive

force depends on Hamlet aspiring to, rather than

already having attained, the condition of manliness;

Laertes thinks of Hamlet as “A violet in the youth of

primy nature” (1.3.7); the Ghost tells Hamlet that

if it were to describe the afterlife in detail, the effect

would be to “freeze thy young blood” (1.5.16), and

addresses him as a “noble youth” (1.5.38); Claudius

turns to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern because

they are “of so young days brought up with him, /

And with so neighbour’d to his youth and haviour”

(2.2.11-12); the fencing match between Hamlet

and “young Laertes” (4.5.101; cf. 5.1.217) is framed

with some care as a contest of “youth” (4.7.72-80).

One might go on, but the point is incontestable:

although it might be possible to dispute what

“young” is intended to signify in the dramatic

context of Hamlet, it definitively connotes more

than Hamlet’s status as the son of a father with the

same name. Before he has taken on the part of the

forensic huntsman, tracking and seeking to expose

his uncle’s guilt, Hamlet himself acknowledges his

resemblance to a “rascal”, or juvenile deer (2.2.562).

On the basis that Hamlet and Fortinbras are

so obviously set in counterpoint to one another,

to say nothing of the fact Fortinbras’s father was

killed on the day Hamlet was born (5.1.139-40), we

can surmise that Hamlet is about the same age as

Fortinbras; either a little older than him, or a little

younger. If the former, then no more than nine

months so. As the frustrated son of an overthrown

monarch, Hamlet sees his own character

illuminated by the bold example of his Norwegian

peer. So much so that his final soliloquy projects

his own likeness onto this would-be conqueror

of Denmark, envisaging him as “a delicate and

tender prince” (4.4.48); Fortinbras will return the

compliment by imagining the dead Hamlet as a

soldier. In fact, their tender years are all they have

in common.

Hamlet’s status as a student further asserts his

8 shakespeare magazine


How Old is Hamlet?

youthfulness. Lawrence Stone’s statistical labours

give a clear picture of when it was that early modern

Englishmen went to university. For instance, the

median age of matriculation at Oxford for the

years 1600-02 was 17.1. Among the aristocracy

and gentry it was substantially lower, at 15.9 years.

Further, it was common for the well-educated

sons of socially elevated families to enter university

as young as eleven or twelve. A good example is

Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton and

the dedicatee of Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis

and Lucrece. Wriothesley went up to St. John’s

College, Cambridge in 1585 at the age of twelve;

he graduated before he turned sixteen in 1589, at

which point he had already been admitted to Gray’s

Inn. In a word, Hamlet’s desire to return to his

studies at Wittenberg tells us that he is a teenager.

To an audience of theatregoers or readers in late

Elizabethan or early Jacobean London, it would

have been starkly irregular for an aristocrat, let

alone a member of the royalty, to have remained at

university beyond the age of about twenty.

Hamlet’s ambitious but frequently confused and

incoherent mode of discourse sounds like that of

an early modern university student. But as Barbara

Everett has proposed, it might well be that he also

looks like a student, or at least that he did so to

Shakespeare’s earliest audiences: in addition to its

role in signifying mourning, black is the academic

colour.

We come now to the encounter between Hamlet

and the Gravedigger. Hamlet asks the Gravedigger

when he began digging graves, and the following

exchange ensues:

Gravedigger: Of all the days i’th’ year I cam to’t that

day that our Last King Hamlet o’ercame Fortinbras.

Hamlet: How long is that since?

Gravedigger: Cannot you tell that? Every fool can

tell that. It was that very day that young Hamlet

was born – he that is mad and sent into England.

(5.1.139-44)

From which we deduce that although the

Gravedigger thinks that “every fool” knows when

Old Hamlet defeated Old Fortinbras and Hamlet

was born, Hamlet himself is less sure. After several

lines in which the Gravedigger works hard to evade

the questions he has been asked by and about

“young Hamlet”, he steers the conversation back to

the ground beneath their feet:

Gravedigger: I have been sexton here, man and boy,

thirty years.

Hamlet: How long will a man lie i’th’ earth ere he

rot?

Gravedigger: Faith, if a be not rotten before a die

... a will last you some eight year or nine year.

(5.1.156-62).

On the face of it, this is open and shut. The

gravedigger has been at his trade (i.e., a sexton) for

thirty years. Hamlet is therefore thirty years old,

however out of keeping that might seem with the

rest of the play. There are, however, both textual and

interpretative grounds to doubt this reading, and to

stick with our inference that Hamlet the student is a

teenager.

The textual crux first. As many readers of

Shakespeare Magazine will be aware, there are

two authoritative versions of the play. One is the

1604/05 Second Quarto (Q2), the other is the

1623 First Folio. Only Q2 supports the reading of

the text given above. On the question of how long

the Gravedigger had been at his work in Denmark,

the Folio (TLN 3351-52) has him say “I have

been sixeteene heere, man and Boy thirty yeares”.

The reading is grammatically challenging, but

offers a very different picture of Hamlet’s age. The

Gravedigger has been “heere” (qua Denmark and/

or his graveyard – he is being willfully ambiguous)

for sixteen years, and has been “man and Boy thirty

yeares”. On this account, it is the Gravedigger who

is thirty years old, while Hamlet is only sixteen.

Q2 has traditionally been preferred, on account

both of its grammatical simplicity and of what the

Gravedigger reveals about a disarticulated skull that

has caught his attention: “Here’s a skull now hath

lien you i’th’ earth three and twenty years” (5.1.166-

68). On being pressed, the Gravedigger discloses

that “This same skull, sir, was Yorick’s skull, the

King’s jester” (5.1.175-77). As Hamlet goes on to

recall the joyful times he had spent with Yorick as a

child and as Yorick died twenty-three years ago, the

textual logic runs smoothly: Hamlet must be thirty

years old, and the Folio reading a corruption of Q2,

which spells sexton “sexten”. The more so because

the thirty years of Hamlet’s life echo the thirty years

shakespeare magazine 9


How Old is Hamlet?

Left: Naeem Hayat, one of the young

actors who portrayed Hamlet in the

epic Globe to Globe production.

Right: Maxine Peake’s Hamlet was

full of adolescent energy – although

she was aged 40 at the time.

that the Player King and Queen have been married

(3.2.150-55). Even “unedited” texts of Hamlet

based on the Folio emend it.

If one sticks with the mortal remains of Yorick,

things quickly become more complicated. Putting

to one side the question of why the Gravedigger has

unearthed his skull (has it been dug up accidentally

or on purpose? Where is the rest of him? And how,

with human remains apparently littered around

him, can he be sure that the skull in question

belonged to Yorick?), a twenty-three-year-old corpse

should on the Gravedigger’s own account long ago

have become a skeleton: it has been in the ground

for fourteen or fifteen years more than the eight

or nine he specifies for complete decomposition.

And yet, Yorick’s skull has the rankly sweet odour

of human decay. “My gorge rises at it” (5.1.181-82)

might just about be understood as an expression of

metaphysical nausea at handling the skull beneath

the skin of a loved one, but the gross physicality of

the matter is soon beyond doubt:

Hamlet: Prithee, Horatio, tell me one thing.

Horatio: What’s that, my lord?

Hamlet: Dost thou think Alexander looked o’ this

fashion i’th’ earth?

Horatio: E’en so.

Hamlet: And smelt so? Pah!

Horatio: E’en so, my lord. (5.1.189-95)

This is a graveyard, not a charnel house in which

the stink of a newly decomposing corpse might

taint even the most desiccated bones. Yorick’s soft

tissue has not yet fully putrefied. His body has been

in the ground for nothing like as long as twentythree

years.

Before going any further, I want briefly to glance

at the 1603 First Quarto (Q1) of the play. By virtue

of so straightforwardly making both numerical

and dramatic sense, it hints at something integral

about the puzzles of Hamlet’s age and Yorick’s

subterranean years in Q2 and the Folio. In Q1, the

Gravedigger brandishes a skull:

10 shakespeare magazine


How Old is Hamlet?

“The Earl of Southampton attended Cambridge

at the age of 12, and graduated at 15”

Look you, here’s a skull hath been here this dozen

year – let me see, ay, ever since our last King Hamlet

slew Fortenbrasse in combat – young Hamlet’s

father, he that’s mad.

The Gravedigger subsequently reveals that

the skull belonged to Yorick; Hamlet laments the

dead clown and the transitoriness of life, then

recoils from the skull’s smell. There is no mention

of Hamlet’s age (the problem of which is thereby

resolved), and granting that “dozen” need only

be the reflexively imprecise unit of measurement

of one brought up in the duodecimal thinking of

English tradition, there is no difficulty with Yorick’s

skull still reeking of putrefaction. As these remarks

imply, I take it that the textual discrepancies of

Q1 are, as usual, those of simplification. Whoever

was responsible for Q1 and however he or they

produced it, the text fails to grasp that numerical

incoherence is the point of Hamlet’s exchange with

the Gravedigger.

This incoherence has its root in Shakespeare’s

awareness that the cultures of early modern England

and Europe were not arithmetically advanced.

Although arithmetic belonged to the quadrivium,

facility in mental arithmetic (“reckoning”) was

confined to merchants, sailors, soldiers, and other

more or less artisanal trades. For the general

populace, of high and low social status alike, the

ability to compute more than the most elementary

sums of addition and subtraction depended on the

manipulation of physical counters on a board, and

recording the results in Roman numerals. And yet

at the same time, the impulse to exact measurement

and quantification, and with it Arabic numerals,

had already begun its transformation of western

intellectual life. The dramatic potential of this state

of affairs had long since been exploited by Marlowe

(who frequently has his characters grasp at numbers

in the ineffectual effort to show themselves in

control of a situation), and Shakespeare was not

slow to turn it to his own ends. As Edward Wilson-

Lee has shown, he did so sustainedly in Troilus and

Cressida. But perhaps the most obvious place to

look in establishing this claim is The Winter’s Tale –

where much is made of the discrepancy between the

apparent precision of numeration and the vagueness

with which numbers are, in reality, employed. A

Clown enters, destined to be swindled by Autolycus.

The Clown is attempting to figure out the value of

the wool he has shorn from his 1500 sheep, but has

to give up: “I cannot do’t without counters”. Like

any good cony-catcher, Autolycus is as astute as

he is opportunistic. He does not share the Clown’s

difficulties, and sets to work on his mark.

The exchange between Hamlet and the

Gravedigger is animated by exactly the same

cultural dynamics. Both characters enjoy feeling like

the cleverest person in any conversation; both will

say anything to ensure that they get to feel like this;

in the culminating skirmish of their wits, neither

shows more than the most rudimentary notion of

how to compute numbers in general, or of how to

use numbers to compute time in particular.

Shakespeare quickly establishes that the

Gravedigger, like Dogberry, is prone to detach

verba from res for self-aggrandising rhetorical

effect. In describing the prospect of Ophelia having

drowned herself in self-defence, he asserts to his less

loquacious partner that “It must be se offendendo”

(5.1.9). He means the opposite (i.e., se defendendo),

but the chance to accrue some Latinate cultural

capital is too good to miss. A little later, he theorises

that if a man goes to the water, “but the water come

to him and drown him, he drowns not himself.

Argal, he that is not guilty of his own death shortens

not his own life” (5.2.18-20). For “argal”, he means

to say ergo; he again seeks to repeat a Latin word

that he has heard others use to impressive effect, but

that he does not himself understand.

Once Hamlet and Horatio arrive in the

graveyard, Hamlet begins to speculate about the

various disreputable parts that the people whose

skulls are before them might formerly have played

(“here’s fine revolution”). He and the Gravedigger

then engage in some mutual chicanery about lying,

lying down, and the business of digging graves. The

shakespeare magazine 11


“Adolescence is an age of apprenticeship in the

world, of preparation for the challenges ahead”

Gravedigger considers answering direct questions

to be dull or otherwise beneath him. Hamlet sees

his answers as a sort of “equivocation”, and informs

Horatio that “these three years I have took note

of it, the age is grown so picked [i.e. pernickety,

nit-picking] that the toe of the peasant comes so

near the heel of the courtier that he galls his kibe”

(5.1.135-38); the sophistry of the lower orders is

snapping at the heels of the nobility. Quite aside

from the fact that Hamlet has spent most of the

last year or two (or three) away from Elsinore

as a student at Wittenberg, the most important

aspect of this declaration is that his “three years” is

meaningless as anything other than a placeholder

for “of late” or “in recent history”. It operates on the

same level as the “he walks for four hours together”

(i.e., for long periods of time) that Polonius observes

of Hamlet at 2.2.160, or Hamlet’s own assertion

that not even “Two thousand souls and twenty

thousand ducats” (i.e., a vast accumulation of

manpower and money) would be enough to “debate

the question of this straw” between Fortinbras and

“the Polack” (4.4.25-26). “Three years” nevertheless

has the feel of considered observation, and leads

Hamlet to ask the Gravedigger how long he has

been about his business. The Gravedigger seems

no keener to answer this question than those that

preceded it, but his response is historically specific:

since the day on which Old Hamlet defeated Old

Fortinbras and the younger Hamlet was born.

Remarkably, even for one who has trouble

reckoning with numbers, Hamlet shows no sign

of being able to quantify when his father’s famous

victory took place. Furthermore, the Gravedigger

asserts that “every fool” knows this event to have

been synchronous with Hamlet’s birth, and it

beggars belief to suppose that Hamlet has never

heard of this synchroneity for himself – especially as

it makes his royal birth, like his royal patronymic,

seem distinctly auspicious. The conclusion? Hamlet

does not know how old he is. He immediately

changes the subject when the Gravedigger’s

comments threaten to lay this reality bare. The

Gravedigger may or may not suspect that his highborn

interlocutor is, in fact, the “young Hamlet”

of whom he is now being pushed to speak, but

must sense that the drift of their conversation

towards matters of state puts him in danger. He

needs to tread carefully, and once he guesses that his

questioner has a limited facility with numbers, sees

a gratifying way out. His gambit succeeds: unable to

fathom what the Gravedigger says about his age and

the duration of career, Hamlet counter-bluffs with

a question about rates of bodily decay. From there,

the Gravedigger – aided by the skull of Yorick (if,

indeed, it is the skull of Yorick) – has no difficulty

in redirecting their discussion to safer territory; in

this case, to the conditions of mortality. In dwelling

on Yorick and then discovering the death of

Ophelia, Hamlet lets numbers go, but soon returns

to them in belittling the “dozy arithmetic” of Osric’s

memory. (As he does in claiming to understand

the “odds” on his fencing match with Laertes.)

The rub is that the Gravedigger is no better at the

numerical computation of time than he is at Latin.

His historical measurements of sixteen, thirty, and

twenty-three years are empty signifiers – no more

than words. They are self-contradictory, but he

doesn’t care: he gets to put one over on someone

of a far higher social and educational status than

himself, and who has presumed to question his

work.

So, the numbers in the graveyard scene as

recorded in Q2 and the Folio designedly do not

compute. They represent the inability of Hamlet

and of the Gravedigger to reckon with historical

numbers in their heads, and the desire of both

characters to look as if they can. Both “sexten/

sexton” (Q2) and “sixeteene” (the Folio) lend

themselves to the incongruity of what follows (the

more so as “sexten heere” and “sixteene yeare” are

likely to have been all but homophonic in early

modern English), but “sixeteene” seems to me the

better reading. In clashing so directly with the

twenty-three years that Yorick is supposed to have

been in the ground, it allows the exchange to make

even less sense, thereby capturing more of the

Gravedigger’s pretentions and self-regard, and of

12 shakespeare magazine


In his midtwenties,

Paapa Essiedu

(pictured

here in the

Gravedigger

scene) was a

boyish-looking

Hamlet for the

RSC (2016-18).

Hamlet’s inability to expose them. Folio “sixteene”

as a corruption of Q2 “sexten” cannot be ruled

out, but nor can the possibility that just as Q2

stumbles over the nonsensical se offendendo, so it

sees that sixteen (howsoever spelled) is contradicted

by the reported death of Yorick, and emends it to

“sexten”. On one level, a far from unreasonable

procedure. Unfortunately, to convey the impression

of nonsense is precisely Shakespeare’s point: Hamlet

and the Gravedigger only feign to know what they

are talking about. Their attempts to speak the new

language of numbers offer a comically macabre

miniature of the pretence, and frequent bravado,

that drives life in Elsinore as a whole. Ever the

radical egalitarian, Shakespeare reminds us that

the willingness to mislead does not belong to the

socially elevated orders alone; Denmark’s afflictions

cannot be explained by looking in isolation at the

vices, or even the crimes, of those who rule it.

What does all of this tell us about Hamlet’s age?

As his student status suggests, he is an adolescent.

That is, an inhabitant of the intermediate category

between boyhood and the assumption of adult

masculinity; on the seven-stage model of human life

familiar to Shakespeare, the period between one’s

fourteenth and twenty-first birthdays. To venture

anything more precise is guesswork or special

pleading, and to maintain that he is thirty – perhaps

with reference to the age of Richard Burbage when

he played him for the Lord Chamberlain’s Men –

is unsustainable. In As You Like It, Jaques portrays

adolescence as the age of “the lover, / Sighing

like a furnace, with a woeful ballad / Made to his

mistress’ eyebrow”, and his depiction maps well

onto Hamlet’s relationship with Ophelia – before

and after she jilts him. But in most iterations,

adolescence has a different aspect. It is an age of

apprenticeship in the world, of preparation for the

challenges ahead, and of fitting one’s understanding

to one’s burgeoning physical and sexual potency;

it is also marked by heat, impetuousness, and

impatience. Ecce homo.


Hamlet and the

Vision of Darkness

is published

by Princeton

University Press

Buy it here

shakespeare magazine 13


Tom Hiddleston

“Revenge is a fool’s errand,it gets you nothing.

And Hamlet is really about that.The interesting

thing about playing Hamlet is that as an actor

one is so aware of the size of the play and the

significance of the role… And then when you

approach playing it, you have to meet the play

head on and confront it.”

Tom Hiddleston, speaking to Jenelle Riley for Variety

14 shakespeare magazine


Tom Hiddleston

Left: Hamlet (Tom Hiddleston).

Below: Guildastern (Eleanor de Rohan), Horatia

(Caroline Martin), Hamlet (Tom Hiddleston)

Rosencrantz (Ayesha Antoine).

The Avenger

Disassembled

If you were one of those lucky enough to get a

ticket, director Kenneth Branagh’s massively

over-subscribed RADA Hamlet starring Tom

Hiddleston was all about the “intimacy and


Words by Maddy Fry

Photos by Johan Persson

shakespeare magazine 15


Tom Hiddleston

Left: Tom Hiddleston as Hamlet and

Caroline Martin as Horatia.

Above: Hamlet and King Claudius

(Nicholas Farrell).

Right: Hamlet battles Laertes (Irfan

Shamji).

Often I’ve found it comforting that

most of Tom Hiddleston’s alter-egos

seem incapable of making good

choices. Whether it’s the PTSDinspired

alcoholism of Freddie

Page in The Deep Blue Sea or the Shakespearean

sibling angst of the Marvel villain Loki, most of his

characters are dogged by despair and failure. Even

the nefarious Prince Hal of The Hollow Crown and

the enigmatic Jonathan Pine at the centre of The

Night Manager go through considerable travails

before fulfilling their true purpose. It seemed apt

that director Kenneth Branagh described the Prince

of Denmark, that great monument to unfulfilled

ambition, as “the role he was born to play.”

For any devotee of Hiddleston, the chance to

see him as Hamlet in a tiny central London theatre,

nestled within the walls of his old drama school,

felt akin to seeing The Beatles at the Cavern Club

– the sense of a colossal talent scaled down while

losing none of its potency. The result was little

short of magical.

Up close and personal in RADA’s 160-seat

auditorium, the play opened with Hamlet sitting

in near-darkness at the piano, crooning out a low

wolf-howl of defeat.

“And will he not come again?” our hero

moaned, lamenting the absence of his father via the

heart-wrenching cadence of “No, no he is dead. Go

to thy deathbed...”

Hamlet’s alienation and sense of betrayal over

his mother’s hasty remarriage was, particularly for

16 shakespeare magazine


Tom Hiddleston

those in the front row, frighteningly visceral, made

manifest through kicking and screaming, spit,

sweat and tears. In turn, Hiddleston masterfully

depicted Hamlet’s inability to be what those

around him needed – supportive, vengeful, loving,

or even just consistent.

Much has been made of how HiddleHamlet’s

madness was undoubtedly feigned, yet the

production’s great strength was the ease with

which he switched to an all-too-real malice and

vindictiveness. His brushing aside of Ophelia

(Kathryn Wilder), triggering her fatal sense of

abandonment, combined with his shrugging off the

deaths of his informant friends, were shocking in

their callousness.

Yet one couldn’t shake the feeling that the

derangement and loss of control in Hamlet’s eyes

after murdering Polonius (Sean Foley) was genuine.

The final duel resulting in the Prince’s death, barely

two feet from my seat, was no less agonising for its

portrayal of one man imprisoned by grief, with its

destructive effects spiralling outwards.

“More than anything, this Hamlet was about

bereavement and family breakdown”

shakespeare magazine 17


Tom Hiddleston

“Hamlet’s alienation and sense of betrayal over his

mother’s remarriage was frighteningly visceral”

Above: The Ghost of Hamlet’s father, King

Hamlet (Ansu Kabia).

Right: Hamlet’s mother, Queen Gertrude

(Lolita Chakrabarti).

The threat of military conquest by Norway always

hung in the foreground, but more than anything

this Hamlet was about bereavement and family

breakdown – the torment caused by our relatives

moving on, even if we can’t, and robbing us of

any space to heal. Proof, as though it were needed,

that Shakespeare speaks to us for the moment we

find ourselves in. Few plays have left me waking

up sobbing the next day, but the rage, remorse and

anguish on display still resonated, to the refrain

throughout of “Go to thy deathbed...”

Yet on the night, for those in attendance it was

three hours of uncomplicated happiness. Watching

Hiddleston seamlessly recite ‘To be, or not to be’

right in front of me was enough to make me feel

thankful for my pulse. As much as I loved Benedict

Cumberbatch’s 2015 turn at the Barbican, it

couldn’t rival RADA’s Hamlet for intimacy and

intensity of craftsmanship.


This performance of Hamlet took place

on 20 September 2017 at the Jerwood

Vanbrugh Theatre, London

18 shakespeare magazine


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Andrew Scott

“With Hamlet… we mourn

our own tragedies as they are

reflected on the stage”

SOUL-SEARCHING

20 shakespeare magazine


Andrew Scott

Behind the sofa:

Andrew Scott’s Hamlet

had a watchful quality,

in a production where

surveillance technology

was given a notable

supporting role.

WITH SCOTT

Irish actor Andrew Scott delivered an

“exquisite, fragile” performance in Robert

Icke’s “electrifying, heart-wrenching

production” of Shakespeare’s Hamlet at

London’s Harold Pinter Theatre.

Words: Clare Petre Photos: Manuel Harlan

shakespeare magazine 21


Andrew Scott

“Laertes became a man torn between his loyalty

to the court and his desire to forgive Hamlet”

Gertrude (Juliet

Stevenson)

attempts

to restrain

Laertes (Luke

Thompson).

irector Robert Icke’s exceptional

contemporary interpretation of Shakespeare’s

most famous play has had plenty of time to

sit. Indeed, London has seen two further Hamlets

(Tom Hiddleston’s and Benet Brandreth’s) since

this formidable piece of theatre closed, but Andrew

Scott’s is the one that seems to haunt the capital.

With its soundtrack of some of Bob Dylan’s most

touching songs, this electrifying, heart-wrenching

production has plunged a poisoned foil into the

hearts of thousands.

Andrew Scott’s exquisite, fragile Hamlet was

offset beautifully by Jessica Brown-Findlay’s

graceful yet physically strong Ophelia (her dance

background was evident throughout), whose

weakness, ironically, lay in her attempting to

convince herself and the court of her strength.

I have seen criticism of the “monotony” of

Angus Wright’s Claudius, as if his performance left

something to be desired. I disagree – Wright is an

accomplished actor and his Claudius was cunningly

crafted. He left us in no doubt as to how Derbhle

Crotty’s elegant and likeable Gertrude, in the midst

of her confusion and grief, was attracted to his

lupine, prowling figure but saw the error of her

ways so quickly in the closet scene.

Peter Wight’s Polonius was apparently

succumbing to the insidious effects of dementia,

22 shakespeare magazine


Andrew Scott

but his performance lost none of the character’s

levity.

Aided by a cast of such strength, the play felt

so fresh that some of its most famous and often

most laboured words became unfamiliar. Icke’s

daring direction served to emphasise this by giving

several of the play’s best-known moments entirely

new readings. Laertes’ plea to use another foil, as

the one he has chosen is “too heavy”, for example,

became a sudden second thought – a desperate and

urgent cry to avoid the inevitable, and perhaps use

a foil untainted with poison. He became a man

torn between his loyalty to the court, and his desire

to forgive Hamlet and begin to define a better

future. For the duel scene itself, Shakespeare’s

words were all but abandoned, the fight performed

as a dumb-show to Bob Dylan’s ‘Not Dark Yet’.

Emotionally manipulative? Perhaps. Facile?

Possibly. Heart-breaking? Undeniably.

This production’s outstanding competence lay

in giving its audience the opportunity to share

grief and express its own, usually muted, sorrows.

Shared emotion equates to shared humanity. As a

fully paid-up member of Generation X, I cannot

remember a more (over)dramatic outpouring of

love and grief than that which we witnessed after

Hamlet’s brooding isolation is neatly updated and encapsulated in this scene.

shakespeare magazine 23


Andrew Scott

“Angus Wright is an accomplished actor, his

lupine, prowling Claudius is cunningly crafted”

Barry Aird as the

play’s infamously

irreverent

Gravedigger.

Awkwardly

positioned between

Claudius and

Gertrude, Hamlet

is forced to smile

for the cameras.

the death of Princess Diana, which has been much

discussed of late, it being the 20th anniversary

of the Paris crash. There was, at the time, an

extraordinary and tribal response to her carefully

orchestrated funeral.

With Diana, we were not mourning the

death of a princess so much as celebrating the

opportunity to experience human communality.

So with Hamlet, while we feel acutely his pain,

Ophelia’s, Gertrude’s, we mourn our own tragedies

as they are reflected upon the stage. When we

weep for Hamlet and his fellow characters, we are

weeping for our own grief and for the sense of loss

which might permeate our own lives, but using

Shakespeare’s writing as a conduit. To paraphrase

Gertrude, this Elsinore turned our eyes into our

very souls.

I fell in love with Hamlet 30 years ago, and

in that time many interpretations have come and

gone. But it is Andrew Scott’s that has remained

with me above all others, and which will do until

usurped. I suspect I am in for a long wait.


This performance of Hamlet took place on Monday

24 July 2017 at the Harold Pinter Theatre, London,

with Derbhle Crotty in the role of Gertrude.

24 shakespeare magazine


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British actress Daisy

Ridley, who plays the

title role in Ophelia.

26 shakespeare magazine


Time

Travelling

with Ophelia

Painter, illustrator and occasional actor

Stewart Kenneth Moore shares his




shakespeare magazine 27


(Left to right) Daisy Ridley as Ophelia,

and as Rey in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

ot so much

“Who’s There?”

as “Who and where

am I?” While they moved

the time machine I took

in my surroundings. I had

become an old priest, moored,

anchored, for a few days,

somewhere deep in the past. The

location could not have been more

beautiful. Seated at the edge of all the

machines I looked out at a stunning

summer view, a small pond, a steep field of green

grass running away from me to meet a hillside and

escape into a tree line in the sunset.

Actors are time travellers and cameras are time

machines. They capture light and change its speed,

they frame the moment forever. Films take you back

to the past and they wait as time capsules for future

generations.

If you ever find yourself in costume, on a film

set, somewhere deep in the countryside, you will

know how easy it is to imagine you are actually in

some past century. Easy, that is, until you get hungry

and wander back to Catering and leave the hazy

world of fireflies for that of the crackle of walkietalkies

and gaffer tape.

I had been cast in Ophelia, the new film directed

by Claire McCarthy starring Daisy Ridley in the

titular role. Based on the novel by Lisa Klein, this

is the story of Hamlet and Ophelia retold from

the point-of-view of Ophelia. In this way the

story shares similarities to the Tom Stoppard play

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Both take a

parallax view of the classic narrative.

The pond was not in shot but it made me think

of the painting of Ophelia by John Everett Millais.

The time-machine (the camera) was behind me

at a small yard that seemed like an old abandoned

graveyard with one small section of chapel wall

remaining. A scene both humble and epic that could

have been painted by John William Waterhouse.

Czech set builders are so very good at their work

that I’ve given up trying to discern reality from

set design. This little yard sat at the edge of a tiny

village, not even a village – a hamlet. No pun

intended. The residents were out silently watching

the strange goings on. Hollywood had appeared

out of nowhere with its time machine and its many

trucks and time travellers (crew). The locals stood

and watched as we changed the weather, conjuring a

cold downpour on a warm summer evening, I think

28 shakespeare magazine


“Ophelia has an excellent cast, including

Daisy Ridley, Naomi Watts and Clive Owen”

we may even have brought the moon with us. This

is a fairly vast illuminated ball, a moon in essence,

that is lassoed and suspended nearby for lighting

purposes.

It takes a long time to film a few scenes because

we go back and forth filming various close-ups and

reaction shots, and from this the editor will later put

together an aggregate of all our actions and reactions.

It’s always a surprise to see the final outcome. You

might shoot a scene ten different ways, so you’d

think you’d have a good memory of what happened,

yet it’s always a surprise to see the final version.

The theme of Hamlet and Ophelia has been

popping up in my work for years now. I’ve sketched

my fellow actors at work, mostly on stage. The series

that has slowly emerged, such as it is, has no real

title and I’m not planning on showing it any time

soon, but it’s basically a study of ‘stagecraft’. I’ve

drawn scenes from Hamlet and Macbeth (on stage

and rehearsals) and even created a Macbeth graphic

novel based on the work of the Prague Shakespeare

Company. I’ve also studied the players of Blood,

Love and Rhetoric at work on Rosencrantz and

Guildenstern Are Dead. So my studio has quite a few

images based on some form of Hamlet. Add to this

the redoubling weirdness of a chat between scenes

with an actor who, I suddenly realise, is the son of

that particular parallax playwright.

All of this made working on this film very

familiar and more than a bit coincidental. After all,

I had only just portrayed Czech theologian Jan Hus

(1369-1415) for Nat Geo, so I’d been walking the

walk, or, the dogma, only a few weeks prior. And in

the weeks before auditioning I had begun asking why

it was I only ever seem to meet male directors, where

are the female directors? This question seemed like an

epiphany (I am a man, it would). But, I wondered,

where is the female perspective in cinema? And is

the lack of that perspective one reason for the rot?

Probably not, but female direction shouldn’t be a

parallax view, it should be just another norm. To this

day I’ve never met a female director of photography.

I’ve met and worked with a few female student

directors, perhaps an indication of the changing

balance, but never on a big budget film, or any film

for that matter. The only exception being Susan Tully

directing us on an episode of Britannia (the time

machine forcing me back a few thousand years this

time, and into the sandals of a Roman revolutionary)

for Sky television. And then, suddenly, there was

Claire, like Susan, another excellent director and, for

that, no different than so many.

Ophelia (Daisy

Ridley) with

Queen Gertrude

(Naomi Watts).

shakespeare magazine 29


Two of Stewart’s

paintings inspired

by Tom Stoppard’s

Hamlet-referencing

play Rosencrantz

and Guildenstern are

Dead.

By now you may be wondering why I am not

writing about the stars, the roles, other nitty-gritty.

Well, I can’t, time-travellers take a vow of omertà

when they sign on the dotted line. I cannot tell you

what I saw, what happened. I can say that it was

a good-natured place, it was a good set. I might

be able to tell you about a prank I pulled – an

absolute blinder, to be honest – but unfortunately

it is connected with a key moment in the story

and would be a spoiler. I’m no spoiler. I might be

able to tell you about the dead body, a life-cast, an

avatar identical in the smallest detail to an actual

dead man, that lay on the grass and why that was so

hilarious... but I can’t. I can say the villagers noted

it but were apparently unfazed and that too was

amusing.

Ophelia has an excellent cast. As I’ve said, Daisy

Ridley as Ophelia but also starring Naomi Watts

(Gertrude), Clive Owen (Claudius) and Tom

Felton (Laertes). Two you may not know – George

MacKay as Hamlet and Devon Terrell in the role of

Horatio – are both superb actors. I didn’t realise I’d

seen George in one of my favourite TV shows of the

previous year. He was in the miniseries 11.22.63,

about a time traveller, played by James Franco,

attempting to prevent the assassination of John F

Kennedy. I wished I could have told him how much

I enjoyed the series.

Stranger still, when I got home my son suggested

we watch a film after dinner, one he’d been waiting

to see. He’s very interested in politics and told us

about a film about the young Obama, he chose it

out of the blue. I was stunned and found myself

saying “You’re not going to believe this, but I was

just in the car with that guy... today!”

It is interesting to see how actors shape a scene

and, in some sense, are guardians of logic in the

story. The time machine sometimes remains on

standby while an actor questions the logic of an

action. It may all become clear to the actor and we

move forward in time as planned. Or the director

may be alerted by the actor to the lack of logic in

the scene, make some adjustment, and the timeline

shifts slightly and the scene becomes more logical,

it can go either way. This is the alchemy of motion

picture storytelling at its heart, and actors don’t get

much credit for those key moments.

Before you know it, it’s a wrap and the set and all

its players evaporate. Before you know it, the whole

crazy event is over and “Tis in my memory lock’d...”


Stewart Kenneth Moore (aka Booda) is a painter,

graphic novelist and actor. He has recently completed

acting work on Lore for Amazon, and is currently

developing a new comic strip with writer Pat Mills.

You can buy his graphic novel of Macbeth

Here

30 shakespeare magazine


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on your sleeve and the

Bard on your chest?

Get a fabulous exclusive Shakespeare T-shirt

when you donate to Shakespeare Magazine!

Donate here


Samira Ahmed

“The third

age of Hamlet

for women is

post-40. I am

completely

Team

Gertrude”

32 shakespeare magazine


Samira Ahmed

Brodcaster and cultural critic Samira Ahmed

grapples with one of the the thorniest questions

in literary and theatrical history…

“Why do

women love

Hamlet?”

shakespeare magazine 33


Samira Ahmed

Samira

interviewed

Tom Hiddleston

in March 2017.

here are three ages of

Hamlet. Like a lot of women, I first

encountered Hamlet as a teenager, and

of course I fell in love. He’s misunderstood

by the adults, he’s disgusted by their phoneyness.

So far all so very Holden Caulfield.

The first soliloquy “Oh that this too too

sullied flesh...” is when you fall in love with

Hamlet.

However as you get older, by your late twenties,

the way Hamlet treats Ophelia is impossible to

reconcile. It’s like Molly Ringwald rewatching the

old John Hughes movies, shocked at the sexual

harassment all the way through – seeing Judd

Nelson looking up her skirt. All the crude sexual

references. What way is that to speak to the woman

you love? And in the age of Me Too, I think it’s

interesting how we try to find get-out clauses for

Hamlet. There’s something of the tormented dark

soul in romantic fiction that you can trace back to

Hamlet that appeals to young women who think

they can rescue him. Even Kylo Ren in Star Wars.

Misunderstood, cruel because he’s tormented

and, guess what, it’s all tied up with his dodgy

relationship with his father, grandfather and his

hated Uncle Luke. There are revisionist Hamlets

where women have rightly tried to give Ophelia

more agency for female readers. The YA novel

Dating Hamlet by Lisa Fiedler was written with

that in mind. In the intro it says “She felt female

characters like Ophelia always got a raw deal...

so she gave them the guts to change their own

destinies”.

The third age of Hamlet for women is post-

40. I am completely Team Gertrude. I realised

she might well have been only 15 when she had

an arranged marriage, possibly to a much older

man. What was really made clear in the wonderful

34 shakespeare magazine


Samira Ahmed

“By your late

twenties, the way

Hamlet treats

Ophelia is impossible

to reconcile”

Clockwise from top:

Star Wars baddie Kylo Ren has some

of Hamlet’s darkly destructive angst.

Laurence Olivier’s hugely

Hamlet.

Maxine Peake played Hamlet at the


Juliet Stevenson as Hamlet’s mother

Gertrude, 2017.

shakespeare magazine 35


Samira Ahmed

Andrew Scott/Juliet Stevenson Almeida/West End

production last year was how she was finally in a

happy marriage and having wonderful sex for the

first time with a considerate lover. I did discuss this

with Juliet Stevenson, so I know I’m right. And

here’s Hamlet, totally self-absorbed and unable

to cope with the idea that she has basically finally

found happiness with another man. Actress Nicola

Walker told me Sarah Phelps has written a version

of Hamlet from Gertrude’s point of view. Perhaps

we need more of that, in the way that Jean Rhys’

Wide Sargasso Sea was able to give Bertha’s story

and challenge Jane Eyre.

I don’t have a problem with women playing

Hamlet. We need to take ownership of the right to

be the angst-ridden hero/ine who matters, and it

emphasises the feminine aspects of the character –

but I think it changes everything. Under patriarchy

a female Hamlet is such a different being. I find

it interesting that Janet Suzman – a very famous

Ophelia opposite David Warner – wrote a book,

Not Hamlet, frustrated by the lack of such a part

for women, but is insistently against women

playing those male roles.

The thing I can’t fathom is Hamlet being 30.

That makes no sense, for him as a young romantic

hero. That seems practically middle-aged for

Shakespeare’s age, though more palatable today in

the age of eternal middle youth.

But I would say Hamlet can still grip your

heart the way he did when I was a young girl. The

Paapa Essiedu RSC Hamlet moved me more than

any for years, for the tears in his eyes as he faces his

death at the end, suddenly realising how, despite

all his clever plotting, he was a naive young man,

who could not conceive of the depth of the adult

wickedness of his Uncle and his courtiers. For all

his faults, he is a noble soul.



36 shakespeare magazine


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Victorian Hamlet

“A hundred

ducats apiece

for his picture

in little...”

The Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive is a

wondrous free resource compiled and curated by

Dr Michael Goodman of Cardiff University. So we

asked him to select some of his favourite examples

of Hamlet-related artwork from the archive.

1. Kenny Meadows,

Hamlet Dramatis Personae

This is a clever example of the illustrator Kenny

Meadows commenting upon the theatricality of

the page and, indeed, the illustrated edition itself.

By alluding to the device traditionally used in the

theatre to signify the start of a play – the lifting of

the curtain – Meadows draws (quite literally) our

attention to the differences between stage and page

and wittily challenges us to reconcile the two. But

there is something more going on here. Hamlet is

a play which is all about looking – things seen and

unseen, the observer becoming the observed, and

the dangers that lie with misunderstanding what

our eyes are telling us. By opening his illustrated

imagining of the play in this way, Meadows is also

implicating us, the readers, within the play’s narrative.

The illustration is an effective instance of word and

image combining to create a larger and more richer

meaning than they could in and by themselves.

38 shakespeare magazine


Victorian Hamlet

1.

shakespeare magazine 39


Victorian Hamlet

“Knight’s editions focus more on the geography

and objects in the plays than on the characters”

2. 3.

4.

2. G.F. Sargent,

Platform at

Elsinore.

3. G.F. Sargent,

Church and

Churchyard at

Elsinore.

4. G.F. Sargent,

View of Elsinore.

40 shakespeare magazine


Victorian Hamlet

5.

5. G.F. Sargent,

Hamlet’s Grave

One of the most overlooked

editions in VISA (going by the

stats) is the one published by

Charles Knight. Knight, who was

a publisher and not an illustrator,

included in his edition the work

of many different artists in many

different styles, and I suspect the

reason this edition is the least

used is because it focuses more

on the geography and objects of

the plays than on the characters.

In effect, the edition singularly

treats each play like a history

play – as if they depict actual

historical events. Nevertheless, it

is a fascinating document which

reveals what Knight thought


audience to know about the plays

of William ‘Shakspere’ (Knight was

preoccupied by ideas of historical

authenticity and concluded, along

with others, that ‘Shakspere’ was

the likely spelling of ‘Shakespeare

in the early modern period).

When I have been teaching

students, a valuable way of

approaching the illustrations

in Knight’s edition has been to

think of them, to use a term

from cinema, as setting up an

‘establishing shot’ and depicting

the scene where the play’s

action will take place. These four

examples, all by the artist G.F.


this. We see Elsinore Castle from

a distance (2) and then we can

‘zoom in’ closer in the illustration

in ‘Platform at Elsinore’. We can

use the same strategy again with

the illustrations ‘Church and

Churchyard at Elsinore’ before

transitioning to ‘Hamlet’s Grave’.

But let’s, for the time being,

imagine that we could zoom in

even further onto the ‘Platform at

Elsinore’. What would we see?

shakespeare magazine 41


Victorian Hamlet

6.

6. H.C. Selous, The Ghost.

We would probably witness

Horatio encountering Hamlet’s

Ghost, as depicted here by Henry

Courtney Selous. This is not just

one of my favourite illustrations

from Hamlet, but one of my

favourites in the whole archive.

Whilst the other illustrators

depict the ghost shrouded in

darkness or unsatisfactorily,

Selous uses his characteristic

light style to create an image that

is bold, distinct and satisfyingly

composed. There is a real sense

of physicality to both Horatio

and Marcellus, which makes the

disparity between them and the

otherworldliness of the ghost

even more pronounced.

Indeed, what this illustration


wood engraver – the craftsman

who would realise the artist’s

illustrations by engraving them

onto a block of wood. If you look

closely at many Victorian wood

engraved Illustrations you will

often see two signatures. In this

case, at the bottom left of the

image you can just about make

out the initials H.C.S (Henry

Courtney Selous, the illustrator),

whilst on the right we see the

signature of F. Wentworth (the

engraver). The signatures remind

us that the world of Victorian

image making, much like the

theatre, was a collaborative

process and often, in the case

of these illustrated editions, an

elaborate production as well.

7. H.C. Selous, Hamlet Full Page

Introductory Illustration.

42 shakespeare magazine


Victorian Hamlet

7.

shakespeare magazine 43


Victorian Hamlet

8.

8. Kenny Meadows,

Hamlet Introductory Remarks

Just as there are innumerable

ways to stage one of

Shakespeare’s plays, there are

also a vast amount of ways to

illustrate them. One of the most

interesting aspects of VISA is

that it allows us to easily explore

how the different illustrators

interpreted the same scene. These

two illustrations by Selous and

Meadows are a case in point with

both demonstrating the different

artistic styles of the two artists. In


could be very much be mistaken

in thinking that Hamlet is a sort of

pastoral drama – a kind of more

serious counterpart to As You

Like It. With Meadows’ illustration,


realm of the macabre and the

gothic.

While Selous’ illustration

represents wickedness occurring

in an idyllic landscape (the snake

on the ground makes us think

that we could be in the Garden

of Eden here), in Meadow’s

interpretation of the scene

even the trees look dark and

malevolent. Something is indeed

rotten in the state of Denmark.

As ever with Meadows there is

also some fourth wall breaking

going on as well, with Claudius

(or is it?) clutching at the wall

with ‘Introductory Remarks’

written upon it. The effect is

unsettling for the reader and it

is possibly a visual reference to

Claudius’ line in Act III when he

talks about his ‘cursed hand’. The

fact that both these illustrations

appear near to the start of their

respective editions (before the

play has actually begun) means


purpose a trailer does for a



moments of drama and we wish

to learn more.

44 shakespeare magazine


Victorian Hamlet

“John Gilbert presents Ophelia here with great

skill – alone, still, and garlanded with flowers”

9.

9. John Gilbert, Ophelia

John Gilbert’s portrait of Ophelia

is perhaps the best and most

interesting imagining of the

character in the archive. That said,

none of the illustrators’ depictions

of Ophelia are particularly good

(Meadows’ Ophelia is awful) and

indeed, more broadly, there is

a certain reluctance to fully

engage with Shakespeare’s

female characters to


Whether this comes

from the cultural and

political context in

which the illustrators

were working or, as I

suspect, they found it

easier to depict men,

is for a future research

project. Nevertheless,

Gilbert presents Ophelia

here with great skill.

Alone, still, and garlanded


her ‘muddy death’, the


moment is visually


illustration taking up

three quarters of

the page. Of course,

the problem for

any artist wishing

to depict Ophelia

in the second half

of the nineteenth

century is that it will be

immediately compared

with the famous John

Everett Millais painting from

1851-2. Gilbert sensibly chooses

to portray Ophelia just before

the scene Millais depicts and it is

no less poignant because of that.

shakespeare magazine 45


Victorian Hamlet

10.

10. Kenny Meadows,

Hamlet, Full

Page Introductory

Illustration.

11. H. C. Selous,

Hamlet and Claudius.

12. John Gilbert,

Poor Yorick.

11. 12.

46 shakespeare magazine


Victorian Hamlet

13.

13. H. C. Selous,

Mr Henry Irving

as Hamlet


Hamlet, the Prince

of Denmark himself.

Because, as everyone

knows, you cannot

have Hamlet without

Hamlet!

Explore the

Victorian Illustrated

Shakespeare Archive

Here

shakespeare magazine 47


Gyles Brandreth

“What makes this special? What makes

it justifiable? It’s that we are a

family fascinated by Hamlet”

Shakespeare’s Hamlet becomes the

ultimate domestic drama in the hands

of Gyles Brandreth and family.

48 shakespeare magazine


Gyles Brandreth

HOW’S YOUR

FATHER?

In the summer of 2017, veteran British author


long-held ambition to appear in a production of

Hamlet. Acting alongside him were his own son

and daughter-in-law. He tells us all about it.

Interview by Jen Richardson

Photography by Francis Loney

Tell me about your 90-minute, strippeddown

version of Hamlet, and how you

came to take multiple roles in the play.

“Yes. How did this come about? I suppose it came

about because I’m an almost lifelong Hamlet

obsessive – who isn’t? And I thought to myself,

‘I’d like to play Hamlet’. Then my wife said to me

‘Please, don’t be absurd, you can’t play Hamlet,

you’re knocking 70. I said, ‘Sir Frank Benson was

still a very credible Hamlet aged 72. The older

Hamlet often works very well. Michael Redgrave

played Hamlet at Stratford when he was 50 years of

age. There have been plenty of ‘old’ Hamlets’. ‘Be

sensible,’ she said.

“So I thought ‘OK, I can’t play Hamlet, but

there are two characters called Hamlet in the play,

Hamlet Senior and Hamlet Junior. I shall play

Hamlet the ghost’. Then I thought, ‘Who’s going

to play Hamlet?’, and it occurred to me that my

son could play Hamlet. “My son is, by day, a

barrister, but by night he’s a performer and he is an

author. He has written, for example, recently two

novels – the first one was called The Spy of Venice.

They’re novels based on Shakespeare’s lost years.

In fact, you should be interviewing him in due

course, and am sure will be! He knows all about

Shakespeare, but more to the point, he’s rhetoric

coach at the Royal Shakespeare Company and, as

readers of Shakespeare Magazine don’t need to be

told, rhetoric was a core subject in Elizabethan

schools, and at grammar school Shakespeare would

have learned rhetoric.

“Rhetoric imbues all of Shakespeare, and my

son is a brilliant rhetoric coach. I thought this

would be a brilliant opportunity for him to put

what he preaches to the test. As a result of this, we

came up with this idea of doing a family Hamlet,

because why do Hamlet? Well, you do Hamlet

because you want to. And once you’ve done it,

you realise that you want to keep on doing it, but

shakespeare magazine 49


Gyles Brandreth

“Benet plays Hamlet. Kosha plays Ophelia and

Gertrude, but also Rosencrantz and Horatio”

Husband

and wife

Hamleteers

Benet

Brandreth and

Kosha Engler.

I’ll come back to that later on. But we thought,

what makes this special? What makes it justifiable?

It’s that we are a family fascinated by Hamlet. I’m

going to play the older characters, my son is just

going to play Hamlet, and by chance he is married

to a very fine American actress called Kosha Engler

who was born in Maryland, and before she came to

live in the UK performed at the Folger Shakespeare

Theatre in Washington DC.

“So we thought ‘she can do the female parts, I

can do the older parts, and Benet can do Hamlet’.

We were encouraged to do this by Steven Berkoff.

He wrote a wonderful book years ago called I am

Hamlet. In it he reminds us that everyone, every

actor, will want to play Hamlet and every actor

should and could play Hamlet because what there

is in Hamlet is everything, which is what we began

to discover as we rehearsed and as we played it.

Every kind of human experience is there. Then we

thought, ‘how are we going to do this with three

people?’ Well, my wife and I are patrons of the

Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond, and we had

seen there a number of outstanding Shakespeare

for young people productions, all of them brought

down to size for either four actors or six actors by

a director called Imogen Bond. We’d seen these

productions of hers, she is a Shakespeare scholar,

and we asked her if she would be interested in

creating for us a 90-minute version.

“We got on board Simon Evans, a brilliant

young director, and he brought with him a

colleague as a co-director called David Aula. It

was fascinating working with two directors and

we gained from that. One of the things that we

50 shakespeare magazine


Gyles Brandreth

Gyles as

the Player

King, giving

his speech

at Hamlet’s

request.

discovered that we hadn’t really expected was that

the doubling would be revelatory. Benet plays

Hamlet, Kosha plays Ophelia and Gertrude, but

she also plays Rosencrantz and she plays Horatio,

and we’ll come on to Laertes later! Basically, what

we discovered was all these characters were all

aspects of – well, you see – your friends and family

in terms of yourself. Here is Hamlet looking at the

people closest to him through the personification of

one woman, which becomes suddenly intriguing.

“David and Simon took Imogen’s script and

played with it a bit. In the play, Simon wanted us

to throw in odd lines and speeches from other plays

because audiences think they know Hamlet and

we’re doing something different here. They were

determined to be bold. We wanted to do an intense

version, and because we are a family – the reason

for doing it – to do a family Shakespeare and

concentrate on the family. Out go the politics, out

goes Fortinbras. This is about a family.”

With that in mind, we are interested

to know which themes, as a family, you

found particularly difficult to confront

through your characters.

“I think it added something, both for us and,

curiously, for the audience. The audience didn’t

need to know that we were related, but we’re quite

similar in different ways. Could you tell we were

father and son? Yes. So I think, for example, people

did find the Hamlet the ghost and Hamlet scenes

quite touching. When the ghost wanted to go

away because dawn was breaking, Hamlet wants to

hold onto him, so the ghost had to struggle to get

shakespeare magazine 51


Gyles Brandreth

“A wonderful and

terrifying experience”

Benet Brandreth

“I was instantly excited”

Kosha Engler

“As one of the most performed Shakespeare plays,

Hamlet has been done a lot. I have personally

seen it done a lot – usually with excellent actors as

Hamlet, but often directed in a fairly traditional

and predictable way. When Gyles suggested

a three-person, family version with a young

innovative director I was instantly excited. I loved

the idea of breaking open the play in a new way,

paring it down to its essence and discovering what

that would reveal. Playing so many characters

was daunting, thrilling and exhausting. Of all the

bold choices we made my favourite, and most

controversial, was about Ophelia.

“We decided she wasn’t suffering from general

‘madness’ but specifically multiple personality

disorder – she’s a textbook case. Instead of actually

dying, the trauma of Hamlet rejecting her then

murdering her father triggers Ophelia to ‘kill’ her

more fragile, submissive personality and replace it

with a stronger, aggressive alter ego – her absent

brother Laertes. It was a practical as well as a

creative decision and some audiences found it

challenging, but I just loved giving Ophelia the

chance to fight Hamlet at the end and ultimately

forgive him on her own terms without another

man doing it for her.”

“For my own part, the production was both a

wonderful and a terrifying experience. Wonderful

because we got to play with Shakespeare and

explore one of his greatest plays. It is important

to me that his plays shouldn’t be viewed as

museum pieces but as texts that still speak to us,

that are alive and reflective of our times. I feel

our production had that vitality to it. It was an

experiment, more successful in some parts than in

others but always, I feel, illuminating the characters

and the themes of the play. It was wonderful to

feel that we had really explored the text and made

something of it. At the same time it was terrifying

because the part and the play is so well known.

I felt the weight of the history and the expectation

on me.”

52 shakespeare magazine


Gyles Brandreth

Gyles crying as

the Ghost with

Hamlet just

before he departs:

“Remember me”.

away. He wanted to hold onto him not because he

wanted to hear more, but because it was his Dad.

Obviously, from Kosha and Benet’s point of view,

they are husband and wife, so the struggle between

Ophelia and Hamlet, and being rejected by your

husband, was very real.

“Because of what we did with Laertes – he has

already gone to France, so as Polonius I couldn’t

deliver the famous speech to him – so, in fact, we

had Ophelia asking Polonius what he had said

to Laertes when he saw him off. It became quite

touching, actually. Also that it was genuinely my

daughter-in-law that I was giving this advice to. So,

I think the emotional impact was greater.”

You once quoted Steven Berkoff, who

you mentioned earlier, as saying that

‘you cannot be miscast as Hamlet’, and

that ‘there is something of Hamlet in

everybody… the wit will play for laughs,

the lunatic for madness’ and so on. What

did you see come to the fore in your son’s

performance?

“We saw the thinker, the intellectual, the student,

the clever person. The directors made him wear his

glasses. Benet made a decision before that he would

do whatever he was told to do and go with the

flow, and he wore his glasses. One performance he

didn’t because he had forgotten them, and he was

quite thrown. He wore them so he was a studious

Hamlet. In years gone by that would have been

terribly controversial, but it enabled him to do

something with ‘To be, or not to be’ that Sir Derek

Jacobi was kind enough to say. He said ‘you are an

shakespeare magazine 53


Gyles Brandreth

“Steven Berkoff reminds us that everyone,

every actor, should and could play Hamlet”

Ophelia’s

mad scene

with Claudius

featured a

variation of the

knife game that

was repeated

throughout

the play.

intellectual, you’re holding a book all the time.

You are reading ‘To be, or not to be’ – it’s a

philosopher and you’re reading it’. So, he was an

intellectual Hamlet.”

What would you say Hamlet, as a play, has

to offer audiences in 2018? Why does it

endure as one of the most popular works?

“It has everything. That is the reason it works,

that all human life is there. There are so many

facets to it, you find so many aspects of yourself.

Anyone – men can play it, women can play it, tall

people, short people. You can bring anger to it, you

can bring gaiety, because it’s all in there. I think

that’s really the reason. Jonathan Slinger, who was

a brilliant Hamlet at the RSC, he said to us ‘You

will find that you will go on, you can’t stop digging

with Hamlet. Dig, dig, dig, and there’s still more’.

He told us an interesting story that he’d been told

by Sir Kenneth Branagh. Kenneth Branagh did

Richard III at Chichester and was asked, inevitably,

would he like to bring it to London and he said

‘No, I’ve done it at Chichester and I’ve discovered

everything there is in this play. I’ve dug deep, and

I’ve got it all’. And Jonathan said ‘I’ve also played

Richard III, and it’s true. Richard III is a great

character to play, but it is what it is’ – Hamlet, you

could carry on playing forever.”


Find out more about Gyles Brandreth via

his website https://www.gylesbrandreth.net

54 shakespeare magazine


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Elsinore

I capture

the castle

Shakespeare Magazine’s Editor takes a trip to

the real-life Elsinore for a spot of ghost-hunting

at Hamlet’s ancestral home – Kronborg Castle.

Words: Pat Reid

56 shakespeare magazine


Helsingør

Left: Historic

print of

Kronborg

Castle – it looks

quite different

today.

Right: Statues

of Hamlet

and Ophelia

at Helsingør

railway Station.

hen asked to think of a

Shakespeare character, you might

immediately picture an English

monarch, like Henry V or Richard III.

You could possibly envisage one of the

noble Romans that Shakespeare remixed, such

as Julius Caesar or Mark Antony (or their Egyptian

partner in greatness, Cleopatra). Your mind’s

eye might even flash upon one of Shakespeare’s

numerous Italian characters – Romeo and Juliet, for

example – or an exotic outsider in that world such as

Othello (aka The Moor of Venice).

However, the character who most epitomises

Shakespeare’s works is not English, Roman,

Egyptian, Italian or anything else. He is in fact a

man who, in the second half of the play that bears

his name, introduces himself with the words: “It is I,

Hamlet the Dane!”

That’s right. The world’s favourite Shakespeare

character is from Denmark. And what’s more, you

can even pay a visit to his home.

Mind you, taking a trip to Kronborg Castle at

HelsingØr (Elsinore) can have a strange effect on

the way one imagines Hamlet. For a start, it makes

the events of the play feel more real, somehow,

as though they were historical fact rather than a

decidedly wild creative journey. And once you’ve

got it into your head that this is where Hamlet

took place, you may start rearranging the scenes,

characters and events in the play to fit the layout

that Kronborg now reveals to you.

As an ardent Shakespearean, I’m especially

susceptible to this syndrome. It’s not so much that

Kronborg gives flesh and bone to Shakespeare’s

tragic imaginings, but it certainly adds monolithic

slabs of history-infused masonry – not to mention

the ominous beauty of the Danish coast.

I’d somehow convinced myself that Hamlet’s

Elsinore was situated slap bang in the middle of

Denmark’s modern-day capital, Copenhagen, where

we’re staying. But in actual fact, Helsingør is about

50 km to the north of the city. The good news is

the train journey is covered by the prepaid cards

we’ve bought that give you free public transport

and entry to various attractions. The scenery is

fairly unremarkable, but the train does go through

shakespeare magazine 57


Elsinore

“Kronborg certainly adds monolithic slabs of

masonry to Shakespeare’s tragic imaginings”

Kronborg

Castle,

photographed

on our visit in

October 2015.

a station near the famous Louisiana Museum of

Modern Art, and so we plan to stop there on our

return journey.

Maybe it’s just my excited anticipation but I’m

captivated by HelsingØr from the moment I walk

out of the station and see the statues of Hamlet and

Ophelia mounted there. They aren’t pretty, but their

metal features seem to be wrought from tormented

passion, dark eroticism and subsumed violence. If

I was hoping to find one of the cradles of Europe’s

gothic imagination, it seems I’m on the right track.

HelsingØr is basically a small maritime town,

with sailing boats moored at the harbour and a

big ferry waiting to cross the Øresund Strait to

Helsingborg in neighbouring Sweden. It’s maybe a

20-minute walk to the castle, but first we stroll by

the Maritime Museum and have a look at a fairly

new-looking ‘Culture Yard’. There’s cool artworks

everywhere and and equally cool-looking Danes

of all ages enjoying generous servings of food and

drink. Despite its connection with Shakespeare’s

greatest tragedy, Denmark has a reputation as the

world’s happiest country to uphold. But I like to

imagine there’s a dark undercurrent. I can picture

Saga Noren, the autistic detective from Scandinavian

noir series The Bridge, tracking down a suspect to

this award-winning restaurant, leading to a climactic

shoot-out among the oven-fired pizzas (with locallysourced

ingredients) and bottles of organic lager.

Onwards to Kronborg! Well, the castle is

certainly an imposing sight, but sadly it simply

doesn’t look like a product of the Shakespearean

age or earlier. There’s a reason for this. Much of the

castle was destroyed by fire in 1629, so it had to

be rebuilt. The Royals haven’t lived here since the

1780s, but the Danish army did take up residence

for about 300 years. There’s a blunt, hard aspect

to the edifice that stands today – it’s like a French

château that’s been lifting weights.

During Shakespeare’s lifetime however, the castle

was very different. In the 1570s, Denmark’s King

Frederick II set about remodelling it to the finest

standards of the day. One of the architects, Hans

Hendrik van Paesschen of Antwerp, also worked on

some London landmarks Shakespeare would have

known, such as the Royal Exchange. Although the

name Kronborg is not mentioned in Hamlet – a

shame, since it literally means ‘King Castle’ – it’s

likely that Shakespeare would have been aware

of it. King Frederick himself was a dynamic and

ambitious ruler who came to the Danish throne at

the age of 24. He was also King of Norway, and was

active in the politics and warfare of the wider region.

Indeed, it’s tempting to imagine that Frederick

may have inspired some facets of the characters

in Hamlet. He died in 1588, the year the Spanish

58 shakespeare magazine


Helsingør

Armada sailed against England, and also the year

that Shakespeare turned 24.

So it’s very much Frederick’s Kronborg in

my head now, as I enter the castle, noting that it

would be fairly difficult for sneaky Fortinbras and

his army to gain entry unless invited. The next

couple of hours are a blissful blur of courtyards and

battlements, banqueting halls and bedchambers,

nooks and crannies. There’s a plaque which

graciously celebrates Shakespeare and, rather

brilliantly, there’s an actor in period costume playing

Hamlet’s faithful sidekick Horatio, who tells us the

events of the play from that character’s perspective. I

even stumble across a pile of dirt left behind by some

builders, inspiring me to hammily intone “What is

this quintessence of dust?”

I’m disappointed to have missed the annual

HamletScenen festival which stages Shakespeare

productions in the castle, but there’s a terrific

photographic exhibition of the festival’s greatest hits,

dating back to the 1930s. Here are British theatrical

legends aplenty – Gielgud, Olivier, Leigh, the rock

star swagger of Richard Burton, Canadian luminary

Christopher Plummer (with Michael Caine as

Horatio). There’s also a plethora of European

actors with every bit as much charisma, and even a

smattering of new, young talents including rising star

(and occasional Shakespeare Magazine contributor)

Jade Anouka.

I’ve been so fascinated by the exhibition that I

forget I’ve abandoned my partner and child in the

castle’s frankly amazing gift shop. It’s a treasure trove

of Shakespearean swag, and I would happily spend

all my kroner here, but I’ve just realised that there’s

no sign of my family and I’m alone.

I search the castle, the courtyard and the

battlements. I retrace my steps and peek into the

quaint tea rooms we stopped at earlier. I return to

the Culture Yard. I’m leaving voicemails and sending

texts with increasing anxiety, but there’s no response.

I suddenly recall that terrifying 1980s film The

Vanishing. Eventually, with rising panic, I return to

the station, and there they are. It transpires that they

had decided to visit the castle’s dungeon, assuming

I was right behind them. The dungeon sounds like

a suitably spooky experience, lit only by the glow

of visitors’ phone screens – but I’ll have to save that

for another time, as our train is about to depart.

It’s been a brilliant visit to Elsinore. And, unlike

Hamlet, we made it out alive.


Visit Kronborg Castle

Above: Horatio tells his side of Hamlet’s story.

Above right: Shakespeare swag in the gift shop.

More information on HamletScenen

shakespeare magazine 59


Alice Barclay

Hamlet

in the heat

of the night

The culmination of a Shakespeare acting course

for adults run by the Bristol Old Vic, a remarkable

abridged version of Hamlet was performed in the

room above a community arts venue in Bristol.

Words by Alice Barclay

60 shakespeare magazine


Alice Barclay

“One of us was stranded in London, waiting for

a Megabus instead of playing Ophelia”

Participants

were ordinary

people in

everyday

clothes. But in

performance

they became

their characters.

A

group of actors preparing for a

performance is a wonderful thing.

The cocktail of nerves, adrenalin and

concentration is like pure potential

energy, and it’s impossible to replicate. When you

share with an audience your telling of a Shakespeare

play for the first time, things happen that you can’t

ever predict. A date has been set, lines have been

learnt, people have come to “hear a play”, and there’s

an alchemy between the performers, the audience and

the words that can take you to another place. That’s

why it’s thrilling and empowering and brilliant.

Thursday nights at the Southbank Club

were busy. On this hot June evening, the Hamlet

company waited downstairs for the African

drummers to end their rehearsal in the room above

that would soon become a theatre. Meanwhile the

South Bristol Running Club arrived back in sweaty

dribs and drabs to stretch and rehydrate. Perhaps

the only time and place in history where running,

drumming and Shakespeare have met in this way?

We didn’t know quite what was going to

happen that night in the low ceilinged room

with the broken fan upstairs. We’d had very little

time to practically prepare our Hamlet, we had

no set blocking or carefully rehearsed action. The

audience would be seated around us in a rectangle,

but beyond that it was all up for grabs. We did

know that we’d been on an incredible journey to

get to that day. I’d led the course and we’d spent

ten weeks getting to know, feel and discover as

much about Shakespeare as we could, making sure

we were match fit for an audience.

We’d lost one or two of our number through

immovable work commitments and more

significant life events. And that night, one of the

company was stranded in London after a day at

Wimbledon, with all trains to Bristol suspended

shakespeare magazine 61


Alice Barclay

“The alchemy between the performers, audience

and words can take you to another place”

Polonius awaits

his fate at

Elsinore.

indefinitely. He was waiting for a Megabus instead

of playing Ophelia, so instead of buying a gin

and tonic, as I had planned, it meant that I began

to look at Act II, Scene 1 with some sense of

urgency! My true belief in the need for spontaneity

and playfulness, my insistence that good acting

is responding truthfully to an impulse (without

necessarily needing to know what was going to

happen) was to be tested. I would be playing

Ophelia without any rehearsal at all.

One of the things that the group had hooked

onto was the use of cue scripts, which they found

to be a quick way into this sense of spontaneous

playfulness. Listening is a given when you’ve got

a script with only your own lines and the three or

four words someone else says before you have to

speak. There’s no zoning out, safe in the knowledge

that your line isn’t coming up for a while. When we

first used these scripts (the kind that Shakespeare’s

actors used for purely practical reasons), the

reaction to the experience had been so profound

that all scripts since then had been cue scripts.

I had often heard the response from actors that cue

scripts alter your quality of listening entirely, and

I was used to seeing something intangible occur

in an actor’s physicality when that was happening.

I was less used to the reflection from one of the

actors that the sense of everyone listening intently

to him (because they had to, because he might be

speaking their cue) was something he’d never felt

before, on stage or off.

Our Hamlet ran at about 50 minutes, so of

course it was missing much of the narrative. The

scenes were selected to tell the arc of the story and

give everyone something challenging to do, but

the sense of it was there, and so were all the best

62 shakespeare magazine


Alice Barclay

Alice directs

the company.

bits. Liberated from the need to perform anything

approaching the entire play, we could concentrate

on the individual moments the characters found

themselves in.

We had none of the usual casting limitations of

gender and age, but I had tried to give the actors

parts that I thought suited their natural energy.

Without that literal characterisation, the words

seemed to resonate on a different level, and I heard

things that night that I’d heard hundreds of times

before sound different and new.

Over the weeks leading up to the performance

we’d been playing around with different ways

into soliloquies, and the results were so powerful

we decided to maintain them for the audience to

see. “O that this too too sullied flesh” became a

vibrant conversation between two actors positioned

at opposite corners of the space. It was like one

of those heightened discussions with someone

who believes in the same politics as you, when

everything you say serves to validate and fuel each

others’ position. “O what a rogue and peasant slave

am I” was shared between three actors, all widely

different ages. This time they were speaking directly

to the audience, but without deciding beforehand

who would say which lines. Some thoughts came

out spoken by three voices chorally, some with two

voices emphasising different things, and some as a

single voice, at once incredibly vulnerable.

We decided to make “To be, or not to be” the

most intimate, so every actor in the company,

staggering their start, spoke it very quietly but

directly to the person next to them. These multiple

Hamlets needed to be heard and understood by the

one person they had chosen to reveal their thoughts

to. As we couldn’t predict where people would

shakespeare magazine 63


Alice Barclay

“There’s something about the struggle that makes

performing Shakespeare so unique and exciting”

Above: Bathed in post-performance

euphoric glow outside the venue.

Left: One of the evening’s many

Hamlets, cue script in hand.

be sitting by then, it meant some actors crossed

the space and knelt at the audience’s feet. With

around 17 voices talking, there was a combination

of one-to-one intimacy and a wave of words that

you could make occasional sense of. Most of

all, there was the sense of Hamlet having a very

important and desperately personal conversation

directly with a member of the audience, which was

extraordinary. When the ensemble came to an end

after 14 lines and a single Hamlet continued the

soliloquy alone, and then went on into the next

scene with Ophelia, it was breathtaking.

Afterwards, I was able to drink that gin and

tonic, and join with the rest of the company in

celebrating the performance, feeling rather lucky

that I’d been able to be part of it too. Perhaps it

was the runners who made me think of it, but

there’s something about the struggle that makes

performing Shakespeare so unique and exciting.

Not that it should feel effortful in the end, but

it’s tricky to truly get inside all those complex

thoughts. When you perform Shakespeare,

you speak words that you would never utter in

everyday life, and tell stories that are beyond your

own experience, which is an extraordinary thing.

And the drummers reminded me that we were

all performing it with a collective heartbeat, an

elemental sense of rhythm in the words that drives

you forwards. And we were doing it together.

Performing Shakespeare is like nothing else.

Perhaps everyone should experience it at least once

in their life.


64 shakespeare magazine


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Celebrating

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Aussie Rules

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From Doctor Who to Hamlet and

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Hail

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A screen history

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South

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Shakes!

The Shakespeare

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One actor’s amazing

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Celebrating

The life and works of

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Unto the

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Politics of

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Off

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Shakespeare

and the Tower

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Muse of Fire

Two men. One epic journey.

Giles and Dan make the ultimate

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Golden

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Join us on a

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TOM

HIDDLESTON

From Henry V to Coriolanus:

Say Hello to Shakespeare’s

Secret Weapon!

Annus

Horribilis

James Shapiro on

1606: William

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the Year of Lear

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Hamlet

Alone?

Exploding

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“To be or

not to be…”

Art

thou

Grumio?

Our college

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Set in stone

Five great exclusive

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Shakespeare Hero Ben Crystal Clever Comedian Sara Pascoe

The Tutor novelist Andrea Chapin Kill Shakespeare’s Anthony Del Col

Superteacher Phil Beadle meets Bard Evangelist Ben Walden

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Great

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Kenneth Branagh is the

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Antony Sher

His new book is a

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Stratford and Shakespeare

From Russia

with love

David Tennant superfans make

a new edition of Richard II

My

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Behind the scenes of the

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Plus!

Shakespeare in Turkey

As You Like It

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Issue 11

Top of the

Bottoms

Al Murray and

Judi Dench at

Shakespeare Live

Macbeth

A dark new

graphic novel

and an edgy

underground

production

A Victorian

Ophelia

The tragic death of

Elizabeth Siddal

Hiddleston

is Hamlet

(As imagined

by us)

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Painting

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The haunting

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Sweet

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Shakespeare’s

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essential guide!

Hamlet

Shakespeare’s hottest ticket:

BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH

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Native

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The sound of

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Screen

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Looking behind the

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Murder most foul

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Love Kills

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Plus Talawa’s King Lear Samira Ahmed The Wars of the Roses

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WALTER

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OKONEDO

& JADE

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Next issue

We hope you’ve enjoyed Issue Fourteen of Shakespeare Magazine.

Here’s a taste of what we have coming up next time…

Shakespeare Films


Are low-budget indie Shakespeare movies the future?

Every Inch a King

Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson in King Lear.


Fans And Fiction


Julius Caesar And Me

Paterson Joseph’s Shakespeare memoir.

The contemporary authors reimagining Shakespeare.

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