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08 hamlet study

  1. 1. o8 Study Guides Great-West Life, London Life and Canada Life are proud to support Stratford for Students and the Study Guides. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  2. 2. Table of Contents Introduction 1 The Stratford Story The Play: About Hamlet 2 The Playwright: William Shakespeare 2 Synopsis 3 Timeline: Shakespeare’s Life and World Events 4 Sources and Production History 6 Cast of Characters The Production: Hamlet at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival 7 Cast List 7 Production Choices 8 There’s a New Dane in Town! - Actor profile: Ben Carlson Activities 10 Resources 11 Selected Bibliography 11 Online Resources 11 Hamlet on Film Cover photography: Ben Carlson as Hamlet. Photo: David Hou.
  3. 3. Stratford Sha k espear e Festival ~ Study Guide ~ H a mlet 8 1 Introduction The Stratford Story That Stratford, Ontario, is the home of the largest classical repertory theatre in North America is ultimately attributable to the dream of one man, Stratford-born journalist Tom Patterson. In the early 1950s, seeing the economy of his home town endangered by the withdrawal of the railway industry that had sustained it for nearly 80 years, Patterson conceived the idea of a theatre festival devoted to the works of William Shakespeare. His vision won the support not only of Stratford City Council and an enthusiastic committee of citizens, but also of the legendary British actor and director Tyrone Guthrie, who agreed to become the proposed festival’s first Artistic Director. The Stratford Shakespearean Festival of Canada was incorporated as a legal entity on October 31, 1952. A giant canvas tent was ordered from a firm in Chicago, and in the parklands by Stratford’s Avon River work began on a concrete amphitheatre at the centre of which was to be a revolutionary thrust stage created to Guthrie’s specifications by internationally renowned theatrical designer Tanya Moiseiwitsch. From the balcony of that stage, on the night of July 13, 1953, actor Alec Guinness spoke the opening lines of Richard III: “Now is the winter of our discontent/ Made glorious summer by this sun of York.” Those words marked the triumphant end to what had sometimes seemed a hopeless struggle against the odds to turn Patterson’s dream into a reality – and the beginning of an astonishing new chapter in Canadian theatre history. The other production of that inaugural six-week season, a modern- dress version of All’s Well That Ends Well, opened the following night, confirming the opinion of celebrated novelist Robertson Davies that the new Festival was an achievement “of historic importance not only in Canada, but wherever theatre is taken seriously – that is to say, in every civilized country in the world.” Time proved the truth of Davies’ words, for the Festival’s pillared, porticoed thrust stage revolutionized the performance of classical and contemporary theatre in the latter half of the 20th century and inspired the design of more than a dozen other major venues around the world, including the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, the Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Centre and, in England, the Chichester Festival Theatre, the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield and the Olivier Theatre at the Royal National Theatre in London. Over the years, the Festival has made some amendments to the original design of Moiseiwitsch’s stage, without changing its essential format. At the end of the 1956 season, the giant canvas tent that had housed the Festival’s first four seasons was dismantled for the last time to make way for a new and permanent facility to be erected around the existing stage. Designed by architect Robert Fairfield, the new building would be one of the most distinctive in the world of the performing arts: its circular floor plan and crenellated roof paying striking tribute to the Festival’s origins under canvas. In the years since its first season, the Stratford Shakespeare Festival has set benchmarks for the production not only of Shakespeare, Molière, the ancient Greeks and other great dramatists of the past, but also of such 20th-century masters as Samuel Beckett, Bertolt Brecht, Anton Chekhov, Henrik Ibsen, Eugene O’Neill, and Tennessee Williams. In addition to acclaimed productions of the best in operetta and musical theatre, it has also showcased –and in many cases premièred – works by outstanding Canadian and other contemporary playwrights. Its artists have included the finest actors, directors and designers in Canada, as well as many from abroad. Among the internationally renowned performers who have graced its stages are Alan Bates, Brian Bedford, Douglas Campbell, Len Cariou, Brent Carver, Hume Cronyn, Colm Feore, Megan Follows, Lorne Greene, Paul Gross, Uta Hagen, Julie Harris, Martha Henry, William Hutt, James Mason, Eric McCormack, Loreena McKennitt, Richard Monette, John Neville, Nicholas Pennell, Christopher Plummer, Sarah Polley, Douglas Rain, Kate Reid, Jason Robards, Paul Scofield, William Shatner, Maggie Smith, Jessica Tandy, Peter Ustinov, and Al Waxman. Drawing audiences of more than 500,000 each year, the Festival season now runs from April to November, with productions being presented in four unique theatres, and includes a full program of Beyond the Stage activities including concert recitals, discussion sessions, lectures, and readings by celebrated authors. It offers an extensive program of educational and enrichment activities for students, teachers, and other patrons, and operates its own in-house school of professional artist development: The Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theatre. Top to bottom: 1953, the tent in which the first productions at the Stratford Festival were staged; A view of the Festival Theatre as it stands today; 1954, the interior of the tent in which productions were staged before the permanent facility was built; The Festival Theatre stage as it appears today.
  4. 4. Stratford Sha k espear e Festival ~ Study Guide ~ H a mlet 8 2 ABOUT hamlet The Playwright WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE Born in Stratford-upon-Avon, a small Warwickshire town, in 1564, William Shakespeare was the eldest son of John Shakespeare, a glover, and Mary Arden, the daughter of a wealthy farmer. The exact date of his birth is unknown, but baptismal records point to it being the same as that of his death, April 23. He probably attended what is now the Edward VI Grammar School, where he would have studied Latin literature, and at 18, he married a farmer’s daughter, Anne Hathaway, with whom he had three children: Susanna, born in 1583, and, two years later, the twins Hamnet (who died in childhood) and Judith. Nothing further is known of his life until 1592, when his earliest known play, the first part of Henry VI, became a hit in London, where Shakespeare was now working as an actor. Soon afterwards, an outbreak of the plague forced the temporary closure of the theatres, and Shakespeare turned for a while to writing poetry. By 1594, however, he was back in the theatre, acting with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. He quickly established himself as one of London’s most successful dramatists, with an income that enabled him, in 1957, to buy a mansion back in Stratford. In 1599 he became a shareholder in London’s newly built Globe Theatre. In 1603, Shakespeare’s company was awarded a royal patent, becoming known as the King’s Men. Possibly as early as 1610, the playwright retired to his home in Stratford-upon-Avon, living there – and continuing to invest in real estate – until his death on April 23, 1616. He is buried in the town’s Holy Trinity Church. In the first collected edition of his works in 1623, fellow dramatist Ben Jonson called him a man “not of an age, but for all time.” Not only did Shakespeare write some of the most popular plays of all time, but he was a very prolific writer, writing 38 (canonically accepted) works in 23 years. His work covered many subjects and styles, including comedies, tragedies, histories, and romances, all bearing his hallmark expansive plots, extraordinary language, and humanist themes. Shakespeare enjoyed great popularity in his lifetime, and 400 years later, he is still the most produced playwright in the world. Plot Synopsis Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, is in mourning for his father – and deeply disturbed by the speedy remarriage of his mother, Gertrude, to Claudius, her deceased husband’s brother. When his father’s ghost reveals that he was murdered by Claudius, Hamlet decides to feign madness until an opportunity for revenge presents itself. Polonius, the Lord Chamberlain, thinks that Hamlet’s behaviour springs from love for his daughter, Ophelia; but Claudius suspects otherwise when he sees Hamlet savagely berating her. The arrival of a travelling theatre company gives Hamlet the idea of re-enacting his father’s murder to startle Claudius into revealing his guilt. The performance causes an uproar, and as Gertrude remonstrates with her son, Hamlet kills the eavesdropping Polonius, mistaking him for Claudius. Ophelia, driven mad by grief, later commits suicide. Having evaded one attempt by Claudius to have him put to death, Hamlet agrees to a fencing match with Ophelia’s brother, Laertes – who secretly poisons the tip of his sword. Both combatants, however, receive wounds from the poisoned blade. The dying Laertes reveals the plot, whereupon Hamlet kills Claudius before succumbing to his own inevitable fate.
  5. 5. Stratford Sha k espear e Festival ~ Study Guide ~ H a mlet 8 3 ABOUT HAMLET A Shakespearean Timeline 1558 Elizabeth I crowned. 1564 William Shakespeare born. 1572 Actors not under the protection of a patron declared rogues and vagabonds. 1576 “The Theatre”, the first public playhouse in London, opens. 1577 “The Curtain”, London’s second playhouse, opens. 1578 James VI (later James I of England) takes over government of Scotland. 1579 Publication of North’s English translation of Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans. 1580 Francis Drake returns in triumph form his voyage around the world; travelling players perform at Stratford. 1582 Shakespeare marries Anne Hathaway; Susanna is born six months later and the twins Hamnet and Judith in 1585. 1587 “The Rose” theatre opens in London. Mary Queen of Scots is executed. 1588 Spanish Armada defeated. 1589 Shakespeare finds work as an actor in London; he lives apart from his wife for 21 years. 1590-1591 The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Taming of the Shrew. 1591 2 Henry VI, 3 Henry VI. 1592 Thousands die of plague in London; theatres closed. 1 Henry VI, Titus Andronicus, Richard III. 1593 The Comedy of Errors. 1594 Shakespeare becomes a shareholder of his theatre company, The Lord Chamberlain’s Men. 1594 Love’s Labour’s Lost. 1595 Richard II, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. 1596 Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet, dies. 1596-1597 King John, The Merchant of Venice, 1 Henry IV. 1597-1598 The Merry Wives of Windsor, 2 Henry IV, Much Ado About Nothing. 1598 “The Globe” theatre built. 1598-1599 Henry V, Julius Caesar. 1599-1600 As You Like It. 1600-1601 Hamlet, Twelfth Night. 1601 Shakespeare’s patron arrested for treason following the Essex rebellion; he is later pardoned. 1602 Troilus and Cressida. 1603 Queen Elizabeth dies and is succeeded by James I; Shakespeare’s theatre company becomes the King’s Men. 1603 Measure for Measure, Othello. 1604 Work begins on the King James bible. 1604-1605 All’s Well That Ends Well, Timon of Athens, King Lear (Q) 1606 Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra. 1607 Pericles, Prince of Tyre. 1608 Coriolanus. 1609 The Winter’s Tale. 1610 King Lear (F), Cymbeline. 1610 Shakespeare retires to Stratford-upon-Avon. 1611 The Tempest. 1611 King James version of the bible published. 1613 Henry VIII (All is True), The Two Noble Kinsmen. 1613 “The Globe” theatre burns down. 1616 Shakespeare dies in Stratford-upon-Avon. 1623 The first folio of Shakespeare’s collected plays is published. * some dates are approximate
  6. 6. Stratford Sha k espear e Festival ~ Study Guide ~ H a mlet 8 4 ABOUT HAMLET Sources and Production History ABOUT THE PLAY Written by William Shakespeare sometime between late 1599 – early 1601, mid-way through his career, Hamlet is often called the greatest play by the greatest playwright. In Shakespeare’s time there were three different texts of Hamlet published. The Revenge of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark was entered in the Stationer’s Register in 1602 and is now known as the First Quarto. In 1604 the Second Quarto appeared. It was inscribed: “newly imprinted and enlarged to almost as much againe as it was, according to the true and perfect Coppie”. A revised, cut version of the Second Quarto appeared in the First Folio of 1623. Tradition says Shakespeare played the ghost in the original production. Hamlet has been performed more than any other play in the world and has had more written about it than any other literary work (and has had more translations, more spoofs, send-ups and spin-offs). “To be or not to be” is the most quoted phrase in the English language. Hamlet has inspired 26 ballets, six operas and dozens of musical works from Tchaikovsky and Liszt to Shostakovich. There have been more than 45 movie versions of Hamlet, including those by Laurence Olivier, Mel Gibson and Kenneth Branagh. It is the longest play Shakespeare wrote-running 4 1/2 to 5 hours uncut. Hamlet has more lines than any other Shakespeare character - 1,530. In 1899, Max Beerbolm said that Hamlet was “a hoop through which every eminent actor must, sooner or later, jump.” According to Michael Pennington (who played Hamlet, 1980): “One of the reasons audiences admire the play so much is that everybody in their own lives almost every day faces the kind of crisis that Hamlet faces, that is, do you behave like a reactive savage or like a rational and sensitive human being?” SOURCES AND ORIGINS Shakespeare’s source is Ur-Hamlet-a lost play that was popular in London in the 1580’s. It was believed to have been written by Thomas Kyd, derived from a tale in François Belleforest’s collection Histoire Tragiques (1570). It, in turn was derived from a 9th century saga about a pre-Viking prince called Amleth (or Amlothi or Amlethus depending on the source). The saga was recorded by a Danish monk, Saxo Grammaticus, in his Chronicles of the Danish Realm, written around 1200, and first published in 1514. “Amleth” means “dim-witted” or “simpleton”- a reference to the prince’s feigned madness, which he assumed to protect himself from his uncle who killed his father. Aspects of the drama are in the tradition that grew from Seneca (1st century Roman playwright), whose complete works had been translated into English in 1571. Aspects such as a gloomy, introspective hero, ghosts urging revenge, treacherous horrors and violence all arose from Seneca’s model. HAMLET IN PERFORMANCE Hamlet has been performed continually since Shakespeare’s day; the first recorded performance by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men was in 1602. The play had already been acted “diverse times in the City of London; also in the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge and elsewhere.” Some Eminent actors who have played the role Richard Burbage, David Garrick, John Philip Kemble, Edmund Kean, Sarah Bernhardt, John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier, Alec Guinness, Paul Scofield, Michael Redgrave, Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole, Christopher Plummer, Ian McKellen, Ben Kingsley, Albert Finney, Frances de la Tour, Derek Jacobi, Jonathan Pryce, Michael Pennington, Kenneth Branagh, Alan Rickman, Mel Gibson, Toby Stephens, Sam West, Ralph Fiennes, Daniel Day-Lewis. Ben Carlson as Hamlet. Photo: David Hou.
  7. 7. Stratford Sha k espear e Festival ~ Study Guide ~ H a mlet 8 5 STRATFORD Shakespeare FESTIVAL PRODUCTION HISTORY This is our eighth production of Hamlet and the fifth production to be presented on the Festival Stage. 1957 (Festival Theatre): directed by Michael Langham and designed by Desmond Heeley. The cast included Christopher Plummer as Hamlet, Douglas Campbell as Claudius, William Hutt as Polonius, Frances Hyland as Ophelia and Joy Lafleur as Gertrude. 1969 (Festival Theatre): directed by John Hirsch and designed by Sam Kirkpatrick. The cast included Kenneth Walsh as Hamlet, Anne Anglin as Ophelia, James Blendick asHoratio, Leo Ciceri asClaudius, Powys Thomas as Polonius, and Angela Wood as Gertrude. 1976 (Avon Theatre): directed by Robin Phillips and William Hutt and designed by Daphne Dare (sets) and John Pennoyer (costumes). The cast included Richard Monette and Nicholas Pennell alternating in the role of Hamlet, Pat Bentley-Fisher and Pat Galloway alternating as Gertrude, Eric Donkin as Polonius, Michael Liscinsky as Claudius, Marti Maraden as Ophelia and Stephen Russell as Horatio. 1986 (Avon Theatre): directed by John Neville and designed by Sue LePage. The cast included Brent Carver as Hamlet, James Blendick as Claudius, Richard Curnock as Polonius, Lorne Kennedy as Horatio, Lucy Peacock as Ophelia, Elizabeth Shepherd as Gertrude and Scott Wentworth as Laertes. 1991 (Festival Theatre): directed by David William and designed by Debra Hanson. The cast included Colm Feore as Hamlet, Edward Atienza as Polonius, Wayne Best as Horatio, Sidonie Boll as Ophelia, Patricia Collins as Gertrude, Leon Pownall as Claudius and Brad Rudy as Horatio. 1994 (Tom Patterson Theatre): directed by Richard Monette and designed by Debra Hanson. The cast included Stephen Ouimette as Hamlet, Antoni Cimolino as Laertes, Peter Donaldson as Claudius, Sabrina Grdevich as Ophelia, William Hutt as Ghost and First Grave-digger, Tom McCamus as Horatio, Douglas Rain as Polonius and Janet Wright as Gertrude. 2000 (Festival Theatre): Directed by Joseph Ziegler and designed by Christina Poddubiuk. The cast included Graham Abbey as Laertes, Damien Atkins as Osric, Domini Blythe as Gertrude, Evan Builiung as Rosencrantz, Benedict Campbell as Claudius, Marion Day as Ophelia, Jerry Franken as Polonius and David Keeley as Horatio. Christopher Plummer as Hamlet (1957) Brent Carver as Hamlet (1986)
  8. 8. Stratford Sha k espear e Festival ~ Study Guide ~ H a mlet 8 6 ABOUT HAMLET Cast of Characters Hamlet, Prince of Denmark King Claudius, King of Denmark, Hamlet’s uncle Ghost of the late king, Hamlet’s father Queen Gertrude, the Queen, Hamlet’s mother, now wife of Claudius Polonius, councillor of State Laertes, Polonius’ son Ophelia, Polonius’ daughter Horatio, friend and confidant of Hamlet Rosencrantz courtiers, former schoolfellows Guildenstern of Hamlet Fortinbras, Prince of Norway Voltemand Danish councillors, Cornelius ambassadors to Norway Marcellus Barnardo members of the King’s guard Francisco Osric, a foppish courtier Reynaldo, a servant of Polonius Players Gentleman of the court Priest Grave-digger Other grave-digger Captain in Fortinbras’ army English ambassadors Lords, ladies, soldiers, sailors, messengers and attendants Top to Bottom: James Blendick as the Ghost of Hamlet's father; Bruce Godfree as Laertes and Scott Wentworth as Claudius. Photos: David Hou. Suggested Topics for Discussion 1. Have your students read Hamlet: discuss what they expect to see on the stage when they attend the performance of Hamlet at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. Have each student make a list of predictions about what they expect. Save these predictions. After seeing the show, revisit them to see how they compared to the actual production. 2. Have your students make a story map or a story board outlining the main events of the play. (This may be used later in group activities.) 3. Hamlet has appealed to artists and audiences around the world for 400 years. What do your students think the play’s message is? What parts did they respond to most? Were there parts they wished were different? How? 4. Have your students create a character web showing how all the characters are connected to each other. Discuss the complexity of these relationships and how they affect the progression of the play.
  9. 9. Stratford Sha k espear e Festival ~ Study Guide ~ H a mlet 8 7 ABOUT HAMLET 2008 Stratford Shakespeare Festival Production Festival Theatre April 23 to October 26, 2008 Artistic Team Director..............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................Adrian Noble Designer......................................................................................................................................................................................................................................... Santo Loquasto Lighting Designer........................................................................................................................................................................................................................Michael Walton Cast List The Royal Family Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.............................................................................................................................................................................................................Ben Carlson The Ghost of Old Hamlet, his father....................................................................................................................................................................................... James Blendick Claudius, his uncle and now King of Denmark..................................................................................................................................................................Scott Wentworth Gertrude, his mother and now Claudius’s Queen..................................................................................................................................................................Maria Ricossa The Courtiers Polonius, counsellor to the King...................................................................................................................................................................................... Geraint Wyn Davies Laertes, his son...............................................................................................................................................................................................................................Bruce Godfree Ophelia, his daughter................................................................................................................................................................................................................Adrienne Gould Voltemand.........................................................................................................................................................................................................................................David Francis Cornelius................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................ John Innes Reynaldo...............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................Ron Kennell Osric....................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................Juan Chioran A Gentlewoman............................................................................................................................................................................................................................ Barbara Fulton Ladies-in-Waiting..................................................................................................................................................................Leah Keeley, Teresa Renee, Daniela Vlaskalic Hamlet’s Companions Horatio.................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................Tom Rooney Rosencrantz....................................................................................................................................................................................................................................David Leyshon Guildenstern.............................................................................................................................................................................................................................Patrick McManus The Watch Barnardo.............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................Stephen Kent Marcellus....................................................................................................................................................................................................................................... Stephen Russell Francisco...................................................................................................................................................................................................................................Patrick McManus The Players Player Prologue.......................................................................................................................................................................................................................................Sean Baek Player King...................................................................................................................................................................................................................................Victor Ertmanis Player Queen..............................................................................................................................................................................................................................Daniela Vlaskalic Player Poisoner...........................................................................................................................................................................................................................................Ins Choi At the Graveyard First Gravedigger........................................................................................................................................................................................................................Victor Ertmanis Second Gravedigger....................................................................................................................................................................................................................Randy Hughson Priest........................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................ John Innes The Norwegian Army Fortinbras.................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................Jeff Lillico Captain........................................................................................................................................................................................................................................... Stephen Russell Soldiers......................................................................................................................Sean Baek, Ins Choi, David Francis, Randy Hughson, John Innes, Stephen Kent Musicians................................................................................................................................................................................ Michel Allard, Andrew Bensler, John Fekete, Jerome Summers, Michael E. Wood Alternate.............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................Steven Pierre Production Choices PERIOD AND SETTING Shakespeare’s play takes place in Denmark in pre-Viking days. Some believe during the time of Canute (1014-1035). Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare suggests 1050. Our production is set in a royal household during the Edwardian period, around 1910.
  10. 10. Stratford Sha k espear e Festival ~ Study Guide ~ H a mlet 8 8 With apologies to William Shakespeare, “There is a role in the repertoire of actors, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.” That role, of course, is Hamlet. There are few characters in literature, dramatic or otherwise, so well known as the melancholy Dane. For an actor, it’s a role simultaneously desired and dreaded – a pinnacle of achievement and a true test of skill. As former Festival artistic director Richard Monette – who has both played Hamlet (twice) and directed the play – once told an audience at Concordia University, “There is only one good reason for becoming an actor, and that is to aspire to play the role of Hamlet. It is no mystery why actors want to play Hamlet. The role, the longest in all of Shakespeare, engages every aspect of an actor’s equipment and being.” This season’s Hamlet, directed by former Royal Shakespeare Company artistic director Adrian Noble and designed by Santo Loquasto, is the eighth production of the play at Stratford and the fifth to be presented on the Festival stage. Christopher Plummer played Stratford’s very first Hamlet in 1957, to be followed by Kenneth Welsh in 1969, Richard Monette and Nicholas Pennell (alternating in the role) in 1976, Brent Carver in 1986, Colm Feore in 1991, Stephen Ouimette in 1994 and Paul Gross in 2000. And now Stratford newcomer Ben Carlson prepares to take to the Festival stage as the eponymous prince – and if the readiness is all, this affable, articulate and accomplished actor is poised for great success. Though new to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Mr. Carlson is well known to theatregoers across Canada and in the United States, with an impressive list of credits and awards to his name. Born into a theatre family (his parents are veterans of both the Stratford and Shaw festivals), he was already working steadily as an actor even before graduating from George Brown College in 1993. He has spent the last 12 seasons at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, where his credits include John Tanner/Don Juan (a role even wordier than Hamlet!) in Man and Superman, Cauchon in St. Joan, Charteris in The Philanderer, Andrei in Three Sisters, Eustace in The Return of the Prodigal, Georg in She Loves Me, Hamlet: There’s a New Dane in Town! by Andrea Jackson, education co-ordinator Ben Carlson becomes the ninth in a distinguished line of actors to play Hamlet at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. Frank in Mrs. Warren’s Profession and Constantine in The Seagull. He has also worked at such other Canadian theatres as Soulpepper, the National Arts Centre, Neptune Theatre, Prairie Theatre Exchange, Theatre Calgary, The Grand Theatre, Canadian Stage, Manitoba Theatre Centre and Theatre New Brunswick. He received a Dora Award nomination for his performance as Simon Bliss in Hay Fever at Canadian Stage and the Grand, a Dora Award for his Torvald in The Doll House at DVxT theatre in Toronto and a Joseph Jefferson Award for best actor for his 2006 portrayal of Hamlet at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre – a performance that the Chicago critics tagged as reason alone to see the production. “In a word,” declared Toronto Star theatre critic Richard Ouzounian, “he’s brilliant.” This, then, is not the first time that Mr. Carlson has stepped into these well-worn and yet still potentially blister-inducing shoes. But how does an actor react to being offered a part that can be such a blessing yet also such a burden? Paul Gross was reluctant to take on the role when it was first offered to him by Richard Monette in 2000, professing himself unsure of whether he could actually pull it off. (He did.) Stephen Ouimette’s reaction in 1994 was, as he recalls in Richard Ouzounian’s 2002 book Stratford Gold, “terror, of course!” Colm Feore thought it rather “biblical” that he should be asked to play Hamlet at the age of 33, and decided it was a make-or-break point in his career. Michael Pennington, a renowned British Hamlet, remarks in the book Players of Shakespeare, edited by Philip Brockbank, that among those who have played Hamlet, the role is “the source surprisingly often of regret, and occasionally of real self- definition.” The regret, it would seem, stems from the discoveries that still keep occurring too late, once the run is over. As Stephen Ouimette says in Stratford Gold, “I was reading [the play] the other day and thinking, oh god, yeah, now I get that! I understand what that one little phrase means.” In the same book, Colm Feore says: “I was never finished [learning about Hamlet]. I’m still not finished. I still think about Hamlet.” Obviously, it’s a role that can affect the actor who plays it. “Actors have to be careful,” says Mr. Carlson. “There’s a tendency in acting to let the work inform your life. Hamlet’s a man tormented by grief, visited by ghosts, afraid for his sanity, with serious issues with his mother, father and lover, who ends up wantonly killing three people and being at least indirectly responsible for the deaths of five others. Sometimes it’s best to leave work at the workplace!” As he begins rehearsals for Hamlet, Mr. Carlson is in the enviable position of having a second chance to explore both the play and the role – while also complementing that exploration with his work on his two other roles in the season, Tranio in The Taming of the Shrew and the First Lord Dumaine in All’s Well That Ends Well. “The great thing about working in repertory,” he says, “is that it stretches your acting muscles in different ways than an ordinary run. In Chicago we did eight shows of Hamlet a week, for three months. That was great, but exhausting. Here, the
  11. 11. Stratford Sha k espear e Festival ~ Study Guide ~ H a mlet 8 9 most we’ll do Hamlet will be three times a week, which presents its own challenges, but I’m very excited at the prospect of being able to do the show at full energy every single time.” Having already gained tremendous insight from his previous experiences (he also played Horatio in a production of the play at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa in 2004), Mr. Carlson is nonetheless looking forward to further discoveries. Some things, however, remain constant for him. “My approach is very much text first,” he says. “I love it when the focus is on the text, especially with Shakespeare, because the text is so good. In my opinion, character always is in the service of the play, not the other way around, so any decisions – and with Hamlet there are tons – have to be informed by the play.” And the play, it would seem, can be a difficult nut to crack. Paul Gross puzzled extensively over Hamlet’s first soliloquy, “O that this too too solid flesh would melt,” finding it extraordinarily broken up and full of incomplete sentences. Mr. Carlson concurs: “The very first soliloquy I found quite difficult, partially because it’s the first real insight the audience has into the character and partially because of a strange, almost remote quality in the writing. Hamlet is grieving, but is unable to express his grief properly, even to himself – and he has a great deal of anger towards his mother. I hope when we work on that first scene I can explore just how much Hamlet keeps to himself with the court, and how much he’s able or unable to express to himself in the soliloquy – in other words, how well he understands his own grief. It all becomes much easier when Horatio appears. Thank God for Horatio.” Despite the body count at the end, Hamlet isn’t all doom and gloom. Michael Pennington recalled his surprise at finding how much fun it was to play this demanding part. Mr. Carlson feels the same about his experience in Chicago, which he describes as “harrowing” but nonetheless enjoyable. “At the end of the play, after a great deal of hard work playing Hamlet, the poor tired actor has to perform a duel. I was really happy to discover that by the end I was ready for that duel, and it was fun to do. That was a revelation, and it came on the first preview.” There are many things Mr. Carlson is looking forward to during his first season at Stratford, not the least of which is concentrating on Shakespeare. “All actors should work on Shakespeare as much as they can,” he says. “No other playwright has kept more actors in work, because nobody’s ever been as good a playwright.” There are also many things we, the audience, can look forward to in this first production of Hamlet at the Festival in eight years – not the least of which is the prospect of a thrilling performance from Ben Carlson. Enter the player! “My approach is very much text first. I love it when the focus is on the text, especially with Shakespeare” Ben Carlson BenCarlsonasHamlet.Photo:DavidHou.
  12. 12. Stratford Sha k espear e Festival ~ Study Guide ~ H a mlet 8 10 Hamlet Activities Here are some ideas to get your class launched into the play in a fresh way. *1. Most Horrible! In Act 1, scene 5, the Ghost hints at the terrors of its suffering. It cannot go to heaven because it died before it could confess its sins; so it must suffer dreadfully in purgatory. According to Roman Catholic belief, purgatory is the place where unconfessed sinners experience indescribable remorse as their sins are burnt and purged away before they can see God in heaven. Have students experiment with readings of lines 9-22 that will make the audience shrink back in their seats! Have them add sound effects as you think appropriate. If possible, audio-record their final version as a radio broadcast. Students may find it inspiring to google Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516), an artist who painted the tortures of the dead (or look through art history books in the library). It may help them to imagine the Ghost’s torments. 2. CSI Elsinore Ideally students will have read to the end of the play but it is not necessary. Gil Grissom and the rest of the CSI team have been called in to plot the deadly course of events in a tragic multiple murder that has wiped out an entire dynasty. 1. Split students into two groups, A and B. Divide each group into two parts: witnesses and CSI team members. If possible, separate groups A and B into different spaces to work. 2. Cordon off the area to preserve evidence, tape the outlines where the bodies have died and through witness testimony piece together the tragic events of that fateful night. Start from Act 5, Scene 2, lines 244 – 353. 3. Have each group walk you (Gil Grissom) through the course of events that occurred that evening. How are the two scenes different? 3. Beautiful Death? Romanticizing Ophelia Part 1: In Act 4, scene 7, lines 166-183, Gertrude describes to Laertes how his sister, Ophelia, drowned. Ophelia’s death has been romanticized through the ages, most notably perhaps in the painting ‘Ophelia’ by Victorian painter Millais. For this exercise students will need to have a photo of the painting for reference (see below). In pairs, have students explore Gertrude’s account of Ophelia’s drowning as follows: one person reads the lines aloud; the other listens and studies the picture. Exchange roles and repeat. Have students identify particular lines or words that Millais used as a basis for his painting. They should also talk about what elements of the script are missing from the painting. Part 2: In Judith Tompson’s play Lion in the Streets, Joanne, who has bone cancer, asks her friend, Rhonda, to help her die like Ophelia. Rhonda replies with a much more realistic description of what that would be like. Have students read Rhonda’s description of drowning from Lion in the Streets and create their own painting/drawing/piece of artwork based on this new description. Ophelia by John Everett Millais (1852) Ophelia by Alexandre Cabanel (1883) * adapted from the Cambridge School edition of Hamlet (Cambridge UP, 1994)
  13. 13. Stratford Sha k espear e Festival ~ Study Guide ~ H a mlet 8 11 Resources FOR Hamlet Shakespeare: History, Criticism and Biography Beckerman, Bernard. Shakespeare and the Globe, 1599-1609. 1962. Bentley, G.E. Shakespeare: A Biographical Handbook. 1951. Boyce, Charles. Shakespeare A to Z. 1990. Brown, Ivor. Shakespeare and the Actors. 1970. Brown, John Russell. Shakespeare and his Theatre. Burgess, Anthony. Shakespeare. 1970. Campbell, Oscar James, ed. The Reader’s Encyclopedia of Shakespeare. 1966. Dobson, Michael, ed. The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare. 2001. Epstein, Norrie. The Friendly Shakespeare. 1992. Frye, R. M. Shakespeare’s Life and Times: a Pictorial Record. 1067. Gurr, Andrew. The Shakespearean Stage, 1574-1642. 1980. Hodges, C. Walter. Shakespeare and the Players. 1948. Muir, Kenneth and Samuel Schoenbaum, eds. A New Companion to Shakespeare Studies, 1985. Nagler, A. M. Shakespeare’s Stage. 1985. Schoenbaum, Samuel. William Shakespeare: A Documentary Life. 1975. Taylor, Gary. Reinventing Shakespeare. 1989. Thomson, Peter. Shakespeare’s Theatre. 1983. Tillyard, E. M. W. The Elizabethan World Picture. 1943. Wells, Stanley, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare Studies. 1986. Teaching Shakespeare Asimov, Isaac. Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare. New York, 1970. Edens, Walter, et al. Teaching Shakespeare. New Jersey: Princeton UP, 1977. Gibson, Rex. Secondary School Shakespeare. Cambridge: 1990. Gibson, Rex. Teaching Shakespeare. 1998. Gibson, Rex & Field-Pickering, Janet. Discovering Shakespeare’s Language. Cambridge: 1998. O’Brien, Veronica. Teaching Shakespeare. London, 1982. Hamlet Garfield, Leon. Shakespeare Stories. Puffin Books. 1985. Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Cambridge School. 1994. Online Resources Mr. William Shakespeare and the Internet shakespeare.palomar.edu Sh:in:E Shakespeare in Europe www.unibas.ch/shine Feste: database of productions at the Royal Shakespeare Company and Shakespeare Memorial Theatre www.shakespeare.org.uk/content/view/339/339/ Encyclopaedia Britannica’s Guide to Shakespeare search.eb.com/shakespeare Shakespeare’s Life and Times web.uvic.ca/shakespeare/Library/SLT/intro/introsubj.html Shakespeare Online www.shakespeare-online.com Movie Review Query Engine www.mrqe.com Internet Movie Database www.imdb.com Hamlet Online The Complete Works of William Shakespeare at MIT shakespeare.mit.edu/hamlet/index.html BookRags.com Homepage www.bookrags.com/Hamlet SparkNotes www.sparknotes.com/shakespeare/hamlet/ The Literature Network www.online-literature.com/shakespeare/hamlet/ Hamlet on Film 1996 (UK): Hamlet. Directed by Kenneth Branagh; starring Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, Julie Christie. 1948 (UK): Hamlet. Directed by Laurence Olivier; starring Laurence Olivier, Eileen Herlie, Jean Simmons.

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