Dark shadows hang over Denmark: King Hamlet has died recently, a restless ghost is haunting the castle and foreign powers, such as Fortinbras in Norway, are poised to invade. The young Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, is home from university to mourn his father’s death, and is disgusted by the marriage of his newly widowed mother, Queen Gertrude, to his uncle and now King: Claudius.
Horatio tells his friend Hamlet about the ghost he has seen and its resemblance to the former King Hamlet. They watch that night, and the ghost reveals to his son that he was poisoned by Claudius. Hamlet vows to avenge his father’s murder.
Meanwhile, Laertes, son to the King’s advisor Polonius is set to return to France. Before he leaves, he tells his sister Ophelia to be wary of Hamlet’s affections towards her. Polonius gives Laertes advice on how to behave abroad and also warns Ophelia to stay away from Hamlet.
Hamlet’s sanity begins to be of concern, especially to Claudius and Gertrude. Polonius suggests it is Ophelia’s rejection of his advances. He and Claudius decide to spy on Hamlet and Ophelia. Claudius also employs Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two childhood friends of Hamlet, to spy on him, but Hamlet quickly realises their real intentions.
A famous actor happens to be in town, and Hamlet decides to adapt a play for his specific motive: in “The Mousetrap” he will reproduce the exact events of his father’s murder, and watch Claudius’ reaction throughout the play. As he had hoped, Claudius is enraged and leaves. Hamlet is elated in what he takes to be the King’s display of guilt.
As Claudius wrestles with his conscience, Hamlet discovers him in prayer. He considers killing him, but since Claudius is in mid-prayer and would therefore go to heaven, Hamlet decides to wait until Claudius is committing some sin, so that he will go to hell like Hamlet’s father before him. He confronts his mother Gertrude in her room. As their argument grows, Polonius, eavesdropping behind the curtain, cries for help. Assuming it is Claudius, Hamlet stabs Polonius by mistake.
At first for political expediency, Claudius decides to send Hamlet abroad, to England. Later, with Hamlet becoming an increasing threat to his own position, he decides that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern should accompany him to England. Claudius sends a letter with them ordering Hamlet’s execution during the trip. While at sea, however, Hamlet discovers his plotted murder and switches the orders, causing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to be executed instead. Hamlet returns to Denmark.
While Hamlet merely feigned madness, Ophelia has gone genuinely mad with grief at her father’s death. Suspecting foul play, Laertes storms back from France, but learns it was Hamlet who has killed his father, Polonius. Claudius tempers and subverts Laertes’ anger: he suggests Laertes fights a duel with Hamlet. They work out ploys to kill him undetected: by removing the tip of Laertes’ sword, poisoning the foil for a fatal blow, or by putting poison into Hamlet’s drink. Gertrude interrupts their plot with the announcement that Ophelia has drowned.
In the graveyard, Hamlet has a morbid, witty encounter with the gravedigger, unaware of whose grave he is digging. When the funeral procession arrives with Ophelia’s corpse, Laertes and Hamlet argue and, shortly afterwards, a duel is scheduled.
Despite Horatio’s fears, the duel takes place…
PLOT SPOILER ALERT
During the fight, Gertrude accidentally drinks from the poisoned chalice and dies. Hamlet is wounded with the poisoned sword, but in a scuffle, the foils are switched and Laertes is also wounded with his own poisoned foil. Before dying, Laertes confesses Claudius’ plot to kill Hamlet. Hamlet kills Claudius and in his last words asks Horatio to tell his story. The Norwegian forces arrive at Elsinore, and Prince Fortinbras seizes control of Denmark
Claudius / Ghost
Gertrude / Ghost
Polonius / Servant / Official
Laertes / Ambassador /
Voltimbrad / Player
Ophelia / Fortinbras
Horatio / Gentleman
Marcellus / Lord / Captain / First Ambassador
Guildenstern / Bernardo / Gravedigger
Rosencrantz / Priest / Reynaldo / Osric
Our Hamlet – both the character and the play – is deeply concerned with performance. In his very first scene, Hamlet polices the boundaries between performance and reality. Richard Burbage was the fortunate actor for whom the leading role was originally written. Shakespeare wrote to capitalise on the actor’s extraordinary, versatile gifts, the vocal technique needed to deliver long blank verse speeches, an ability to communicate both high emotion and high intelligence. The same displays of emotion Hamlet describes are untrustworthy, he reasons, because a person could ‘play’ or mimic them. Hamlet’s mourning clothes, sighs and tears ‘seem’ to express his grief, however he insists his inner feelings are his true meaning. This relationship between ‘show’ and authenticity, performance and reality, preoccupies Hamlet throughout the play.
The text of Hamlet has not been subjected to the kind of long lasting adaptations inflicted upon other Shakespeare plays in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Our version of the play has however been shortened: long speeches and bawdy references have been cut. From the seventeenth century through to the end of the nineteenth century, the play’s political strand, centering on Fortinbras and his threatened invasion, was removed from the staged version of the play. Although this cut has still sometimes been made in twentieth century productions, it is now rare for theatre directors to choose not to engage with the play’s exploration of political manoeuvrings. It is precisely this dimension that has prompted our version and so many performances of Hamlet in Eastern European states in recent decades, providing a provocatively relevant analysis of the constraints of tyranny. In our version we see Fortinbras represented through a modern day people’s army, focussing on a world in which the power shifts from the politicians to the people. The Danish Court is caught up in its own corruption and rot but ‘old Denmark must endure’.
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Master Carpenter / Scenic Artist
Deputy Stage Manager
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Assistant Stage Manager
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Clare Glancy and Lucy Hollis