Past Productions: On the RSC stage - 1901-1940
Dr Nick Walton from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust talks about the history of Hamlet in performance on the RSC stage.
Here's Johnston Forbes Robertson in 1908. Some productions have gone beyond Shakespeare's words and added actions beyond those prescribed by the text to sentimentalise the vision of the play. In this production, Hamlet was placed into Claudius' throne after he died. Once sat in the throne Horatio took the crown and placed it into Hamlet's hands.
This is Murray Carrington in a production from 1920 directed by Bridges Adams. The director made some innovative choices which surprised audiences at the time. For example, Murray Carrington's Hamlet had a conversational quality in his delivery of Shakespeare's text. Breaking with theatrical tradition, the play was set in Elizabethan England, rather than medieval Denmark. Another innovative choice was the decision that the ghost would remain invisible, with Hamlet simply hearing his voice.
Outside of Hamlet, other characters were beginning to stamp their influence upon the play. Edmund Willard's Claudius, pictured here, was said to be a very businesslike villain – memorable because his appearance differed from Claudius's of the past. He didn't wear a crown. There was no insignia of royalty to suggest his royal status.
In 1922 Bridges Adams' production of Hamlet was part of the first Scholars Week, for which over 600 school students were invited to spend time in Stratford to see Shakespeare's plays. The young students were able to see how Shakespeare's characters could be brought to life when confronted with William Stack's brooding, contemplative Hamlet.
Hamlet has been performed in many different venues and many different spaces and the space in which the play is performed will always influence and determine, to some extent the method of performance style. In 1927 when the theatre was being rebuilt, a production of Hamlet took place in a temporary venue.
Here we have Donald Wolfit who played the role in 1936, striking an iconic pose, staring at Yorick's skull. This is the image of Hamlet that jumps into people's minds, even if they have never read or seen the play. It has been used on adverts, in films, in cartoons, and it seems that for many years this was the image people expected to see when they went to the theatre.
Here you have a picture of Basil Langton from a performance in 1940. He's striking a very familiar pose, holding Yorick’s skull at arm's length, about to deliver the line,
Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio.
© RSC 2009 Commentary by Nick Walton from Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Images by permission of SBT
Sophistication over time
1901-1940 Beyond Shakespeare's words
1948 Gothic Hamlet
1958 60-year old Hamlet
1965 Sixties' Hamlet
1970 Singing Ophelia
1975 Claustrophobic Hamlet
1980 Visible ghost
1984 Boisterous Claudius
1989 Rebel without a cause
1992 Edwardian Hamlet
1997 Ophelia on pills
2001 CCTV Hamlet
2004 Bent double ghost
2008 Modern iconic Hamlet
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