Month: October 2014

Women of Hamlet: Dr. Hambone, or: How I Learned to Stop Rolling my Eyes and Love Hamlet

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Blog by 
Assistant Director Maura Krause

HAMLET is not one of my favorite Shakespeare plays. In fact, it doesn’t even rate in the top ten. Although I’ve marveled at the beauty of the language many times, to me the play had always seemed to be about the navel-gazing journey of a bratty prince with self-confidence issues and problems with women. Just not my cup of tea, you know?

Then, at one of our first rehearsals for HAMLET out at the Hedgerow Theatre, Dan Hodge called Hamlet “a sane man in a crazy world.” That phrase, evidence of Dan’s compassion for each and every character, began a transformation in the way that I see HAMLET.  Slowly, the people in the world of the play appeared to me as genuine humans, products of their circumstances and governed by their repressed emotions. Guided both by Dan and the investment of our amazing actors, 


Hamlet’s story ended up being about relationships: some that were falling apart, others that were growing, and two or three that managed to stay poignant and constant in the face of death or revenge. By previews, I could watch the show over and over again and find a new nugget of truth every time.

And thank goodness, because assistant directing necessitates a watchful eye. It needs to be a mixture of channeling the director’s vision for the show and expressing your own artistic voice. Too much of the former, and it’s hard to actually learn anything – or be personally satisfied with the work. Too much of the latter, and you’re a distraction to the work that needs to happen.  


Dan’s clean and meaningful take on this classic made it easy to find that balance, to find HAMLET wending its way into the fibers of my thoughts. I’d be biking home and hear “the readiness is all” in the back of my head, or get a glimpse of my favorite image in the show (no spoilers, but keep an eye on Ophelia.) I’d think completely voluntarily about how Dan’s choice to cast Horatio as a woman added a much-needed layer to the tone of the play, or sign an email “thine evermore, most dear friend.”

I did almost nothing but Shakespeare in college. I found meaning and delight in many of the Bard’s plays on my own, and I was even in a production of Hamlet that I was quite fond of; but it took my time with Dan to see how a generous and methodical approach could – to use a Dan Hodge phrase – really pay dividends, and as a result I think I can safely say I do love HAMLET, in the great scheme of things.

Even though it’s still not my favorite Shakespeare play.


*Maura is the Assitant Director for Hamlet and is in her second year as the National New Play Network Producer-in-Residence at InterAct Theatre Company, where she is committed to making new play development more accessible to audiences. In the past few years, Maura has worked with multiple organizations on the East Coast, including the Samuel French Off-Off Broadway Festival, Woolly Mammoth Theatre, the Source Festival DC, EMP Collective, Walking Fish Theatre, and Wanderlust Collective. Recent credits include creating and performing in Foxwife City’s SALOME SALOME, assistant directing the Applied Mechanics show WE ARE BANDITS, producing the inaugural Philadelphia New Play Initiative Local Playwrights Sho.





Hamlet: The Facts

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Here are a few facts on the Tragedy of Tragedies:

  • Hamlet is Shakespeare’s longest play with 4,042 lines and up to five hours of running time (but not in our version of the play). 
  • Hamlet has the most lines of any of Shakespeare’s characters with 1530 lines. 
  • Hamlet is the second most filmed story in the world, coming second only to Cinderella.
  • Hamlet was the most popular work during Shakespeare’s own time and has remained his most produced play to this day 
  • Disney’s The Lion King is an adaptation of Hamlet 
  • Also Hamlet is the most produced play in the world. It has been estimated that Hamlet is being performed somewhere every single minute of every single day 
  • It is believed that Shakespeare played the Ghost in Hamlet when it was first performed at the Globe.
  • Shakespeare advertises his own work in the play.  When Polonius interrupts the players and proclaims that he enacted Julius Caesar and was ‘accounted a good actor’ in Act 3 scene 2, he is reminding the audience that he will soon be starring in Shakespeare’s production of Julius Caesar.
  • At the end of every play performed at the Globe, four dancers, two dressed as women, would perform an upbeat, bawdy song and dance routine called a jig – even if the play was a tragedy like Hamlet.
  • The first actor to ever play Hamlet was Richard Burbage, the leading actor of Shakespeare’s troupe, The King’s Men. 
  • The castle in which the play is set really exists. It is called Kronborg Castle and was built in the Danish port of Helsingør in 1420s by the Danish king, Eric of Pomerania.
  • In the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2009 production of Hamlet, leading actor David Tennant used a real skull in the gravedigger scene. The skull had been bequeathed to the theatre in 1982 by André Tchaikowsky after his death. Tchaikowsky said he wanted his skull used “in Theatrical Performance.” Tennant was the first actor to use the skull onstage. 
  • Works which have been influenced by Hamlet, or in which Hamlet is mentioned or otherwise utilized as a story device, include novels ( Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, James Joyce’s Ulysses, Iris Murdoch’s The Black Prince, and John Updike’s Gertrude and Claudius), plays (such as Sir Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead), and as well as over 50 films. 
  • One possible source for Hamlet is a 13th-century legend called Amleth, chronicled by the Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus. Although it is unlikely that Shakespeare would have known the original story of Amleth, it is quite possible that he discovered it in an adaptation by François de Belleforest.
  • Hamlet is one of two Shakespeare plays to be translated into Klingon ( the other is Much Ado About Nothing). 
  • Shakespeare may have been inspired to write Hamlet after the death of his only son in 1596. His son’s name was Hamnet and he was 11 years old at the time of his death.


The Women of Hamlet: Horatio

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Blog by Jennifer Summerfield 

One of the things I love about working with Dan Hodge is that he has such a fluency with Shakespeare that when he proposes a change to the text or, in my case, a change in character gender, it’s a well-considered and weighed decision, and so well executed that you’d be hard pressed to convince me it wasn’t what Shakespeare intended all along. So the decision to make Horatio a woman was not an arbitrary one. 

The beautiful thing about Horatio’s relationship with Hamlet, and what attracted me to Horatio as a character when I first read the play as a kid, is that what they share is a deep and trusting confidence and comraderie, so the jump from male to female is perfectly natural, particularly if you set the play in a different century, as we do here. So, on the one hand, nothing had to be “re-written” or added to make the transformation complete; Hamlet simply has a best friend who is a woman. However, as a woman speaking Horatio’s lines, the emotion lying under those words of friendship and fidelity becomes much more fraught and infused with a tension not necessarily present if Horatio is a man. 

Horatio’s position as outsider at the Danish court is also much more apparent, for although the setting has been updated to the first years of the 20th Century, views of women, and professional women at that, are far from modern, so the loneliness and isolation of Horatio when Hamlet is not at court and the sense for me that Hamlet may be the only true friend, male or female, Horatio has, even at Wittenberg University, are palpable. For me, this adds significantly to the tragedy of the play and the sorrow of the final tableau. I truly am alone. 

As an actor, the most difficult challenge is in bringing life to Horatio as a woman, complete with the underlying, tacit emotions, but maintaining the character traits given to her by Hamlet when he tells her she is “not passion’s slave.” There’s the desire to hand the audience every nuance and have them see Horatio’s soul from every angle, but in the end, that is the joy of rehearsal: discovering the limits and possibilities within this world we’ve found.

*Jennifer Summerfield is a Hedgerow Theatre favorite being seen in Sense and Sensibility and last year’s MacbethShe will be seen later this season in On the Verge and Don Quixote.