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2 GUINNESS, OLIVIER, AND BURTON The Mould ofForm Each time a newcomer undertook the role of Hamlet, he was shadowed by the force of tradition. Hamlets in the middle decades of the twentieth century were still influenced by what Gielgud had epitomized in the role, especially in the performance of the soliloquies. This chapter considers three Hamlets who followed in that path. The first, Alec Guinness, performed two Hamlets, one in 1938 and another in 195I. In answer to my request for an interview, Guinness replied in a letter, which is reprinted here and followed by a brief discussion.1 The second, Laurence Olivier, performed a Hamlet on the stage in 1937 and then both acted in and directed his powerful award-winning film in 1948. I have focused on the film because so many people, including actors and directors, have used it as a reference point for Hamlet. Although a renegade and innovator in most matters of staging, Olivier based his film presentation of Hamlet's soliloquies on the traditional method of delivery . The third Hamlet, Richard Burton, was directed by Gielgud as he undertook the role for the second time in 1964. Burton most certainly did not model his interpretation after Gielgud's, but he followed the convention of performing very theatrical yet internalized soliloquies. In fact, Burton nearly outdid turn-of-the-century actors in flamboyance, seeming to "play for points" in a display of vocal tricks and physical action. Gielgud , Guinness, Olivier, Burton, and Tyrone Guthrie-who produced Olivier's 1937 and Guinness' 1938 Hamlet-were all part of the Shake19 speare heritage at the Old Vic from 1930 to 1960. Neither Richard Burton nor Laurence Olivier was alive when this study was written; fortunately , both left viewable records of how they approached Hamlet's soliloquies. ALEC GUINNESS Alec Guinness debuted in Shakespearean roles as Osric in Gielgud's 1934 Hamlet at the New Theatre and also played Osric in Olivier's 1937 Hamlet , directed by Tyrone Guthrie at the Old Vic. Guthrie produced Guinness ' first Hamlet, which was in modern dress, in 1938-39 at the Old Vic, and Guinness directed himself in a traditional production of Hamlet at the New Theatre in 1951. Guinness' letter reveals information about the soliloquies: I am afraid it would be wasting your time to meet to discuss the Hamlet soliloquies. I haven't a thought in my head about them and doubt if I ever had. Both in Guthrie's modern dress production at the Old Vic in 1938 and again in my own disastrous production in 195 I the soliloquies were delivered in the conventional way-as introspective speeches, as if the character was thinking aloud to himself and not as [if he was] explaining his situation to an audience, as is sometimes now the case. Certainly Gielgud and all actors I had seen either before him or around that time, did the same. In fact, I suppose one could say that the soliloquies were treated as part of the play and not [as a] comment on it. But right or wrong I don't see it makes a great deal of difference. With both Hamlets I played I dismissed the idea that Hamlet was aware he was being spied on either before or after the "To be or not to be." I took the line that there was something odd about Ophelia being alone and reading (or at her orisons) when he first spots her-in the 1938 production I followed Prof. Dover Wilson's reading of "sullied" rather than "solid" in the first soliloquy. In 1951, I reverted to "solid." (In 1938 I also used-I think-Dover Wilson's punctuation of "What a piece of work" speech). Guthrie, at that time, was rather influenced by Prof. Ernest Jones and some of it may 20 : Guinness, Olivier, and Burton Alec Guinness in Hamlet, I938. Photo courtesy of the Raymond Mander and Joe Mitchenson Theatre Collection. have brushed off on me-largely unawares. Guthrie persuaded me to tackle the soliloquies at break-neck speed. My diction was good enough in those days to do so. I think we had in mind the "celerity of thought." When I came to do it in 1951 I had been impressed, in the previous few years, by the Madariaga book on this play. I think, also, that Granville Barker spoke for most of my generation of actors (and the previous one) with his Prefaces to Shakespeare. However, I think Granville...


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