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Shakespeare Quarterly 52.1 (2001) 142-145

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Book Review

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Edited by Robert Hapgood. Shakespeare in Production Series. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Pp. xvi + 296. $54.95 cloth; $19.95 paper.

"The validity of performance-oriented study of Shakespeare rests most of all on its truth to a distinctive feature of his art." 1 So begins Robert Hapgood's essay in a collection on performance approaches to teaching Shakespeare, a statement that could have been the opening also of this edition of Hamlet. Instead of commentary and textual notes below the lines from Hamlet (the text as edited for Cambridge by Philip Edwards), Hapgood selects one, two, or more performance choices for a particular moment. Most students will also require a conventionally annotated text; one edited by someone other than Edwards would offer an alternative approach to the text, useful for comparison.

I find much to admire in Hapgood's 96-page overview, with its attractive mixture of summary and apt quotation. He writes sensibly on seventeenth-century texts (5-8 and passim). He sometimes records commentators' contradictory opinions on productions, for example, on Garrick's (15), with quotations of reviewers and others. Though primarily writing about productions chronologically, in the overview he circumvents the relentless forward push of chronological development with a looser, richer associative structure. He generally locates the key aspects of each production and moves smoothly to its distinctive significance. At first focusing mainly on Hamlet (as did early productions), Hapgood progresses to considerations of other roles as theatrical practice expanded; he says, "Concern for a unifying coherence in the performance of supporting roles was slow to emerge" (41). His discussion of directors and designers begins appropriately enough with William Poel and Edward Gordon Craig, concluding that by the mid-1980s the era of the overbearing directorial concept had largely ended (82). He is willing to speculate: "Why," he asks rhetorically, "have recent actors of the role been so inclined to emphasize their own vulnerability? One reason may be that where earlier Hamlets tended to emphasize a few salient traits, twentieth-century portrayals have sought to encompass in a single interpretation more of Hamlet's multifaceted personality, Richard Burton being a notable example" (87).

The production footnotes are well chosen, within their limited space. Some of the fullest are from Polonius's interrogation of Ophelia in the third scene: 2

104 Isabella Pateman, another of Booth's later Ophelias, spoke while 'twisting her hands nervously together and looking down' (Stone, p. 29).
109. Modjeska 'draws herself up in a dignified protest' (Mason 106).
110-11 Pateman: 'very earnestly and with an undertone of appeal to her father [End Page 142] " emphasizing honourable. With Gielgud Lillian Gish's 'Ophelia leaps to her feet in protest' and exclaims these lines 'indignantly' (Gilder, p. 103).
113-14 Pateman spoke 'very solemnly with eyes upraised to Heaven and clasped hands' (Stone, p. 29). Modjeska spoke 114 with 'a happy smile, as if recalling past scenes, and rejoicing in the memory of them' (Mason 106).
116ff With Burton in 1964, Hume Cronyn at first smiles at Ophelia in men- tioning Hamlet's attraction to her, becomes gradually sterner up to his harsh pronouncement at 132-4. He then softens a bit at the end, hold- ing his hand out to her at 135b. His shadow towards the end suggests the Ghost's shadow in the first scene.


He sometimes develops commentary notes in full, rich detail, especially for stage directions: see, for example, 1.1.35-39, 1.2.0sd (very full), 1.4.39, 2.2.166sd, 3.2.82sd, 4.5.20sd, and 5.2.192-96. He occasionally refers to variant readings, for example, in his note for 1.2.236, which cites Q1 and F1 alternatives to Edwards's Q2 choice and the acting potential of each.

The book has ten illustrations, from Garrick to Mark Rylance, and helpfully prints eight musical settings for the songs (unlisted in the table of contents). Except for typographical errors, the book appears to be error-free...


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