The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0612 Monday, 2 July 2006
Date: Sunday, 2 Jul 2006 17:35:32 +0100
Subject: Hamlet Q1 in Performance
List members may be interested to note that a (rare?) run of
professional performances of the First/Bad Quarto of Hamlet is due to
start at the Festival Theatre in Pitlochry, Scotland on August 23rd as
part of their "Questions of Power" season. It will play in repertory
once or twice a week from that date, with the final performance on
October 19th. Billed as *Hamlet: The Actors' Cut*, the production will
be the first time that Shakespeare has been staged at Pitlochry since 1983.
While on holiday there last week, I tried without success to elicit
further information direct from theatre staff, but the following
extracts from the printed publicity and 2006 Season Programme will give
a flavour of what's in store. While SHAKSPERians might question what
appears to be the principal motive for choosing Q1- i.e. that the more
familiar texts are too long and boring - it is surely to Pitlochry's
credit that they should choose this rarely heard version of the play
rather than abridging a more conventional script.
"Two years after the original 1601 (sic) production of Hamlet, some of
Shakespeare's own actors published a version now known as the First
Quarto. Not the revered, four-and-a-half hour epic we are familiar with
today, but something half its length, fresh, fast, accessible, full of
changed, half-remembered lines, differently named characters - and
missing some of the most famous soliloquies in theatre history..."
"Possibly a version used for touring, this text uses only those
elements of the longer play which Shakespeare's actors thought worked
best - which is why we've called it *The Actors' Cut*."
"Dynamic and cut to the bone, this is Shakespeare's greatest tragedy
reinvented as a crowd-pleasing thriller."
"...Heminge and Condell, the editors of the First Folio, decided to
print neither of the two Quartos but instead a hitherto unpublished
version, perhaps the acting version with which they were most familiar.
This opened up a can of editorial worms. Later editors began to combine
what they believed to be the best of the two good versions (Folio and
Q2), and it is now recognised that their conflations have constructed an
entirely imaginary Hamlet, an incoherent Hamlet which Shakespeare
neither wrote nor even envisaged. In other words, we have a Hamlet who
is more confused than Shakespeare intended him to be. The most recent
scholar to have published on this textual quagmire (Professor James
Shapiro in *1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare*) looks
forward to a time when Hamlet's head will be cleared of some of the
ambiguities and indecisions that reflect editorial rather than
psychological, theatrical or authorial muddles. It looks like his wish
will be fulfilled in Pitlochry this year."
"[Audiences] will hopefully gain a new respect for *The Actors' Cut* -
a reconstruction with an actor's sense of what works well on stage -
and will appreciate not having to sit through four hours or more of
Well, I personally have sat through far too many hours of 'pure'
Shakespeare to pass up this opportunity to try the 'crowd-pleasing'
version, and I shall certainly be returning to Pitlochry in the autumn
to catch it. Anyone else interested? I might add that Pitlochry is a
wonderful place to stay for a few days if you like lochs, glens and
other stunning Highland scenery, and would be happy to discuss local
sights, eating places and extra-curricular visits off-list with anyone
thinking of coming. (Birnam Wood and Dunsinnan Hill, for example, are
just down the road, although *The Macbeth Experience* in nearby
Bankfoot has now sadly closed.)
For performance dates and other details, your best bet is the Pitlochry
Festival Theatre web site at http://www.pitlochry.org.uk
[Editor's Note: I have an essay about my experiment of reediting the BBC
Hamlet following the Q1 scene structure: "Reformatting Hamlet: Creating
a Q1 Hamlet for Television." <i>Shakespeare Yearbook</I> 8 (1997):
370-82. Anyone interested can find a early draft at
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