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Home :: Archive :: 2009 :: January ::
Real Skull Used for RSC's 'Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0007  Tuesday, 6 January 2009

[1]  From:     Brian Willis <
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      Date:     Tuesday, 30 Dec 2008 08:44:01 -0800 (PST)
      Subj:     Re: SHK 19.0690 Real Skull Used for RSC's 'Hamlet'

[2]  From:     Elizabeth Williamson <
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      Date:     Wednesday, 24 Dec 2008 17:23:40 -0800
      Subj:     RE: SHK 19.0690 Real Skull Used for RSC's 'Hamlet'


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:        Brian Willis <
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Date:        Tuesday, 30 Dec 2008 08:44:01 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 19.0690 Real Skull Used for RSC's 'Hamlet'
Comment:     Re: SHK 19.0690 Real Skull Used for RSC's 'Hamlet'

I am curious to understand all of the anxiety over the use of a real 
skull in Hamlet. It seems quite Hamlettian to fret over (shock, gasp!) 
the presence of authentic human anatomy on the stage in the very scene 
in Shakespeare's work that is most confrontational about mortality. When 
did theatre become so encased in its shell of conservatism that the use 
of a real prop threatened to 'topple the play' featuring the most iconic 
image in Shakespearean tragedy, a young man holding a skull?

By the way, anybody have any idea if it was likely that the Globe 
company would have used a real skull and how 'shocking' that use would 
have been to its audience? I have been fascinated by this question ever 
since I played the First Gravedigger and felt that the 'novelty' of the 
jarring of bones and skulls by him would be lost on a contemporary 
audience (or worse yet, obscured by the language play required by the 
scene).

Brian Willis

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:        Elizabeth Williamson <
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 >
Date:        Wednesday, 24 Dec 2008 17:23:40 -0800
Subject: 19.0690 Real Skull Used for RSC's 'Hamlet'
Comment:     RE: SHK 19.0690 Real Skull Used for RSC's 'Hamlet'

Dear list members,

Many of you may have read that the skull was subsequently withdrawn; 
there's a great piece about this by Jonathan Bate in the Guardian's 
Theatre Blog. Several scholars, including Pascale Aebischer, Howard 
Marchitello, and Graham Holderness have written about the use of human 
skulls in Hamlet. I'd be grateful for other reading suggestions about 
the phenomenology of using "real" properties vs. "fake" ones.

I'd also be curious to hear responses from this group to the following 
question: what is it about using a "real" skull that makes people so 
nervous? Would the use of a real skull have a similar effect on us in a 
production of The Revenger's Tragedy (assuming productions of that play 
ever got this much press)?

Gratefully,
Elizabeth Williamson
The Evergreen State College

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