The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0921. Friday, 12 September 1997.
Date: Thursday, 11 Sep 1997 13:43:43 -0400
Subject: CSF Hamlet
The Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival's <italic>Hamlet</italic> will open
on September 18 at the Aronoff Center in downtown Cincinnati, with Marni
Penning playing the title role as a woman. The decision to play Hamlet
as a woman leads inevitably to a series of changes in the script; e.g.,
Lord Hamlet becomes Lady Hamlet; he becomes she, but the major changes
are extra-textual. Hamlet's relationship with Ophelia is a lesbian
relationship, a fact that bothers the royal family and court, and
Hamlet's relationship with Horatio is obviously heterosexual. Penning's
Hamlet is, indeed, bisexual.
The production is set in a fantasy Denmark in the 1990s. The soldiers
carry 20th century weapons, and Hamlet conceals a Beretta under her
black jacket. The swords are brought in by the visiting players, and
Hamlet gets hers directly from the player king. Polonius is shot rather
than stabbed-though Hamlet is carrying a sword while she blows him away.
There is some strategic doubling. William Sweeney plays the ghost of
King Hamlet, the player king, Fortinbras's captain, and the
gravedigger. The doubling is obvious-and I get the impression that the
ghost of the dead king is continually returning in different guises.
The gravedigger disappears into his own grave-and reappears no more (in
Of course, the sex and gender changes are going to make this production
controversial-even outside of Cincinnati (possibly the most conservative
city in the US). As one publicity agent asked, "Is Cincinnati ready for
this?" My answer is: Yes.
Yours, Bill Godshalk
P.S. I'm dramaturge for the show, so I'm not a disinterested
commentator. I think it's a daring and strong interpretation of the