Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog


Hamlet (Michael Benz) duels Laertes (Matthew Romain); photo by Jeff Malet

After student matinees at the Folger, we’re usually able to offer a brief “talk-back” with actors from the show to discuss what the students have just seen. (We’ve discussed previous Folger Theatre talk-backs for Othello and Comedy of Errors here.) The actors of the Globe’s touring production of Hamlet, currently playing in our Theatre, were kind enough to agree to stay for some questions after this week’s student matinees, and our audiences didn’t disappoint with the great questions for them! Below is a sample of some of our favorite questions and answers (paraphrased):

Q:  Have you ever messed up in front of a live audience?

A: Did you notice?
(the student nodded and pointed to Michael Benz, who played Hamlet)
A: I was hoping you wouldn’t notice! Ah, but it does happen all the time, you’ll trip up, or miss a beat or mix up your words… but that’s the beauty of live theatre! You never know what can happen!

Q: When did you decide that Hamlet goes crazy in the play?

A: I looked to the text – it gives me little clues here and there about my actions and about my mindset. In the soliloquies, sometimes, I get to say exactly what I’m thinking or feeling, and the rhythms and words tell me where to go.

Q: Does the show change with each theatre you travel to?

A: Every new venue is a new show. We’ve performed this play together over 80 times now, but none of us are bored with it. When we were in England on the tour, it was all outdoors and we were competing with the elements to be heard and seen and to just get through the show – we’re used to that at the Globe! Here at the Folger, this is our first indoor venue, so our first night here we were still very <ROAAAR> and LOUD and I think that first night we really blew the audience away… literally. They looked like they’d been run over by a freight train by the end! Dominic [our director] told us afterwards to just bring it down.

Q: Why did you decide to use only eight actors when there are so many parts?

A: Being on tour means it’s easier for fewer people to do the traveling, and it happens a lot in Shakespeare that some actors will double or triple (or further multiply) the number of roles they have. Not every character is onstage all the time, and while it was sometimes challenging for us, we have a great time running around swapping from gravedigger to priest to courtier to player and moving the show forward.

Q: What was it like to put comic elements in a tragic play?

A: Well that’s really interesting because we didn’t. Shakespeare did. You know, there’s sometimes this whole pre-conception that the tragedies have to be very dark and tragic the whole time, but the reality is Shakespeare knew that it was only the end of the play that made it either tragic or comic. The rest was just human behavior. It also helps the tragedy land with you emotionally if you get the contrast with a lot of levity before everything bad happens. Yes, we have a very light-hearted production, but the comedy is in the text.

Thanks so much to the actors: Michael Benz, Peter Bray, Miranda Foster, Tom Lawrence, Carlyss Peer, Matthew Romain, Christopher Saul, Dickon Tyrrell; and to Charlotte Hall and the stage management team for making arrangements for us.

One Comment

  • Great production, which I enjoyed very much!

    Hamlet’s madness is a vast topic. As a psychiatrist and bardolator, it’s of great interest to me. I’m fascinated by current psychological theories about multiplicity of “self states” as normative in all of us, but exaggerated in some people. When Hamlet tells Ophelia (III.i,114) “I did love you once,” then tells her three sentences later, “I lov’d you not,” the actor has the choice of stressing the word “I” in the second statement. That is, Hamlet may be voicing two different self states to Ophelia, as his unbearable ambivalence contributes to his loss of his mental balance. (Or he may just be playing with her head, of course– as he does with Polonius about what he sees in the clouds.)

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