Saturday, April 11, 2009

Female Hamlets

Hamlet:  Frailty, thy name is woman!

Did you know that the first person to play Hamlet on screen was Sarah Bernhardt in 1900?  Did you know that the first Hamlet on radio was Eva Donne in 1923?  Since the 19th century, hundreds of leading ladies have taken up the black mantle of this challenging role, which has been called "the hoop through which every actor must jump."   Many of the best Hamlets of our time have been women, most likely due to the fact that the character struggles his own 'feminity' and 'passivity' in the play.  Hamlet is always striking out at the women in his life, naming them duplicitous, weak, and inconstant.  In Act One, Claudius calls Hamlet's grief 'unmanly,' and in Act Five, he and Laertes spend a tremendous amount of energy trying to one-up eachother like a couple of frat boys.

Other examples:

Hamlet: Oh most pernicious woman! - I.v.

Hamlet:  Man delights not me, no nor woman neither - II.ii.

Ophelia:  'Tis brief, my lord
Hamlet:  As woman's love - III.ii.

Ghost:  Conceit in weakest bodies strongest works - III.iv.

. . .

Other actresses who've played Hamlet include Sarah Siddons, Charlotte Charke, Charlotte Cushman, Asta Nielson, Diane Verona, Frances de la Tour, Angela Winkler, and Eva La Gallienne.

It is also interesting to note that Henrik Ibsen's play Hedda Gabler has often been called "the female Hamlet."  Like Hamlet, Hedda Gabler is intensely psychological, giving the leading actress the option to take the play in a variety of different directions.  Her vacuous life leads her into acts of destruction, including her eventual suicide.  She also struggles with her inherent femininity, playing with her fathers pistols and showing digust at flower arrangement or the idea of bearing children.

*Sarah Bernhardt in Hamlet, Act V Duel Scene

No comments:

Post a Comment