Did you know...?

Horatio (Adam Neill) supports Hamlet (Vaneshran Arumugam) in the 2006 production of Hamlet by the Baxter Theatre Company in collaboration with the RSC. Photo by Suzanne Worthington © RSC
  1. Hamlet is Shakespeare's most performed play, as well as being his longest. It is estimated that every minute of the day, it is being staged somewhere in the world.

  2. Any director of Hamlet has to decide which version of the play text to use. There are three early printed texts of Hamlet - all of which differ from each other quite considerably and none of which can be assumed to be an exact record of what Shakespeare actually wrote. The versions are the First Quarto or Q1 (published in 1603), the Second Quarto Q2 (1604-5) and the First Folio, or F (1623).

  3. Directors can decide to pick-and-mix from the different versions of the play. For example, there is a scene which exists only in the First Quarto version of Hamlet, in which Horatio returns to Elsinore alone to inform the Queen of Hamlet's escape. This scene was included in Michael Boyd's 2004 production for the RSC with Toby Stephens as Hamlet. The different versions of the text also present the scenes in different orders.

  4. The earliest documented performance of Hamlet took place on board a ship called The Dragon, as it lay anchored of the coast of Sierra Leone in 1607. It was staged by the crew to entertain a visiting dignitary.

  5. The first actor to play Hamlet was Richard Burbage, who took on Shakespeare's greatest roles as the lead actor for the company that became the King's Men.

  6. Shakespeare enjoyed playing with his audience, and perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than in Hamlet. In what is generally known as 'Hamlet's advice to the players' he famously mocks people who have paid one penny to stand in the yard of the newly constructed Globe. He describes them as 'groundlings, who, for the most part, are capable of nothing but inexplicable dumb shows and noise'. (Act 3 Scene 2).

  7. Shakespeare advertises his own work in Hamlet. He reminds his audience that the actor they now see playing Polonius may also be playing the title role in a forthcoming production of Julius Caesar. Polonius interrupts play rehearsals, announcing that he had been 'accounted a good actor' while at University. 'I did enact Julius Caesar. I was killed I' th' Capitol. Brutus killed me.' (Act 3 Scene 2)

  8. Shakespeare uses an opportunity in Hamlet to mock a critic who insulted him. When Polonius reads aloud Hamlet's letter addressed to the 'most beautified Ophelia' and comments in an aside that 'beautified' is 'an ill phrase, a vile phrase' (Act 2 Scene 2), he's mocking fellow playwright Robert Greene, who described Shakespeare as, 'an upstart crow, beautified in our feathers'.

  9. It is commonly accepted that Shakespeare himself appeared as the Ghost in his company's productions of Hamlet.

  10. In 2009, David Tennant used a real skull as a prop in the gravedigger scene. The skull was that of pianist André Tchaikowsky who left his skull to the RSC when he died in 1982 'for use in theatrical performance'. David was the first actor to use the skull on stage in a performance.

Written by Kathleen Bradley and Suzanne Worthington © RSC
Photo by Suzanne Worthington shows Horatio (Adam Neill) supporting Hamlet (Vaneshran Arumugam) in the 2006 production of Hamlet by the Baxter Theatre Company in collaboration with the RSC © RSC

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Teaching Shakespeare