Hamlet Lobby Exhibit


For our production of Hamlet we asked Anthony Howard, author of Women as Hamlet, to select a “Top Ten” list of other women who have played the role since the 18th century.

In Women as Hamlet Howard writes:

“The first Hamlet on film was a woman, Sarah Bernhardt (1900). Probably the first Hamlet on radio was a woman, Eve Donne (1923). The ‘observed of all observers,’ the ‘glass of fashion and the mold of form,’ the ‘hoop through which every actor must jump’ according to Max Beerbohm, Hamlet is also the role that has since the late eighteenth century most inspired tragic actresses to challenge expectations and cross gender lines. Several of the most brilliant performances of the part in our time have been by women, and the issue of Hamlet’s ‘femininity’ has fascinated artists in all media. Crossing boundaries, contesting convention, disrupting or reflecting the dominant sexual politics, this regendering of Hamlet has involved repeated investigations into the nature of subjectivity, articulacy, and action - investigations with radically different consequences depending on the cultural situation. It has been an extraordinary history, but until recently, with the re-evaluation of such unconventional actresses as Charlotte Charke, Charlotte Cushman, Asta Nielsen and Eva Le Gallienne, it was largely ignored.”

“What most female Hamlets have in common is that they are catalysts - inassimilable figures alien to the norms around them. The paradoxes and dissident intensities of Hamlet’s beliefs and language become sharper through the figure of an actress/prince whose very presence exposes artifice - the theatrical conventions we might not otherwise question, the political banalities masking Elsinore’s lies, and the structures of power and gender that normally trap women in Hamlet in the roles of Mother, Virgin and Whore. The female Hamlet is a walking, talking alienation effect.”

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Sarah Siddons
She played the role on various stages throughout England from 1775 until the beginning of 19th century, although she never risked appeared publicly in London.

Charlotte Cushman
A brilliant American actress who first played Hamlet in 1847. She was frequently seen in male roles of Shakespearean plays and performed in Philadelphia, too. Audiences were particularly astonished by her athleticism in the duel scene.

Sarah Bernhardt
She is undoubtedly the most famous female Hamlet. Bernhardt first performed the role of the Danish Prince in Paris (1899), later in London and New York, too. She was also the first woman, and the only, to play Hamlet at the Memorial Theatre in Stratford. 

Asta Nielsen (Pictured Right)
The first full-length film adaptation of Hamlet (1921) starred Asta Nielsen in the title role. In this German production inspired by Edwards Vining’s book The Mystery of Hamlet, Hamlet is portrayed as a woman secretly raised as a man to ensure succession.

Eva Le Gallienne
At the age of sixteen she included Hamlet on a list of roles she had to play before turning forty. Obsessed with Bernhardt, she achieved her dream in 1937 in a self-directed production at the Cape Playhouse in Dennis, Massachusetts.

Frances de la Tour
The first female Hamlet in London after World War II. She did not want to accept the role, suspecting a gimmick, but was convinced after director Robert Walker told her “You are the only actor who is ready and who I want to do it with.”
Something similar happened between Blanka and Zainab…

Teresa Budzisz-Krzyzanowska (Pictured Right)
Budzisz-Krzyzanowska, who also initially resisted the offer to perform Hamlet, became famous as one the finest Hamlets of modern times. “…rather than play the character, she nakedly presented herself moving towards identification with it. “

Angela Winkler (Pictured Above)
Born in 1944, this German actress is considered one of the best recent Hamlets. Winkler managed to bring out something little noted in the play:  enormous capacity of Hamlet for love.

Blanca Portillo (Pictured Left)
She performed one of the most notable female Hamlets in Spain. In Portillo’s production “lively action and violence was omnipresent” and “Hamlet was no longer a melancholic character but an athlete trying to take his revenge. “

Maxine Peake (Pictured Below)
After performance in 2014 at the Manchester Royal Exchange, Peake became one of the major female Hamlets in Britain. She successfully managed to underline that the character matters more than the gender.

CHECK OUT this Article from The Guardian about women in the role of Hamlet.


 

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