Undergraduate Humanities Forum 2007-2008: Origins

Document Type


Date of this Version

April 2008


2007-2008 Penn Humanities Forum on Origins, Undergraduate Mellon Research Fellows.

URL: http://humanities.sas.upenn.edu/07-08/uhf_fellows.shtml


The original versions of Shakespeare's Hamlet did not portray Francisco as one of the key players in the protagonist's downfall. Nor did the play end with Hamlet's dying words. The first quartos and Folio of Hamlet introduced a flourish of Fortinbras's army coming to take over Denmark at the end of a play in which Hamlet, in his dying breath, votes for the Norwegian interloper as the next monarch instead of revealing his own selfconsciousness. Yet the nineteenth-century collaborators on various productions of Hamlet had more exciting ideas for the ending of the play. Adding new stage directions and completely removing Fortinbras's entrance, nineteenth-century promptbooks emphasize a celebrity actor and put Hamlet in the limelight at the end of the play. Though promptbooks contain changes throughout the text, I will focus here upon changes in the last scene in Edwin Forrest's and Edwin Booth's promptbooks. The playbills of nineteenth-century productions of Hamlet also tell a fascinating story of the play's transformation through performance. In particular, they show that Hamlet was most often performed together with a pantomime, farce, or another play such as the very popular Octoroon, whose action-packed ending has a surprisingly similar structure to that of Edwin Forrest's version of Hamlet. When advertising the play, playbills often focus on the star actor playing Hamlet or the circumstances surrounding the specific performance rather than on Shakespeare. Yet despite this focus, Forrest and his contemporaries were surprisingly attentive to the textual tradition of the play, comparing Quarto 2 with the First Folio, for instance, even as they resituated Hamlet within an evening of miscellaneous performances.



Date Posted: 18 June 2008

This document has been peer reviewed.