Hamlet, presented at the Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 4 March - 7 May 2006.

M. G. Aune, North Dakota State University
Seth Archer, North Dakota State University

Aune, M. G., and Seth Archer. "Review of Hamlet, presented at the Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 4 March - 7 May 2006." Early Modern Literary Studies 12.2 (September, 2006): 20.1-5<URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/12-2/revhmlt.htm>.


Director: Joe Dowling. Set Designer: Richard Hoover. Costume Designer: Paul Tazewell. Lighting Designer: Matthew Reinert. With Santino Fontana (Hamlet), Kevin O'Donnell (Horatio), Matthew Greer (Claudius), Markus Potter (Laertes), Peter Michael Goetz (Polonius), Christina Rouner (Gertrude), Leah Curney (Ophelia), Kris L. Nelson (Reynaldo), Jonas Goslow (Rosencrantz), Matthew Amendt (Guildenstern), Stephen Yoakam (First Player), Richard S. Iglewski (Player King), Sally Wingert (Player Queen), Raye Birk (First Gravedigger), Richard Ooms (Second Gravedigger), Lee Mark Nelson (Osric).

  1. For the final production at the old Guthrie Theater, director Joe Dowling turned to the University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater Actor Training Program to cast Hamlet and Ophelia. The two young actors, Santino Fontana and Leah Curney, both dressed in Paul Tazewell's 1940s era costumes, communicated two different representations of madness. Coherently interpreting Hamlet's madness is one of the challenges that any production must face and this challenge is only made more difficult by the contrast of the genuinely mad Ophelia. Hamlet assures those close to him, Horatio and Gertrude for example, that he is not as mad as he may seem. Other characters, Claudius and Polonius, are left to interpret Hamlet's actions without his mediation. Ophelia gives Polonius some visual cues, saying that Hamlet came to her "doublet all unbrac'd stockins fouled, ungart'red, and down-gyved to his ankle" (2.1.75-77). But in a play that modernizes the setting, how can these cues be updated?

  2. In this production, Hamlet first appeared onstage wearing a neat black suit and tie. When he met with the ghost, Hamlet had added a dark wool overcoat and dark fedora and looked like a film noir detective. The suit was exchanged as the play advanced and Hamlet began to act askew. After having seen the ghost, he appeared in a white tennis sweater, a half tucked-in/half hanging-out shirt, a pair of baggy khaki trousers, a hoisted pant cuff that revealed untied work boots with the tongues pulled down, and a necktie wrapped around his wrist. The contrast of the boots and sweater, the blending of work and leisure attire, suggested a mind divided between action and passivity. But the necktie around his left wrist indicated that Hamlet had intentionally mismatched his clothes, that his sartorial transformation was a machination on his part rather than evidence of any real mental instability. For the Mousetrap performance, Hamlet added a tailed jacket; his outfit now mingled sportswear, formal wear and work wear, again indicating that his attire was daedal fashion.

  3. The self-consciousness of Hamlet's actions also appeared in his movement about the stage. Mirroring his initial clothing, Fontana's Hamlet first moved about in a non-descript manner, casually, smoothly, and confidently-again like the film noir gumshoe who stays one step ahead of both the suspect and the audience. But as his costuming became more self-conscious, his movements became more discordant and frenetic. No longer smooth and confident, he scurried about the stage and did not remain fixed for long. In becoming overtly volatile, he revealed the contrivance in his madness; rather than the smooth gumshoe, he had become a hyperkinetic madman. His behavior and clothing seemed contrived simply because they so blatantly attracted the audience's interest. Within the play, Hamlet drew the other character's attention by becoming rough and physical. He shouted for Ophelia to "get thee to a nunnery," threw his love letters at her, and then lashed her with his tie, again bringing attention to his misuse of his clothing (3.1.131). His severity was best exemplified when he shot Polonius; the pistol's discharge was the most audibly startling part of the performance. Like his clothing and movement, the gunshot was too stentorian to be ignored. In this production clothing and body language, like the pistol, became a weapon for Hamlet-a means by which he could feign his madness and bide time while plotting to kill Claudius.

  4. But Hamlet's representation of madness must also be compared to what is presumably the real thing: enter Ophelia. When Curney's Ophelia joined Hamlet to watch the Mousetrap, she wore a long white tulle gown with elbow-length gloves and her hair carefully done, as if the occasion were her society debut. The contrast to Hamlet's intentional dishevelment was striking as he approached her. Ophelia squirmed in discomfort at Hamlet's manner and looked miserable as he carefully enunciated each syllable of "country." But this Ophelia was also capable of making people squirm. After learning of Polonius' death, she entered wearing the same tulle dress, but it had become tattered and dirty; her gloves were missing and her hair fell around her face. All this suggesting that her mind, like her clothing, had become disordered. Still dressed for her societal debut, she now appeared more ready for Bedlam than the ballroom. Curney's voice maniacally crackled as she dashed around the stage chanting her lyrics in a frantic sing-song voice, oblivious and unresponsive to Gertrude's attempts to comfort her. When Claudius approached, she first shrank back and then embraced him, illustrating the confusion of her mind. Grabbing him by the wrists, she fell on top of him and forced him to run his hands over her chest and thighs. When he later attempted to console her, she recoiled in horror and fled from his touch. Her erratic behavior, matched with the genuineness of her disheveled dress, established a benchmark for madness. Ophelia's costuming was part of the natural progression of her madness, whereas Hamlet's sartorial transformation was artificially created to reflect the intentionality of his madness.

  5. The contrast between Fontana's self-conscious madness and Curney's natural insanity gave the audience an indisputably pitiable Ophelia whose descent into derangement was palpable. Fontana's mannered approach to Hamlet's madness amplified his indirect responsibility for Ophelia's decline and, as a result, her death was genuinely felt and tragic. Hamlet's death was also tragic but became less pitiable than Ophelia's, since it had been leavened by the addition of his own volition.

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.

© 2006-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).