Andrew W. Mellon Undergraduate Fellow in the Humanities
2007—2008 Forum on Origins
Suggestions for Shakespeare: The Audacious Alterations to 19th Century Shakespearean Promptbooks
Nineteenth century promptbooks of Hamlet reveal cuts, alterations and added stage directions that affect the play’s surface plot and core thematic implications, dramatically altering the quartos and first folio, undermining the play’s origins. In the last scene alone, Fortinbras’ takeover is completely ousted and stage directions grant Francisco a significant – albeit silent – role in Hamlet’s downfall. What can we make of these alterations? How and why did Hamlet and others of Shakespeare’s works evolve from their origins to their 19th century descendents? In performance, text can become a jumping point for the artistic interpretations that actors and directors innovate to satisfy audience expectations and desires. 19th Century criticism, promptbooks and playbills reveal a revamping of the canonized Bard that is still pattern in contemporary adaptations.