Off Stage World - The Undiscovered Country

With almost every play he wrote, Shakespeare took other stories, myths and plays that grabbed his imagination and bent them into a new shape.

Hamlet draws upon older tales, contemporary Elizabethan plays and even local stories he knew of, such as the drowning of a young girl (called Katherine Hamlett) near Stratford when he was 16. Shakespeare’s plays have become an excellent springboard for new writers to create their own great stories, plays and films scripts. In fact, over 400 films are inspired by these plays, including The Lion King, which is based on Hamlet. This task offers two ways to use Hamlet as a springboard to the creation of your own performance work and can be particularly useful in the development of year group devised work.

TASK ONE: Off Stage Reality

An excellent way for actors and students to deepen their understanding of a play is to explore the off-stage world of the characters, the scenes we don’t get to see that help define the relationships in the play. Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is an exceptional example of such work. In pairs choose from the following possibilities (or come up with your own) and develop a short scene from it. Always create a strong scene of place or situation for the characters.

  1. Hamlet is at Wittenberg. Devise the dramatic situation in which he learns of his father’s death.
  2. Gertrude has accepted Claudius’ proposal of marriage. In this scene she breaks it to her son that she is remarrying and opens up about what her life was like with her previous husband.
  3. The play is over and the comic Gravediggers have the entire royal court to bury – the King, Queen, Prince and Laertes. Explore their reaction and how they approach the work, including the epitaphs they devise for each headstone.
  4. A young actor in a contemporary production of Hamlet is haunted by the ghost of Ophelia, imploring her to behave differently and make new choices. Stage the scene in which they first meet.

TASK TWO: Creating a new allegorical story

In Groups of 3 to 6, devise a short group performance exploring a major theme or idea from Hamlet but in an entirely new and original context. For example: it may involve a young person’s inability to carry out a task; a journey into the afterlife and back; a young woman controlled by her family; a view of madness; a spy operation on a dangerous royal.

You are not performing Hamlet but creating a modern story loosely based on Hamlet’s thematic ideas. Be bold and dramatic.

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