The First Quarto (Q1) of Hamlet has been daring us and me for quite some time. Longer, even, than my interview with Ryan Hudak last year might have implied. Q1 Hamlet was re-discovered in 1823, and it's been forcing us to rethink what we "know" about Shakespeare ever since. Q1 Hamlet cracked open the possibilities of Shakespeare as a reviser of his plays, or as an adapter of other plays, or of the possibility that the printed texts of early modern England might, in some way, contain a record of performance.
Q1 Hamlet also brought with it the possibility of a performance script of the great tragedy that was, to use the phrase of Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor, "rough and ready" for performance. Whereas Hamlet has been held up as one of the greatest literary achievements and performance challenges in the western canon, Q1 Hamlet eschews onanistic existentialism for a youthful vitality that makes Hamlet's depression seem all the more unnatural.
And yet we've held off on it. Until now, at least.
The reasons not to do Q1 Hamlet have been strong: of all the bad quartos, it is the best known, and the most often performed, and we have sought, since our founding, to explore the texts that have been relegated to editorial footnotes for most of the past few centuries. Also, and I'm going to be completely honest here, Hamlet is a little bit intimidating: everyone has some idea about what Hamlet, Ophelia, Gertrude, and Polonius look, sound, and smell like: if the text of Hamlet is a marathon, than the critical commentary is a race around the world.
Of course, Ophelia is Ofelia, Gertrude is Gertred, and Polonius is Corambis in the Q1 Hamlet, and the eponymous melancholy Dane is still not quite the character we know. Nothing stands the critical commentary of Hamlet on its head like Q1, and at a time when theatre companies are increasingly turning to the classics to find meaning in our post-modern world, there's Q1 Hamlet, the first, best reminder that we don't know this Shakespeare fellow nearly as well as we like to imagine. It's a message in a bottle from 1603 that forces us to confront that ‘to be or not to be’ is not necessarily a question at all, and invites us to admit a wider array of responses..
I can think of no better offering to begin Bad Quarto Productions' first ever season of plays, and an offering for the year long Shakespeare 400 celebrations than Q1 Hamlet.
We've barely started on Hamlet at the moment. Pretty soon, we'll be back to you with updates about our Hamlet company, along with a host of other information about the play and the process of making it (both in 1603 and 2016), but if you're interested in beating the rush, tickets are on sale now at http://badquartohamlet.bpt.me/.