Friday, April 1, 2016

Youth in Revolt

One of the first things most scholars and editors note that differentiates the first quarto of Hamlet from the second quarto or the Folio is that the first quarto Hamlet is younger than his more well known counterparts. In the first quarto, the gravedigger (1 Clown) describes Yorrick's skull as "a skull hath been here this dozen year," whereas in Q2 that same skull is "a scull now hath lyen you i'th earth 23. yeeres." and in F "this Scul, has laine in the earth three & twenty years." Given that in all cases, Hamlet's says that Yorrick carried him on his back when he was a child, (somewhere between the ages of 5 and 8 probably), we can assume that Q1's Hamlet is in his late teens, whereas the more familiar Hamlet is in his late 20s. And suddenly Hamlet starts making a lot more sense.

In any version of Hamlet, not only the eponymous Dane, but also Leartes, Ofelia, Ro(ssencraft or -zencrantz), and G(ilderstone or -uildenstern) all go through some wild mood swings and make some highly questionable life choices. These all make a lot more sense if they're in their late teens than their late 20s: they have less life experience to draw on period, and their brains are still wired for child-like ways of perceiving the world. They act suddenly and passionately, and their experience of a flawed world clashes with their youthful fantasies, and they kick against that.

It wasn't long after I started thinking of the implications of a youth-driven Hamlet that I started turning to another another great work of youth in revolt for inspiration: The Catcher in the Rye. The more I thought about it, the more Hamlet and Holden seemed to have in common. Both rail against seeming and phoniness, both treat the wisdom of their elders as dubious at best, both are in the company of unreliable friends, and both let their fantasies of perfection be the enemies of good.

In casting Hamlet, The First Quarto I also made the conscious choice to cast the King as the very younger brother of old King Hamlet - this is someone who Prince Hamlet can only view as closer in age to a brother, and lacking in the avuncular authority that someone closer in age to old King Hamlet would implicitly have. The only adults in the room are the Queen, trying to recapture her youth by marrying the younger and less disciplined version of her husband, and Corambis, who though intelligent, struggles with the fogginess of his advancing age.

Everyone in this production of Hamlet is struggling with maturity, and transitioning from one state of being to another: even players have to travel, and not even the dead can rest easy. Again and again I find that the more things change, the more these plays still have the power to speak to us as we and our world changes around us.

Bad Quarto Productions' Hamlet, The First Quarto runs now through April 10th at 353 W. 48th St. in New York. For tickets please visit and for more information please visit

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