A rare evening with Denmark’s favorite son

PSU Theater Arts will stage an ambitious production of Shakespeare’s rarely performed 1603 quarto “Hamlet,” opening Thursday, May 19 in Lincoln Hall.

PSU Theater Arts will stage an ambitious production of Shakespeare’s rarely performed 1603 quarto “Hamlet,” opening Thursday, May 19 in Lincoln Hall. Sixteen student actors, under the direction of PSU Theater Arts Department Professor Karin Magaldi, will perform daily from May 19 through May 28.

Professor Magaldi explained what makes the 1603 quarto distinct from the canonical “Hamlet.”

“It’s fast, it’s very theatrical and it’s less philosophical,” said Magaldi. “It’s a modern dress version, but we aren’t changing the words. The language of this first quarto, however, does sound very modern.”

Three early editions of the “Hamlet” text survive: the first quarto of 1603, the second quarto of 1604 and the first folio, which was published in 1623, following Shakespeare’s death. The first quarto contains roughly half the text of the later second quarto, but as Magaldi explained, the earlier text distinguishes itself beyond its brevity.

“When the first quarto was rediscovered in 1823, people were really excited about it,” Magaldi said. “Many people initially believed that it was a first draft. It gained a reputation as ‘the bad quarto’ for many years, because it lacked the poetry of the first folio, and a lot of the famous soliloquies aren’t included. Eventually, some scholars began to suspect that this first quarto was actually a touring version that was taken on the road for performances at Cambridge and Oxford. The version of ‘Hamlet’ that people are used to seeing is a conflation of the second quarto and the first folio, and is five hours long. Five hours of ‘Hamlet’ doesn’t speak to an audience the way that something like this does.”

What the 1603 quarto “Hamlet” lacks in poetic lyricism, it makes up for in theatricality, action and historical insight. Unlike the other “Hamlet” texts, this quarto was discovered with stage directions that have given scholars unique insights into theater practices of Shakespeare’s day. While it runs shorter than the canonical “Hamlet,” the 1603 quarto contains a scene not found in other editions of the play, and benefits from greater coherency in plot sequencing. This is a “Hamlet” that is at home on the stage, not in a library.

“It’s kind of exciting,” Magaldi said. “This text works very well theatrically. It may not work as well in terms of literature, but as theater it’s fantastic. There’s a raggedness and rawness to it that tells the audience so much more about the characters.”

While the 1603 quarto “Hamlet” has been often maligned by Shakespeare scholars for its less poetic elements, recent scholarship has revealed deeper structures in the major speeches that suggest great artistry. The mutual artistic and academic passion that Shakespeare continues to inspire is one source of inspiration for Magaldi in bringing this seldom performed “Hamlet” to PSU students.

“I think a performance like this at a university is very exciting,” Magaldi said. “Students will be able to see a lot of things that may escape them in the literature. They’ll be able to get a sense of how theater might have been in Shakespeare’s time, and see how they weren’t only concerned with poetry, but with theater as well. This production is extremely theatrical, and moves very fast. It goes like a house on fire.”

In addition to the 16-student cast and Director Karin Magaldi, the production features the work of lighting and set designer Bruce Keller, as well as a composer, costume designer and even a fight choreographer.

The PSU Theater Arts production of “Hamlet,” quarto 1603, will be staged in the recently remodeled Lincoln Hall.

“The building was just redone,” Magaldi said. “It’s quite a wonderful space, and so far all the technical aspects work really, really well. We’re actually using a revolve for this play, which we rarely do. The stage will actually move while the actors are walking through it, which really brings it alive. We have fights, swordplay, all the bells and whistles. It’s very exciting.” ?