Shakespeare Uncovered (2012–…): Season 1, Episode 6 - Hamlet - full transcript

Meet with David Tennant and fellow Hamlets who compare notes on the challenge of playing the iconic role.

Are you wondering how healthy the food you are eating is? Check it -
If I ask you to name

Shakespeare's most
famous play of all,

there's a fairly good chance
you'll plump for "Hamlet."

But quite why that should
be remains a mystery.

It connects with something
very sort of primal.

It exists in the kind of
public consciousness

as this icon of
theater and culture.

It is woven into the
fabric of our lives.

There are more things in
heaven and earth, Horatio,

than are dreamt of
in your philosophy.

In 2008, I was
asked to play Hamlet

at the Royal
Shakespeare Company.

For any actor, that's
the offer of a lifetime,

but not without its challenges.

This was something
that I wanted to do

and couldn't say no to,

but it was, and remained,
until the final performance,

utterly terrifying.

Another hit. What say you?

It sounds ludicrous and
pretentious and pompous.

It's just a play.

It's just pretending
to be somebody else

and saying some words.

Am I a coward?

And yet, because there's
something special about it,

it does things to you.

Why it has this effect

is something I
still can't answer.

It was written a long time ago.

It shouldn't be relevant
and contemporary.

It shouldn't be.

To try and found out what
makes this play so unique,

I'm going to meet
with directors...

I'm betting that's why
people didn't notice.


It's an incredibly rare book.

There's only two of
these in the whole world.

And some other Hamlets.

We know that
this particular role

is also like a
sharing of one's soul.

So what is it
about this character

that is still so compelling 400
years after he was created?

The first trick for any
actor coming to "Hamlet"

is to avoid being overwhelmed
by the very notion of it.

One of the things when
you come to "Hamlet"

is ridding yourself
of the baggage

that comes with it

and try to just tell the story.

We're in the RSC shop here,

where things have
been appropriated

and made into
just about anything.

And this is the classy stuff.

Oh, look.

"Alas, poor Yorick!"

This is "Hamlet" the flick book.

I'd say it's under 30 seconds.

The Manga "Hamlet."

Hamlet seems to be dressed

as a sort of
androgynous superhero.

I mean, it's a choice.

And, of course, there's
a whole smorgasbord

of different Hamlets.

Kevin Kline.

Mel Gibson.

Some Scottish bloke.

Kenneth Branagh.

Derek Jacobi, we got.

This play is so deeply
ingrained in our popular culture.

What's difficult when
you come to perform it

is extracting yourself
from the cliché,

and, uh, the fact
that every line

seems to be a quotation.

It's just that everywhere I go,

it's the same old thing.

All anyone wants me to
say is "to be, or not to be."

That is the question:

whether 'tis nobler
in the mind to suffer

the slings and arrows of out...

Yes, it's either that or,
"O that this too too solid..."

Just about everyone can quote

a line or two from "Hamlet."

Do the bit about
"Alas, poor Yorick!"

Hamlet is clearly a character

that everyone
seems to know about,

but how did that happen?

Why this play?

On the face of it, the storyline

isn't something that
necessarily chimes

with the everyday
experience of most people...

Monarchy, madness,
murder, and suicide.

Yet however
melodramatic the premise,

somehow, the play
keeps feeling relevant

and being sought out by
successive generations.

Is that just down the the plot?

So what is "Hamlet"
actually about?

Well, "Hamlet" is the story
of the Prince of Denmark,

whose father, the
King of Denmark,

gets murdered and then
comes back as a ghost

to tell his son, the Prince,

the he most avenge his death.

The person who murdered
the king is Hamlet's uncle,

who's now married
Hamlet's mother.

Got that?

It is complicated,

but when we first
meet Hamlet, it is clear

he is grief-stricken.

His mother's
marriage to his uncle

has taken place
with unseemly haste...

hot on the heels
of his father's death.


Seemingly alone in finding
that remotely distasteful,

Hamlet is angry and isolated.

'Tis sweet and commendable
in your nature, Hamlet,

to give these mourning
duties to your father;

but you must know,
your father lost a father;

that father lost, lost his.

But to persever in obstinate
condolement is a course

of impious stubbornness.

The beginning of
the play, obviously,

he's dealing with the
death of his father,

and he's also dealing with

the fact that
everyone around him

seems to have moved on
absurdly quickly from this fact.

If you're going to do a play

after somebody's just died,

then "Hamlet's" the play to do.

You know, it's an
amazing expression of grief.

My mother died
just before I did it.

She knew I was going to do it,

and hoped to stay
alive in order to see it,

but she didn't,

um, and, you know, of
course that had an effect

on the... the playing of it,

because it was
my gift to her, really.

Losing a parent is
hugely changing for you...

and grief is sort of a
ghastly immovable thing.

Certainly, when you're in
the kind of sharp end of it,

it feels engulfing and, uh...


This play is about
a murdered father

and his lonely, grieving son,

a grief that has resonated
down the centuries.

So who created this
extraordinary character?

And where did he come from?

There's a lot we don't know
about Shakespeare's life,

but there are a few things
we can fairly safely assume.

He was born and raised
in Stratford-upon-Avon,

where his father was
mayor of the town,

which means William
would have been entitled

to go to the local
grammar school,

King Edward's.

Hic, haec, hoc.

Hic, haec, hoc.

Good. Hunc, hanc, hoc.

Hunc, hanc, hoc.

I'm sitting in on a lesson

that the young William

would almost definitely
have endured... Latin.

We've got the word hic, heac...

They're clearly very
proud of their connection.

There's a photo on the wall

just to intimidate the
schoolboys of today.

Not much to aspire to.

OK, ask in Latin.

Latin has been
taught in this very room

to schoolboys in Stratford
for hundreds of years.

Shakespeare almost
certainly learnt Latin here.

He learnt Rhetoric,

many of the things that
would have contributed

to his skills as a playwright.

There may be a
playwright in this room now.

It's impossible to
know from this distance

what influences formed
Shakespeare's genius.

But there are some
intriguing coincidences

that are hard to overlook.

Shakespeare married at 18

and had three children
by the time he was 24.

By the time William was 30,

around the time it is
thought he wrote "Hamlet,"

his father was aging and ill.

And then Shakespeare
suffered a terrible tragedy

when his 11-year-old son died.

He was called Hamnet.

It is impossible, I
think, not to understand

that the name Hamlet was charged

with the identity of his
11-year-old dead son.

And part of the
intensity of this play

depends upon the familiarity

of Shakespeare and his
world with the graveyard

and with what it meant to
bury your fondest hopes.

This theme of
bereavement and loss

takes a surprising turn

when Hamlet is handed
some dramatic news.

The ghost of his dead father

has been seen walking
the battlements of the castle.

I think I saw him yesternight.

Saw who?

My lord, the King your father.

The King my father?

The appearance of the ghost

becomes the engine of the play.

I'm visiting the modern-day
replica of The Globe Theatre

on the south bank of the Thames,

where around 1601,

Shakespeare's actors
first performed "Hamlet."

Here, today, they are
running the opening scenes.

So this is where we see Hamlet

meeting the ghost
of his dead father

for the first time.

Where wilt thou lead me?

Speak! I'll go not further.

Mark me.

I will.

If ever thou didst
thy dear father love...

O God!

Revenge his foul and
most unnatural murder.

Murder? Murder most foul.

Haste me to know't,

that I, with wings as swift

as meditation or
the thoughts of love,

may sweep to my revenge.

I find thee apt;

but know, thou noble youth,

the serpent that did
sting thy father's life,

now wears his crown.

O my prophetic soul! My uncle?

The ghost has confirmed
what Hamlet had feared,

that his father has
been killed by his uncle.

It falls to him to
avenge this murder.

But is he capable
of seeing it through?

Everyone knew in
Shakespeare's time,

as everyone knows now, still,

that a revenge play,

a play in which someone, a son,

is called upon to
avenge his father,

is a play in which
a terrible fate

will befall the avenger.

Hamlet is a dead man from Act I.

He knows it, and we know it.

This call to arms has
come from a ghost,

a supernatural visitor
from the other side.

What would this have meant
to Shakespeare's audience?

I've come to meet
historian Justin Champion,

who is an expert in the
world of 17th century religion.

So what would a ghost have meant

to an Elizabethan audience?

Well, I think the first thing is

and Elizabethan audience
wouldn't have been surprised

to see a ghost. Ghosts
were everywhere.

So to most of the
members of the audience,

ghosts were things that existed.

Yeah, absolutely. So there
wouldn't have been the shock

if a ghost walks past us now,

we'll be a little bit surprised.

A little?! A Little bit.

A little bit surprised,

but for the Elizabethan,
the Stewart audience,

ghosts are part of
the world they live in.

The spirit world
and the human world

are very permeable,

so they wouldn't have
been surprised at all.

They would have asked themselves

what sort of ghost
is it, good or bad?


The ghost's visit

propels Hamlet
and the play forward,

so any actor playing the part

has to decide what the
ghost means to them.

There have been
famous productions

where the ghost is a figment
of Hamlet's own imagination,

and I think that's all a very

interesting take
on it, actually.

It's not what we
did, uh, so it's not...

No, for me, that was...

That was... that was Dad there.


adieu, Hamlet.

Remember me!

So, Hamlet is
burdened with the task

of avenging his father's death.

What makes this even worse

is the dark and
dangerous world he lives in.


Rosencrantz and Guildenstern...

The King has enlisted
Hamlet's friends to spy on him.

Let me question more in
particular. What have you...

The King's minister, meanwhile,

devises his own scheme
involving his own daughter.

"But never doubt I love."

Polonius believes
Hamlet's distress

is caused by his
lovesickness for Ophelia,

so he spies on them both.

Where's your father?

At home, my lord.

We're on edge throughout
the play of "Hamlet,"

because of the sense of people

constantly being overheard.

We never quite know
who is one which side.

There's layer upon
layer of surveillance

going on there.

This is a court
full of intrigue,

of spies.

As Hamlet struggles
to make sense

of the chaos in his
head and all around him,

Shakespeare allows us to hear

exactly what his troubled
protagonist is going through.

We, the audience,
become his confidant.

He uses soliloquies
to speak to us directly.

A soliloquy is where a character

speaks their inner
thoughts out loud,

debates their inner
arguments with themselves,

and, hopefully, finds
some kind of way forward.

Right at the heart of the play,

Hamlet has a
devastating soliloquy

that has become the
most famous speech

in the history of theater,

possibly even
in all of literature.

He asks, what is the point?

To be, or not to be...

That is the question.

Every individual confronts
these questions privately,

and then to have a play
that confronts them publicly

and that confronts them
in a voice of such control,

in such thoughtfulness,
such power,

that something is
happening on the stage for us,

so that it might not
have to happen to us.

And that's
extraordinarily powerful.

To die...

To sleep.

To sleep...

Perchance to dream:

ay, there's the rub!

For in that sleep of death
what dreams may come

when we have shuffled
off this mortal coil,

must give us pause.

Because Hamlet
is alone on stage,

and because his most
characteristic form of speech

is the question,

inevitably, we in the
audience as we watch it,

or we as readers as we read it,

we get drawn in.

We ask those
questions of ourselves

and try to come up
with our own answers.

So this character of Hamlet

becomes profoundly
personal to us.

There's something about it

that transcends
its time and place.

On some level,
we can all identify

with those moments of crisis

and those moments
where it really feels like

the only solution
might be to... to escape.

I think that's why
it is so resonant.

It's powerful to ask
those questions now.

In Shakespeare's time,
it was revolutionary.

This is not just
a state of crisis.

This is a man thinking
about killing himself,

and suicide in the
entirety of this period

is absolutely forbidden.

Suicide is illegal.

If you're convicted of suicide,

you will be taken
out to the crossroads

outside of the village
or outside of the town

and buried with a
stake through your heart.

Suicide is absolutely
traumatic for this culture.

That's what's so
shocking about the scene

is that here is a man in one sense
rationally weighing up the options.

This is clearly not somebody
possessed by the devil.

This is somebody trying to
think through for themselves,

and I think for many,
many in the audience,

this would be very worrying.

The undiscover'd country,
from whose bourn...

no traveller returns...

Puzzles the will...

and makes us rather
bear those ills we have

than fly to others
that we know not of?

Thus conscience does
make cowards of us all.

Since playing Hamlet myself,

I've been fascinated
with how other actors

have approached this
most intimidating of roles.

Someone did say to me early on,

they said, "Learn your lines."

And I kind of thought, "'Course
I'm gonna learn my lines,"

but then when you do
sit down and look, you go,

"Ho ho, there's quite a lot."

Jude Law played Hamlet

in London and on
Broadway in 2009.

There are lines like
"To be, or not to be,"

which are so well-known.

It's almost impossible
to break the expectation

of them coming, isn't it?

Did you have a way
of coping with that?

Would you embrace that full on?

Would you try and sneak
round the side of them?

Would you try and...?

Oh, dear, so
revealing this, isn't it?

I think I tried all that.


I think I tried them all.

But then there
are also, you know,

I remember also in
me just feeling like,

"Just get on with it."

What did you make
of "To be, or not to be"?

Actually, the
specific meaning of it

is quite hard to
grasp, isn't it?

I mean, quite what he's
saying at any given moment.

I think that's the...
That was the little hook

I kind of clung on to,

that he didn't know himself.


He was... It was all question,

and each... each... each
discovery leads to the next

and to the next and to the next,

and that there's this sense

that he's really
trying to figure it out.

Yeah. So, "a," it's
an opportunity...

It has been said

that there are as
many different Hamlets

as there are actors to play him.

And that scope
for reinterpretation

seems to be part of
what makes this role

so constantly fascinating.

We know that
this particular role

is also like a
sharing of one's soul,

so it's like you're not just
gonna see your preferred actor,

but you're also gonna see them

perhaps bearing a
side of themselves

and revealing a
side of themselves

that's really intimate.

I think of all the
parts I've played,

that one feels the
most transparent.

When you go and see it,

you're seeing
something of the actor.

Something very personal, private

about the actor
who's playing it,

always, I think.

It's not a... It's not a ma...

It's not a sort of mask
you can hide behind,

I don't think, that role.

There's something
extraordinary about

stripping away your
acting persona really.

Did you find it
quite exposing then?

Yeah, I think you...

I think in the end, you're standing
on stage as David Tennant.

None of which helps

to make that most
famous of speeches

any easier to cope with.

Quite often, I'm
sure you had this,

people would say
it along with you.


Um, that's fine.

I had one woman who was
doing it just before I said it,

which was infuriating. Yes.

Many people come to
"Hamlet" with preconceptions

or expectations of
what the play should be.

But, in fact, there is not even
"a" definitive text of the play.

There are three
different sources.

Copies of these are extremely
valuable and precious.

I'd never seen
them all up close,

but at The British Library, they
have examples of each one.

Tim Pye, the curator,

has agreed to open up the safe.

Here we have the precious cargo.


There is a first version,

the so-called "bad quarto,"

believed to be cobbled
together from an actor's memory,

the second, much-longer version,

possibly printed to
replace the bad quarto,

and a third version
in the First Folio,

a collection of
Shakespeare's plays

published after his death.

So you want to open that
one up to the title page?

I'm allowed to touch?

Yes, of course.

On the table in front of me

are about £10
million worth of books.

So this is the first quarto.

Often known as "the bad quarto."

That is right. I
think the bad quarto

is a bit of a misnomer.

Why is that?

'Cause I think it has merits.


Um, it is quite
quick-paced for a "Hamlet."


Because it's about
half the length

of the other two later versions.


It includes some
stage directions

that aren't included
anywhere else

and that people still
reference nowadays.


Um, yeah, so I think
"bad" is a little unfair.


There are two known copies.

OK, only two?

It's an incredibly rare book.

There's only two of
these in the whole world?

There's only two.

I had no idea.

Judging the versions
against each other,

there are many
surprising differences.

There's one on
the very first line.

"Whose there?" which is quite
a famous opening to a play.


It's "Stand: who is
that?" in this bad quarto,

which is quite
markedly different.


Although it is much shorter,

there are certain
details that only feature

in the first quarto.

"Enter Ofelia playing on a Lute,

and her haire down singing."

Playing on a lute?

It's gonna limit your
casting options as well.

And perhaps most interesting

are the differences in that
most famous of soliloquies.

The thing that we
probably recognize

as being the biggest difference

is the most famous speech...

In the English language.

Indeed, indeed.

"To be, or not to be,
that is the question,"

becomes "To be, or not
to be, I there's the point."


"To die, to
sleepe, is that all?"

That's quite a cut.

"Whether 'tis
nobler in the minde

to suffer the slings and
arrows of outrageous fortune..."

I mean, that's all gone.

It is all gone.

Um, all gone.

It does sound like a sort of
poorly remembered version

of the speech that we know.


Half phrases are in there
and the sense is in there.

Yeah, yeah, but...

But who's to say this
isn't the original, of course?

Well, indeed, or do
we just think that's poor

compared to the much more
eloquent, elegant one we now know?

If this was the only
surviving text of "Hamlet,"

would we denigrate it as
much as we do? Well, quite.

I quite like the fact
that it's been edited

in places to shorten it.

Oh, I think it can do
with an edit definitely.

"Hamlet" can
sometimes be a bit long.

It can be a bit
long. I've heard that.

Some productions
can be a little dry.

I wouldn't know about that.

No, but I think, absolutely,

this must have charged
along, which is great.


Whichever version you use,

Hamlet's dilemmas
remain the same.

Having doubted
the point of life itself,

Hamlet starts to
doubt his mission.

Should he trust the ghost?

Can he be sure
Claudius is guilty?

He devises a plan
to expose the King.

This is one Lucianus,
nephew to the King.

He enlists a group
of traveling players

to enact a play mirroring
the King's murder.

If Claudius flinches, he'll
have the proof he required.

How fares my lord?

Give me some...

Give me some light!

The King reacts.

Hamlet is vindicated.

Imagine what it
must be like to realize

that your... your
worst fears are right.

Because it's all been sort of...

almost dealable
with up until this point,

but now I've got
to do something.

Hamlet gets the
perfect opportunity

to exact his revenge

when he passes the
King alone praying.

But will he be able
to seize the moment?

In our production,
director Greg Doran

had a notion to
draw out the tension.

I think it is a thriller.

I mean, once I had
that in my head,

that psychologically
it was a thriller,

then what you need to do

is keep making the
audience believe

that they've never
seen it before,

and they don't know
what's going to happen.

When, for instance, he
happens, after the play,

to bump into his
Uncle Claudius praying,

and he suddenly has the idea

that he could, while
the man is praying,

kill him, having
absolutely in his mind

established his guilt,

thriller-wise, you
in the audience

should be thinking,
"He's gonna do it."

Now might I do it pat...

now he is praying;

and now I'll do't.

We took the interval right there

in the middle of the line.

Again, quite a potentially
bold, uh, decision

to take the interval, in fact,

in the middle of a... in
the middle of a verse line.

The scholars were appalled.

What was the actual line?

So you went, um...

Uh, now might I do it...

Now might I do it
pat, now he's praying;

and now I'll do 't.

Interval. Black out, yeah.

Do you think... How many of
the audience do you think went,

"My God, he killed his uncle"?

I don't know. I hope some did.

But did we start
the second half...

Did we rerun the beginning
of the second half then,

or did you start, "And
so he goes to heaven"?

I started with the
knife above his head,

the lights went up

like nothing had
happened for 15 minutes,

"And so he goes to heaven,

and so am I reveng'd."

And using the audience
talked myself out of it.


And so he goes to heaven,

and so am I reveng'd.

That would be scann'd.

A villain kills my father,
and for that, I, his sole son

do this same villain
send to heaven?

Why, this is hire and
salary, not revenge!

Hamlet doesn't know
what he's gonna do,

so I think as Hamlet raises
the knife above Claudius's head,

in that nanosecond, he
believes he's gonna kill him.

It doesn't last, and he doesn't,

because he's, again,

straitjacketed by
his own morality

and his own fears

and his own humanity,
you could say.

That makes me
like him all the more,

but it makes him like
himself all the less.

Hamlet asks some
very serious questions

about the morality of revenge,

the morality of killing.

We think of that as
a very, very modern...

20th, 21st century thing.

But Shakespeare
is there before us.

Hamlet is a deeply
reluctant revenge hero,

but in the very next scene,

he will slip dangerously
out of character.

He will come straight.

I'll silence me even here.

Hamlet's behavior
has alarmed the King

and his counselor, Polonius.

Hamlet is summoned to
his mother's bedroom...


Where Polonius is hiding,

eavesdropping on
their conversation.


Withdraw; I hear him coming.

Hamlet arrives ready
to confront his mother

about her marriage,

but in a moment of madness
will do something catastrophic.

Now, Mother, what's the matter?

Hamlet, thou hast thy
father much offended.

Mother, you have my
father much offended.

Have you forgot me?

No, by the rood, not so!

You are the Queen, your
husband's brother's wife,

and you are my mother.

Nay, then I'll set those
to you that can speak.

Come, come, and sit you down.

You shall not budge!

You go not till I
set you up a glass

where you may see
the inmost part of you.

What wilt thou do?

Thou wilt not murder me?

Help, help, help!

Help! Help me!

How now? a rat?

Dead for a ducat!


Impulsively, Hamlet lashes out,

believing he has
finally caught the King,

but instead, he has
murdered Polonius.

I think it happens
very much in the heat

of a very hot moment

before he can really
examine what he's doing.

From that moment as he
looks down at Polonius's corpse,

I think he realizes
there's no going back

and nothing will ever
be the same now,

and I'm probab...
I've probably started

on the path to my
own destruction.

But although everything
has changed for Hamlet

in that moment,

the scene is not over.

Something has been
brewing for a long time.

He still has to confront
the person who he feels

has betrayed him
most, his mother.

You modulate into a
sort of total disgust...

Yeah. At what she's doing.

In this scene,

all Hamlet's unspoken
resentment and fury

at his mother
comes tumbling out.

He is disgusted
by her inconstancy,

her stupidity, and worst of all,

as he sees it, her promiscuity.

You cannot call it
love; for at your age

the heyday in the blood
is tame, it's humble,

and waits upon the judgment;

and what judgment
would step from this to this?

O Hamlet, speak!

To live In the rank sweat
of an enseamed bed,

stew'd in corruption,

honeying and making
love over the nasty sty!

Speak to me no more!

A son confronting his
own mother's sexuality

is an uneasy enough
prospect for a modern audience,

but Hamlet has barely been
out of performance in 400 years,

so previous generations have
clearly found their own way

of coming to terms
of such taboo material.

Ah, Michael.



How you doing?

Fine, fine.

Thank you for coming along.

Theater historian Michael Dobson

has tracked the stage history

of what has become
known as "the closet scene."

A closet, really, in
Shakespeare's time,

means a kind of private office.

It's in your private apartments,

it's probably near your bedroom,

but it's not actually a bedroom.


One of the earliest

we have of this scene

shows Thomas Betterton
playing Hamlet in the 17th century,

with two chairs placed
a fair distance apart.

Shall I be Mother?

Yeah, you be Gertrude. OK.

You sit there

and Betterton has
been sitting down,

talking to his mother,

apparently from
about this distance.

With tea and
sandwiches possibly.

Well, yeah, it's all
terribly respectful.

It is.

Only in later productions

does the scene tend
to move to the bedroom,

with Sigmund Freud's
influence suggesting that Hamlet

might actually be in
love with his mother.

It doesn't get manically all about
what they're doing on the bed

really until John Barrymore...


In the States in the twenties.


And he's read Freud,

and he says that, you know,
as far as he's concerned,

Hamlet is mother-fixated.

He decides to actually
stage it that way,

decides that his
Hamlet is explained

by his relationship
with his mother.

So how much do we know
about his staging in particular?

What did he do?

He kissed his
mother on the lips.

I mean, that's the
big sign that he gives

that this is really
what it's all about

and that it's not normal.

Right, right.

He's the first one
who does that.

And that line is then
taken up by Olivier.

However you decide
to play the closet scene,

by the end of it,

Hamlet is at the mercy
of the man he loathes.

After Hamlet has
killed Polonius,

things are changed forever.

The King, now knowing
that his life is in danger,

is determined to
get rid of Hamlet

and sends him away overseas.

Events are spiraling
out of control.

From here on in,
the play shifts a gear.

Hamlet is banished to England,

and although he eventually
manages to escape his captors

and return to Denmark,

in his absence,
Ophelia, his one time love

and the daughter of
Polonius, has lost her mind

and drowned herself.

Unaware of this, on
his way back to Elsinore,

Hamlet happens upon
a freshly dug grave,

little knowing it is
meant for Ophelia.

Here, in one of the play's
most recognizable moments,

Hamlet comes face
to face with mortality.

His clutch.

Here's a skull now.

Hath lien you i' th' earth
some three-and-twenty years.

Whose was it?

This same skull, sir,
was, sir, Yorick's skull,

the King's jester.

Let me see.

Hamlet beside Yorick's grave

is perhaps the most enduring
image the play throws up.

The danger is that familiarity

will rob the scene
of its impact.

In staging the play,

we were blessed with
a powerful reminder

of Yorick's humanity.

We're on our way now to
the RSC's props repository

to look at something that
was a very important part

of our production.

Hello. I'm David.

And I'm Catherine.

Hi, Catherine, how you doing?

I'm OK, thank you.


This is our Yorick.

There was a Polish
composer and pianist

called Andre Tchaikowsky,

and when he died
in the early eighties,

he bequeathed his head

to be used in a
production of Hamlet

with the Royal
Shakespeare Company.

He wanted to play Yorick.

So here he is.

This is Andre.

He was introduced to
us by our director, Greg,

on the first day of rehearsals

as the final member
of the company.

There was a variety
of reactions, I think,

to having a...

to having a real human
head in the production.

Some people
found it quite difficult.

I must say personally I
was rather excited by it.

It's one of the clichés
of the play now,

an actor holding a skull,

and I suppose the
trouble with a cliché is

that it loses meaning,

but, um, if you represent it
with an actual person's skull,

a real bit of human,

then Hamlet's
speech about Yorick

and about staring
into the-the-the...

The skull of a man he knew well

becomes all the more
potent when-when...

When you're aware that
you're holding somebody's head

quite literally in your hands.

There he is.

Andre was there.

I feel very pleased to have
helped him fulfill his ambition.

Here hung those lips

that I have kiss'd
I know not how oft.

Where be your gibes now?
Your gambols? your songs?

Your flashes of merriment

that were wont to set
the table on a roar?

Not one now, to mock
your own grinning?

Quite chap-fall'n?

The play pauses to hold a mirror

up to mortality,

but before long,
Hamlet is back at court

confronting his own destiny.

Will he be a revenging hero?

Can he kill a king?

In London, at the Royal
Academy of Dramatic Art,

students are rehearsing
the play's final scene.

Move more,

and it will look faster,

but it will actually
be slower for you.


On returning to the court,

Hamlet gets
involved in a contest

between himself and Laertes,

the son of Polonius,
the man he killed.

Great, that's when I
want you to start moving.

This contest will
involve the entire court.

It is the climax of the play.

Another hit. See?

And yet Hamlet, told at
the beginning of the play

to take revenge for
his father's death,

has planned none of this.

It was the King's idea.

Instead of finally deciding
that he is going to do

what he has said all
along that he's going to do,

he gets involved in a wager

that his uncle, of all people,

has put on his
skills at fencing,

and there's no plan that
Hamlet has articulated

that's gonna lead from
this sword fight in the court

to vengeance on his uncle.

It seems to happen randomly.

So, ironically,

this contest is
not Hamlet's plan,

but the King's plot to kill him.

Claudius has enlisted Laertes,

eager to avenge
the death of Polonius.

A blunted sword will be
exchanged for a sharp one.

You may choose
a sword unblunted,

and, in a pass of practice,

requite him for your father.

I will do it.

Laertes also plans to put poison

on the point of his sword
to make sure Hamlet will die.

Hamlet knows none of this,

and although he has misgivings

about how the
fight will turn out,

he now seems determined
to surrender to his fate.

If your mind dislike
anything, obey it.

I will forestall their repair
hither and say you are not fit.

Not a whit, we defy augury;

there's a special providence
in the fall of a sparrow.

If it be now, 'tis not to come;

if it be not to
come, it will be now;

if it be not now,
yet it will come.

He's a very, very
different character.

His mood is different.

There's a wonderful
sort of serenity

and resignation
about him at that point.

"If it be not now, 'tis to come;

"if it be not to come, 'tis now.

The readiness is all. Let be."

That great almost
sort of Oriental idea

of let it be.

What will be will be.

The real inner peace
that he's reached there.

And so the contest begins.

Come on, sir!

No! Judgment!

A hit, a very palpable hit.

Hamlet starts well.

He wins the first point.


Give him the cup.

He avoids a poison drink

offered by Claudius in
case Laertes should fail.

I'll play this bout
first; set it by awhile.

But the queen, apparently
unaware of the plot,


It is the poison cup.

Impatient to kill Hamlet,

Laertes lashes out.

Have at you now!

In the confusion,
swords get exchanged,

and Laertes is wounded
with his own poison tip.

How does the Queen?

She swoons to see them bleed.

No, no! The drink, the drink!

O my dear Hamlet!

The drink, the drink!

With poison in his blood,

Hamlet cannot
escape his own death.

But at last, he ensures
the King will die, too.


Thou incestuous,
murd'rous, damned Dane,

drink off this potion!

Is thy union here?

Follow my mother!

Hamlet has finally succeeded

in avenging his father's death,

although more by
accident than design.

He has had little
control over any of this.

Now Hamlet has to
face his own death

in the arms of his
only true friend,


If thou didst ever
hold me in thy heart,

absent thee from
felicity awhile,

and in this harsh world
draw thy breath in pain,

to tell my story.

O, I die, Horatio!

The potent poison
quite o'ercrows my spirit.

The rest is silence.

That final speech,

the sense of Hamlet
looking into the afterlife.

For someone who has fretted
over whether there is one or not,

it was settled in my mind that
"the rest is silence" was him...

was a sense of relief

that actually there's
nothing else to worry about.

I'm staring into
the afterlife now,

and it's just a void.

Thank goodness for that.

I mean, the big question to me,

and I still don't
know the answer,

"The rest is silence."

Is that the rest of life,

or is that the rest... the
rest in himself is silence

and he doesn't have
to speak anymore?

Yeah, well... Do you know?

There's a kind of
beautiful sense of calm.

I always felt very
calm in that moment

and quite happy.

It's funny, my
memory talking about it

is much more about
how I was feeling,

and talking about
it, I keep thinking

I've got to talk
about it like the part,

but, actually, I'm trying
to think where I was at.

Yeah, but I think it's
one of those you end up...

The two end up becoming
very enmeshed, don't they?

Yeah, I think they do.

For others, the fact
that Hamlet bids Horatio

to tell what has
happened, to tell his story,

means there will be
life after the silence.

What is so powerful
about the end of "Hamlet"...

It's a deeply powerful ending...

Is the moment when he transfers

his story to Horatio,

and he says, "In
this harsh world

draw thy breath in
pain, to tell my story."

So he will not
have lived in vain.

We are also being
told to tell the story,

to perform the play again.

It does not end in nothing,

it does not end in
"the rest is silence."

It ends, in fact, in the
injunction to replay the play.

If thou didst ever
hold me in thy heart...

absent thee from
felicity awhile,

and in this harsh world
draw thy breath in pain...

to tell my story.

But am I any nearer
to understanding

why every successive age
has identified with "Hamlet"?

Of course, there's
no answer to this,

but do you have any sense
what it is about it that's so unique?

It... It tackles the
fundamental themes

of perhaps what we all ask.

Why are we here?

What is the point
of us being here?

All these huge things,

which I think just
dealing with being

a living, breathing human being,

we have to ask
ourselves at some point,

or feel at some
point, are in this play.

In the end,

there is just no other
character like him.

I remember on the last
day of filming thinking,

I'm so proud to have done that.

I'm so pleased that that's
something I got to do,

and now I will
never go there again.

And there was a
huge relief to that,

'cause it was like having

a weight lifted
off your shoulders.

And then, you know, whatever...

What are we now, three years on?

I do find myself...
I catch myself

slightly fantasizing
about doing it again

and going back there

and seeing what
that would feel like,

but I...

That way madness
quite literally lies.