Though This Be Madness, Yet There is Method in it…
This fall Shakespeare Dallas will be revisiting the greatest of all Shakespeare’s tragedies, Hamlet.The familiar story of feuds and betrayal is being re-invented by director Rene Moreno, whose production has been inspired by the 19th century American adaptation of the play known as Booth’s Hamlet.
We all know that the Bard’s best are often adapted for movies and books, but few people outside of the theater world know that there are often multiple stage versions of many Shakespearean plays, called acting versions, that have been shortened and edited to reflect the tastes of certain people or time periods. Booth’s Hamlet is one such adaptation, and arguably the most well-known. It was created by Edwin Thomas Booth, whose fame is often overshadowed by his younger brother, John Wilkes, who, as you might remember from history class, committed his own “murder most foul” in 1865. Despite the infamy of the Booth name following the assassination of President Lincoln, Edwin Booth was and is remembered today as the most famous Shakespearean performer of the 19thcentury. His signature role was the melancholy prince Hamlet.
What is known today as Booth’s Hamlet is the version that Booth played in 1870, but it is not the only version that he performed; Booth dedicated nearly half of his life to perfecting his version of Hamlet, cutting and restoring scenes of the original text to reflect what he saw as the true meaning of the play. Most of the changes in the script and stage directions were made because of how they reflected on the characters, and are what make this version unusual. Booth felt very strongly, for example, that the character of Hamlet was meant to be a refined and polite gentleman, and accordingly he cut or altered the delivery of any line that would make him seem otherwise. Hamlet, furthermore, is utterly and completely sane, according to Booth, who felt that the prince was truly a good man forced into bad circumstances.
The decision to base this fall’s production on Booth’s Hamlet was particularly exciting to Cameron Cobb, who will be playing Hamlet. “I’m actually a distant relation to the Booth family,” says Cobb. “When I was growing up, I always thought it was cool to be related to John Wilkes Booth, but it wasn’t until college, where I learned the important role that Edwin Booth played in the history of American Theater, that I realized HE was the cooler relative. It is an honor to beperforming this role with such a stellar cast, director, and organization.”