Not-So-Royal Shakespeare Company recasts multiple Shakespeare plays
The Not-So-Royal Shakespeare Company (NSR), a student-led acting troupe, staged a production of Hamlet in Washington Hall’s Lab Theater that garnered attention for its choice to portray Hamlet’s relationship with Ophelia as a lesbian romance, changing Hamlet to be a woman. The play, which ran from February 2–4, staged a physical lesbian relationship between “Princess” Hamlet and Ophelia, which some audience members considered to be a departure from Shakespeare’s script.
Lead actress Christina Randazzo, who played “Hamlet, Princess of Denmark,” described the intent of the decision to the Observer, saying: “We wanted to show how universal Hamlet is by [casting] a young, female Hamlet.” However, many play-goers thought that this departure from Shakespeare was a source of incongruency in the performance. While careful to note his overall positive impression of the production, junior Jack McEnery told the Rover that “the female Hamlet’s broken relationships with both her mother and Ophelia felt very different than in the original play.” In particular, the line “‘Frailty, thy name is woman’ becomes both a projection of the female Hamlet’s lack of moral clarity onto other characters and an indictment of her own indecisiveness.”
In an interview with the Rover Stephen M. Fallon, John J. Cavanaugh Professor of the Humanities, noted that there is historical precedent for Hamlet and Ophelia to be played by actors of the opposite gender. However, he added that, even against the backdrop of an assertive female character like Gertrude, to change Hamlet into a female character “[makes] an implicit claim about the agency of women in a world where otherwise the agency of women seems to be so restricted.” On the thematic difficulties introduced by Hamlet’s portrayal as a woman, Professor Fallon, who has taught courses on Shakespeare for almost 40 years, also remarked that “in the world of tragedy men drive the action, in the world of comedy women often drive the action for Shakespeare.”
The ensuing lesbian relationship caused by Hamlet’s portrayal as a woman was also met with contention for what some viewed as an agenda-driven display of physicality. Notably this portrayal stands in contrast to the ambiguous physical relationship between male Hamlet and Ophelia written in Shakespeare’s telling.
Sophomore Ellie Knapp said of the relationship, “The addition of a lesbian Hamlet arc was not only a huge divergence from the themes and structure of the play, but it also felt very forced. No one in the audience should know how intimate Hamlet and Ophelia have been; nor should physical elements of their relationship be depicted on stage, like the kiss shared by the Hamlet/Ophelia actresses. It deprives the play of its purposeful, artistic ambiguity. But in order to prove to the audience that the female pair were romantically involved, it was chosen to make a show of physical affection.”
Randazzo offered an explanation for the troupe’s choice to make the Hamlet/Ophelia relationship a homosexual pairing to the Observer, stating, “Hamlet and Ophelia’s relationship is just as hauntingly beautiful with two women as it is otherwise [for example].”
When asked about the limits of artistic interpretation, Professor Fallon stated, “If it’s a matter of taking what is purporting to be Shakespeare’s play and making such significant changes, theory driven changes, even given the multiplicity and possibility of interpretation of a play, that would distort any possible plausible interpretation of the play, that’s one thing, and I think that could be problematic.”
Last spring Notre Dame’s Film, Television, and Theater Department made a similar change by depicting the musical CYRANO’s lead character as a woman in romantic pursuit of the female character Roxanne. In less than a year, two separate campus productions have changed leading male roles into female characters and turned their romantic pursuits into homosexual relationships. NSR is again changing the gender of a romantic lead in its upcoming production of Much Ado About Nothing.
Posters for Much Ado About Nothing, which were hung in academic buildings around campus, were designed by Randazzo, who is also the NSR’s marketing director. Randazzo told the Irish Rover via email, “I made four different posters with pictures with people in love.”
Randazzo continued, “Something so wonderful about modern and inclusive Shakespeare is that the plays are always the same, but the people are always different and bring their own new beautiful element to each and every show!”
One freshman reacted to the posters, saying, “At a Catholic university we should be expected to be in line with the precepts of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Catechism condemns homosexual acts, but it calls us to love our brothers and sisters. However, that does not mean we should be supporting [sinful] actions.”
The Rover reached out to the Student Activities Office staffer who personally approved the posters, and though initially accepting an interview request, he responded, “I am gathering the data I need to respond” when asked more specific questions about the criteria used to determine which requests for posters are approved or denied.
Daniel Martin is a sophomore from Skippack, Pennsylvania in the Program of Liberal Studies. Email email@example.com with questions pertaining to this article. However, please note that emails not written in iambic pentameter will be automatically sorted into his junk mail.
Elizabeth Hale is a sophomore from Northville, MI. After the failure of not being cast as Beatrice in a high school play and her hopes of performing at the Globe Theater dashed accordingly, she decided to study Political Science. To hear her 6 lines from Much Ado, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo Credit: Hamlet and the ghost of Hamlet’s father in Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Act I, Scene IV (engraving based on a painting by Henry Fuseli), from A collection of prints, from pictures painted for the purpose of illustrating the dramatic works of Shakespeare, by the artists of Great Britain, London: John and Josiah Boydell, 1805.
Photo Credit: Christina Randazzo