My teaching group met with Mark to prepare our lesson so we participated in this lesson with Scott on the second afternoon. The stage had been set with a previous discussion and reading regarding Shakespeare and girlhood with Jenny on day one so we were ready to see media adaptations with Scott.
We began by learning about two actresses who played Hamlet as a female on stage and in films, Sarah Bernhardt in 1895 and Asta Nielsen in 1921. Scott explained that this stemmed from the nineteenth-century argument by Professor Vining declaring that Hamlet was a weak feminine character and could only be portrayed as a woman.
Scott showed us clips from Asta Nielsen's performance where a nurse convinces Gertrude to say the daughter she just birthed is a boy and raise the princess as a prince. This is a silent film, making it universally accessible without language barriers. This adaptation brought up some points about gender and sexuality. We see Hamlet going to college (as a woman playing a woman pretending to be a man) providing commentary on women beginning to attend college in the 1920s. There was also homoerotic tension with Horatio since Hamlet as a woman could love him and they could be drawn to each other as friends. As Hamlet dies in Horatio’s arms it is revealed she is a woman and Horatio wastes no time closing the blouse to preserve Hamlet’s womanly modesty. In this adaptation, there is no Ophelia with Hamlet taking on elements of both characters in their performance. I really enjoyed seeing clips of this film and analyzing these clips through our discussion about how gender and sexuality can be represented or caricatured through adaptations.
We also watched scenes from an all-female cast performing Julius Caesar from [the Donmar prison trilogy] to analyze social/economic status, race, age, and gender. The role of Caesar was played by a guard further emphasizing the commentary on power dynamics. I got goosebumps watching the final scene of the prisoners performing with one dynamic in the play and then juxtaposed with the reality of their limited power as prisoners. I really enjoyed seeing how powerful these adaptations can be and am very interested in seeing more of [Donmar trilogy].
Scott also mentioned Caleen S. Jennings’s “Elsewhere in Elsinore” as the perspective of what was happening from the perspective of the women behind the scenes of Hamlet. With all of these adaptations in mind, we were asked to look at recasting Hamlet in groups. Collectively we considered:
We had a lot of fun generating these ideas but also reflected on race, gender, and power. I could see my students loving this creative prompt and considering different possibilities for adapting the characters and the story.