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Author: Tony Hill
  • Video
  • 5 minutes

Hamlet: Introducing the characters

Updated Monday, 7th December 2009
Tony Hill of the Royal Shakespeare Company introduces the characters and plot of Hamlet to a group of New York high school students.


Tony Hill: Old Hamlet! King!


Tony Hill: He’s married to Gertrude, the queen, right?

Audience: Uh-huh.

Tony Hill: What do you mean “uh-huh”?

Narrator: Tony Hill first introduces participants to the story which will be completely new to some of them.

Tony Hill: They have a son, young Hamlet. All right? Who has a girlfriend.

[Music and laughter]

Tony Hill: Who’s called Ophelia. Whose father is Polonius, okay? Leave him aside for the moment, we'll come to him in a moment.


Tony Hill: Now the king, old Hamlet, his wife, Gertrude, and their son, Hamlet, are an extremely happy family.


Tony Hill: Oh. End of happy family. But they're happy not least because he’s the king, she’s the queen, they have their son. They live in this castle called Elsinore, where one of their courtiers, one of the advisers, Polonius, also lives, with his daughter Ophelia, and Ophelia is the girlfriend of Hamlet. They are a happy family, but! As in any family there comes a time when the son has to leave home, and he decides to go off to school.

[Traffic noise]

Tony Hill: Whilst he’s away at school suddenly the king dies.

[Crack of thunder and bell tolling]

Tony Hill: And Gertrude is very very miserable.


Tony Hill: You see how miserable she is? Really miserable. She's really really really miserable, okay. But in the court is somebody else. Debonair, sexy, cool, laid back. But we don’t have him here today so instead …

[Laughter and applause]

Tony Hill: Claudius, the brother of the dead king, okay. Now remember Gertrude is very miserable, very unhappy, she's in mourning, but not …

[Bell tolling]

Tony Hill: But not for long because the next thing we discover is that Gertrude and Claudius have suddenly got married.

[Wedding music]

Narrator: Live performance is a risky business, it’s unpredictable and mistakes can happen. It’s best to try out some of the most outrageous ideas early on and so learn within the relative safety of the rehearsal room, although this can still take some nerve.

Tony Hill: Of the new king and his queen, and we still have his daughter around, Ophelia, okay? Meanwhile, Hamlet comes back from school. And the reason he comes back from school is to go to his father’s funeral. He comes back for the funeral, what does he find? Mother’s remarried. Now remember, I know it’s obvious and I know you know this, but he went off to school in Wittenberg, Wittenberg in Germany, and at the time when the play was written that isn’t buying an airline ticket or getting on a bus, that's a two, three, four week journey. He got the news, presumably, three, four weeks after his father died that his father was dead, comes back for the funeral, they withhold the funeral until he came back. Comes back home and finds out that the widow is now married to his uncle, okay. You stay there, you four guys, thank you very much, go and sit down. Give them a round.



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