Hamlet

(the first full-length performance of Hamlet ever presented in an American theater)

St. James Theatre / November 21, 1938

(starring Maurice Evans / 96 performances )

Hamlet opened Oct 12, 1938 and ran through Jan. 1939 at the St. James Theatre.


from TIME Magazine The Theatre / Monday, Oct. 24, 1938

"Hamlet (by William Shakespeare; produced by Maurice Evans).
Biggest Shakespeare news in the theatre last season was a Julius Caesar cut to half its ordinary size.
Biggest Shakespeare news this season may well be a Hamlet swollen to twice its usual bulk.
Last week Actor-Manager Maurice Evans (Richard II) rang up the curtain at 6:30 p.m. on "the first uncut Hamlet in New York" before a half-fashionable, half-earnest first- night audience who sat back grimly in their seats and waited to see if they could take it. When, after allowing a half-hour intermission for dinner, Evans rang down the curtain at 11:20, the audience proved how they could take it by giving him a deafening ovation.

Evans had shown that an uncut Hamlet is no stunt, but an illuminating and vital enlargement of the world's most famous play. Shakespeare's tragedy, smudgily superimposed on centuries of older material, muddied by contradictory First Quartos and Folios, bristling with controversial motivations, above all dealing with a chief character as baffling as he is baffled, is truly—in Critic T.S. Eliot's phrase—"the Mona Lisa of literature." Its elucidation requires not so much scholars as detectives. When seen on the stage in its full proportions, Hamlet is possibly more of a riddle than ever; but at least, by offering the spectator all the clues, it gives him a far better chance to guess for himself. In the usual acting version, Hamlet confines itself to a single complex character study; uncut, it becomes also a swirling, tumultuous drama of court life and court intrigue. Such characters as Polonius, Fortinbras, the King take on added size. Denmark's dark, uneasy political fortunes constantly impinge upon the action. Some of the problems which have haunted generations of scholars, but scarcely occurred to casual playgoers, suddenly stand out: why, for example, the murdered King's brother and not his son should succeed him on the throne.

Said Actor Evans in his first-night curtain speech: "I wanted to produce a Hamlet which was a play and not a study of dyspepsia." No dyspeptic Hamlet, no sick and sable cat languishing about the stage is golden-voiced Actor Evans. His Hamlet is energetic, excitable, even imperious—so much a man of action that he seems least typical when he ponders and procrastinates. Rightly unwilling to play Hamlet as a moony, weakling Prince, Evans perhaps went too far in giving him a dash of Lionel Strongfort, perhaps was indulging in bold showmanship rather than profound interpretation.

As a play, however, the current Hamlet is the most exciting one Broadway has seen in many a year."


Return to Broadway Index