Shakesfilm: Richard Burton’s 1964 *Hamlet*

On Monday, August 22nd, at Tuscaloosa’s Bama Theatre, the Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies presents Richard Burton’s 1964 *Hamlet,* the first film in our Shakespeare in Film Series for 2016-17. Film starts at 7:30pm, and the concession stand will be open.Free and open to the public!

For more information about the film, visit:

For information on upcoming films, visit:


This is actually Burton playing Hamlet in 1953, but the photo was too good to pass up. See:

Lucky Number Seven

It’s hard to believe the life that Improbable Fictions has had thus far: twenty five separate staged readings since 2010, covering Shakespeare, Aeschylus, Euripides, Elizabeth Cary, and Terry Pratchett, readings that have drawn on actors and audience members from the University of Alabama and the community of Tuscaloosa. It’s my pleasure today to announce a few details about the seventh season of IF. (Wait a moment, I’m quickly checking my math…yes, SEVENTH SEASON).


Wednesday, October 7th, 2015, 7:30pm at the Tuscaloosa Cultural Arts Center (here) IF will present Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, adapted by Alaina Jobe Pangburn and myself back in 2010. You can find the script here (Helms.Jobe.Twelfth Night Script, Aug 2015), and if you’re interested in participating you can reach me at Hopefully this time around I’ll just be directing and won’t have to play Orsino as well!

Wednesday, November 11th, 2015, also at the CAC at 7:30pm, IF will present Shakes’ Hamlet, adapted and directed by Jacob Crawford, whom you can reach at

We’re also working on a reading of Heiner Müller’s Hamletmachine in December and a possible performance at the Kentuck Festival of the Arts in October. Details will be announced when I have them!


Hamlet tonight!

We’ve had some good press recently for tonight’s performance of Hamlet. Check out the articles in The Crimson White and The Tuscaloosa News. You don’t want to miss the show! Remember, it’s free and open to the public, and seats are available on a first come first seated basis. There will be a merchandise table in the lobby selling large programs.

Join us!

Revised Hamlet Poster March 1 8.5x11


On Sunday, March 1st, the Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies will host the American Shakespeare Center’s Method in Madness Tour. The ASC will be performing Shakespeare’s Hamlet in Morgan Auditorium that night at 7:30pm with pre-show music beginning at 7:00pm. The show will be free and open to the public. Seating is limited and available on a first come, first seated basis.

Revised Hamlet Poster March 1 8.5x11

Mark Me

Staging Hamlet for Improbable Fictions posed a problem: how do you depict the ghost of Hamlet’s father?  Special effects often fall flat at this moment: various combinations of white sheets, eerie green lights, and zombie makeup.  And certainly, the special effects budget of an IF production totals about $0.00.  I trust our audiences to have a lot of imagination: our actors carry their scripts around onstage, after all, and it’s improbable (if not impossible) for an audience member to forget that theatricality unless they let themselves become invested in the show.  Even so, King Hamlet’s ghost needs to be a bit terrifying, and while I could have asked our Ghost (Steve Burch) to simply step onstage and “play dead,” letting the audience imagine the rest, terror needs to be more visceral.  The supernatural demands to walk the stage.

With that in mind, I set out to hack the opening act of Hamlet to bits.  Marcellus and Bernardo disappear from the text.  Instead, the play opens with the meeting of Hamlet (David Bolus) and Horatio (Amber Gibson).  Hamlet soon asks Horatio for a speech:  “We’ll have a speech straight: come, give us a taste of your quality; come, a passionate speech” (a line taken from Hamlet’s later dialogue to the First Player).  Hamlet leads Horatio over to a tape recorder; Horatio tentatively begins the “To be or not to be” soliloquy from the 1st Quarto of Hamlet (known as the “bad quarto”).   When Horatio’s memory falters, Hamlet picks up the train of thought as a dialogue:

HAMLET records the speech on a tape-recorder.
To be, or not to be--
Aye, there's the point.
To Die, to sleep...
Is that all?
Aye, all.
No, to sleep, to dream--
Aye, mary, there it goes,
For in that dream of death, when we awake,
And borne before an everlasting Judge,
From whence no passenger ever retur'nd,
The undiscovered country, at whose sight
The happy smile, and the accursed damn'd.
But for this, the joyful hope of this,
Whol'd bear the scorns and flattery of the world,
Scorned by the right rich, the rich cursed of the poor?
The widow being oppressed, the orphan wrong'd,
The taste of hunger, or a tyrant's reign,
And thousand more calamities besides,
To grunt and sweat under this weary life,
When that he may his full Quietus make,
With a bare bodkin--
Who would this endure,
But for a hope of something after death?
Which puzzles the brain, and doth confound the sense,
Which makes us rather bear those evils we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of.
Aye, that. O, this conscience makes cowards of us all.

Hamlet stops the recording, and Claudius strides onstage with his opening monologue.

In a later scene, Hamlet decides to listen to the recording.  However, the supernatural decides to step in.  The audio track below is what Hamlet hears from the tape recorder (sound design courtesy of the fantastic Jerrell Bowden).  During the performance, Hamlet cradled the tape recorder and carried it into the center aisle of Farrah Hall 214: the Ghost’s voice quite literally walked amidst the audience.

(click to listen >>>>)  (<<<< click to listen)


Since we didn’t get Hamlet’s responses on tape, I’ve included a portion of the script below.  You’ll probably want to open the audio file in a new tab.

Enter HAMLET. Hamlet listens to tape-recorder.
To be, or not to be--
Aye, there's the point.
To Die, to sleep...
Is that all?
Aye, all.
No, to sleep, to dream--
Aye, mary, there it goes,
For in that dream of death...
Mark me.
I will.
My hour is almost come,
When I to sulphurous and tormenting flames
Must render up myself.
Alas, poor ghost!
Pity me not, but lend thy serious hearing
To what I shall unfold.
Speak; I am bound to hear.
So art thou to revenge, when thou shalt hear.
I am thy father's spirit. List, list, list!
If thou didst ever thy dear father love--
O God!
Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.
Murder most foul, as in the best it is;
But this most foul, strange and unnatural.
Haste me to know't, that I, with wings as swift
As meditation or the thoughts of love,
May sweep to my revenge.
'Tis given out that, sleeping in my orchard,
A serpent stung me; so the whole ear of Denmark
Is by a forged process of my death
Rankly abused: but know, thou noble youth,
The serpent that did sting thy father's life
Now wears his crown.
O my prophetic soul!
My uncle!
Ay, that incestuous, that adulterate beast,
With witchcraft of his wit, with traitorous gifts,--
O wicked wit and gifts, that have the power
So to seduce!--won to his shameful lust
The will of my most seeming-virtuous queen:
Brief let me be. Sleeping within my orchard,
Upon my secure hour thy uncle stole,
With juice of cursed hebenon in a vial,
And in the porches of my ears did pour
The leperous distilment.
Thus was I, sleeping, by a brother's hand
Of life, of crown, of queen, at once dispatch'd,
No reckoning made, but sent to my account
With all my imperfections on my head:
O, horrible! O, horrible! most horrible!
Let not the royal bed of Denmark be
A couch for luxury and damned incest.
But, howsoever thou pursuest this act,
Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive
Against thy mother aught: leave her to heaven
And to those thorns that in her bosom lodge,
To prick and sting her. Fare thee well at once!
Adieu, adieu! Hamlet, remember me.


Hamlet: Pics and Programs

Horatio (Amber Gibson) and Hamlet (David Bolus)

Thanks to cast, crew, and audience for making last night’s staged reading of Hamlet a thrilling evening.  I’m posting the program notes below.  As you can see in these pics (more pics here), the cast took advantage of the whiteboard in 214 Farrah Hall to write lines, maxims, and jokes, a cloud of words and ideas that formed both a humorous and a haunting backdrop for the performance.

“To be or not to be.” It’s perhaps Shakespeare’s best-known line. Yet

it’s so often read simply as “To live or to die.” As if death was a

simple way out. As if we could so easily escape our regrets.

Hamlet is a young university student who leaves home with his life in complete order: his parents love him, his girlfriend adores him, and the world makes sense. He is a prince, and his only limit is the stretch of his imagination. Then the news arrives. “Come home, Hamlet. Your father is dead.” Hamlet rushes back to Elsinore, but he’s too late for the funeral. His father lies in the cold ground, and no one seems to mourn his passing. His mother remarries soon after. Even his girlfriend Ophelia seems distant: how can he talk to her? How can she understand?

He has regrets: If he hadn’t left home, could he have seen his father before he died? Could he have stopped his death? Did he make his father proud? Hamlet is living in the past. When his father dies, his world stops. He can’t move on. All he can do is remember. And regret lost opportunities. And then he hears his father’s voice: “Mark me. Revenge my foul and most unnatural murder. Remember me.” Here is Hamlet’s second chance: to prove his love to his father; to set things right; to change the past and erase his regrets. But living for the past has a high cost.

For tonight’s performance, the actors have written their own regrets and remembrances on the whiteboard. I encourage you to do the same. Before the show or at intermission, pick up a dry erase marker and make your own declaration.

To remember. To regret no more. To be.


Guildenstern (Jen Drouin), Hamlet (David Bolus), and Rosencrantz (Jonathan Hinnen)

Hamlet: April 21st, Farrah Hall 214

Improbable Fictions presents a staged reading of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, a play that needs no preamble: the play’s the thing.  The rest is silence.

April 21st, 2011, 7:30 pm.  Pre-show music at 7:00.

Farrah Hall 214, just southeast of the Quad.  There’s plenty of parking behind Farrah Hall after 6:00.

Free and open to the public.  Be sure to check us out on Facebook: the event and the page.

~Cast List~

Hamlet…………………………….David Bolus
Horatio………………………..Amber Gibson
King Claudius…………….David Ainsworth
Queen Gertrude…………Deborah Parker
Polonius……………………..Charles Prosser
Laertes………………………….Michael Vine
Ophelia……………………..Jess Richardson
Ghost…………………………….Steve Burch
Rosencrantz…………….Jonathan Hinnen
Guildenstern…………………….Jen Drouin
Player King……………Mark Hughes Cobb
Player Queen………………..April Dobbins
1st Clown…………………Cooper Kennard
2nd Clown/Lucianus……….Joey Gamble
Ensemble………………………Alex Franklin
Director…………………………….Nic Helms
Music……………………Mark Hughes Cobb
Sound Design………………Jerrell Bowden

As always, many thanks to the Rude Mechanicals and the Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies for their support.

Infinite Monkeys

It might be possible for an infinite number of monkeys, given an infinite amount of time and bananas, to peck out Shakespeare’s Hamlet on a few well-maintained typewriters.  Fortunately, Improbable Fictions does not require an infinite number of actors to stage a reading of Shakespeare’s most produced play.  In point of fact, we need only fourteen actors to complete this probability-defying feat.  If you’re interested in participating in a staged reading of Hamlet in late April (most likely Thursday, April 21), send an email to <>.  Please briefly note your theatre experience (though none is required), your interest in particular roles, and any other skills Improbable Fictions should know about (singing, stage combat, ownership of a black box theatre, etc.).  The subject line of the email should read “Hamlet casting.”

A few good actors really are hard to find (and pin down), especially mid-semester, and thus Improbable Fiction’s shows tend to be cast not by audition but by directorial choice.  If we can find more actors than typewriters…I mean, more actors than roles, then there may be auditions.