In 2005, an English professor friend of mine, Dr. Mark Walling, invited me to join a new study group. The purpose of that group was to read Hamlet speech by speech, line by line, word by word if necessary, a stack of reference materials at our feet, to see if we could come to understand every word of the play. Within one act, the students in the group all became bored and dropped out, but Mark and I kept going. We discovered that almost everything we knew about Hamlet was wrong. We found an Ophelia who could hold her own against Prince Hamlet, a character Harold Bloom calls "the most intelligent figure in all the world of literature, West or East." Here was a melancholy Dane who cracks death jokes: real corkers, in fact, jokes that still land four centuries later. Above all, we found a plot as busy and riveting as any nighttime soap opera. I grew obsessed with the play until, in 2009, Prodigal Sun Productions gave me the chance to direct a reduced-cast version of it as a staged reading.
I knew Hamlet's full cast wouldn't fit in the Midnight Sun Performance Space, so I combined parts and ignored characters to whittle it down to a mere eight or nine. Polonius, posthumously of course, would also play the Gravedigger. As Shakespeare himself did, I, the director, would play the Ghost of dead King Hamlet and the First Player and run lights. My girlfriend Amanda ran sound and cameoed as the "Queen" in the play-within-the-play. I also took this opportunity to abbreviate and update Shakespeare's language; I can't imagine the Bard would want his play to sit there like a stagnant museum piece.
My original hope was to find an updated version online. I couldn't. Here, then, is my own cut of Hamlet, offered, as our production was, entirely for free. All I ask is that you credit me under "Adaptation." Especially generous companies might also see fit to credit Prodigal Sun Productions, the company which first hosted this abridged version of what is almost certainly the greatest play ever written.
I should take this opportunity to thank my cast members, each of whom made important contributions to the editing and flow of the play:
Prince Hamlet - John Ficker
Laertes - Tim Goebel
King Claudius - Tim Hoban
Queen Gertrude - Jennie Jenks
Horatio - Robert McConkey
Ophelia - Ingrid Pharris
Lord Polonius - Dennis Rolly
The play works best when staged most simply. We put out seven chairs and hung three tapestries bearing images of Dead King Hamlet, Queen Gertrude, and new King Claudius. Dash lines represent changes in lighting that represent discontinuities in time and/or space.