Set Decoration

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This page describes what the play dialogue indicates about decorating the set for each Scene.

Scene 1

Bodiam Castle

The setting is a cannon platform, at night, beside the Castle.

A backdrop of a castle is needed. It should be dark. It should have battlements, since the word is explicit in the dialogue.

A backdrop that looks exactly like Kronborg Castle would not be right. In its outlines, at some distance, Kronborg looks almost as much like some great cathedral as it does a castle. A shape like Bodiam Castle would be better, for easy audience recognition of a castle, with battlements. When an audience hears "castle" they expect to see battlements and turrets.

A star should be placed high toward the stage left wing, for Bernardo to point at, as "the westward star." A Christmas tree ornament could work well. Or just white paper.

(Downstage is "north," stage left is "west," upstage is "south" and stage right is "east." This is easy to remember when one thinks of it as the actor turning naturally toward the audience, just as a compass turns naturally to true north. The audience direction is your "true north," then the other directions follow from that. Thus we get west as stage left, and Bernardo says west is the direction of the star.)

A moon overlapped by a cloud shape should be placed high somewhere above the stage. That symbolizes night, but the moonlight is not strong, or not constant, because of clouds.

A good production needs a cannon. Sigh, where's a cannon when you need one? An imitation cannon can be made from a piece of large diameter plastic pipe, or cardboard tubing, set on some kind of wheeled cart. It needs to be heavy enough, or otherwise stable enough, so that Horatio can sit back on it without it moving out from under him.

And to do it right, you are going to have to rig to fly the Ghost.

Return: Scene 1 Setting Note

Scene 2

the Throne Room at Christiansborg Palace, Copenhagen

The Thrones for the King and Queen need to be up on a podium, a "stage on the stage." The King and Queen are "elevated personages." Take it literally.

That same "stage on a stage" can be used as the "stage on stage" for the 'Mousetrap' play, later, in the Great Hall. The podium/stage need not be too large and heavy, but adequate for two large chairs side-by-side, for the thrones, or for two actors side-by-side, if they don't move around too much doing the 'Mousetrap.'

A height of only a foot could be done, and two feet is probably the maximum, for practicality. A foot and a half? Ok. The size of a sheet of plywood, 4'x8', would be just enough for careful actors. Do 6'x8' if possible. This "stage on stage" will also be the "stage" where Hamlet's body is placed at the finale in Scene 20. (The fencing match will be in the Great Hall where the 'Mousetrap' play was performed, and conceptually, the 'Mousetrap' stage is not taken down yet, so it's still there to place Hamlet's body upon, as Fortinbrasse says, when he speaks of bearing Hamlet to the stage. That is literal.)

The "stage on stage" has to be movable. It can't be in the Graveyard, or at the Harbor, etc. It'll have to be slid out of the way for some Scenes, or carried off.

The Throne Room has two doorways, corresponding to the two stage wings. The Lobby is stage left, and the Royal doorway is stage right (for mnemonic. Lobby, left; Royal, right.) The King and Queen are certainly not forced to go around and use the public doorway, from the Lobby, to enter their own Throne Room. The Royalty has their own doorway, that leads to the Royal Apartments. So, stage left goes to the Lobby, and stage right goes to the Royal apartments. The use of both wings is mandatory, as I point out in the Notes in the course of the play. The action dictates that both wings be used during throne room Scenes.

The Throne Room must have at least two arrases at an absolute bare minimum. Again, the action tells us this. Three would be fine. The arrangement with three would be one at the back, and one angled at each side. The one stage right should be close to the King's Throne, with the space between the near edge of it and the Throne the place where they enter to take their seats, Queen first. The far edge of that arras should be angled downstage, but not at enough of an angle to block the audience view. The arras stage left should be angled similarly, with the entry from the Lobby being between stage front and the arras edge.

The Nunnery Scene, where there is hiding behind arrases, is in the Throne Room. The arrases cannot be left out of the production, if you're going to do Shakespeare's Hamlet at all. For size, they must be large enough for two men to hide behind, side by side, and not be seen, at least not be seen by someone in the conceptual "room." It is correct that the audience, or some of them, can see behind the arras where Claudius and Polonius hide.

For exact arrangement, place the podium, with the thrones upon it, a distance toward stage right from center, and of course angle it so the King and Queen face the audience as much as possible while still speaking toward the persons who are stage left of them. The public, entering from the Lobby, approaches the King and Queen from their front. The King and Queen approach their thrones from behind, or beside them, and mount the podium on steps not available to the public. Do not put steps on the public side. That's if the podium is high enough to need a step up.

Overall, make the Throne Room look as gaudy as you can. It need not be tasteful. Garish, and vastly overdone, is how a Renaissance throne room always looks. Forget about "elegant understatement." Make the thrones as plush as you can, and tall. The King's Throne should be the more visually impressive of the two (and undoubtedly the less comfortable.)

Return: Scene 2 Setting Note

Scene 3

The Harbor.

Return: Scene 3 Setting Note

Scene 4

The Scene setting is the same as Scene 1, even down to being the same time of night, to within a few minutes.

Return: Scene 4 Setting Note

Scene 5

The setting is the cemetery, the cemetery of Elsinore Town.


Return: Scene 5 Setting Note

Scene 6

Polonius's office in the Castle.

Scene 7

The Throne Room.

Scene 8

Scene 9

Scene 10

Scene 11

Scene 12

Scene 13

Scene 14

The setting is the Elsinore Castle Chapel.

inside Kronborg Castle Chapel

Generally, the stage should be done as nicely as the budget permits, in chapel style. Wooden stands with some nice looking cloth on them, as arrases, shouldn't be too expensive in most cases. Two would be enough, four would be plenty, and they needn't be too big, no bigger than bed sheets. Just so it looks nice enough from audience distance. No ordinary production could replicate the actual interior of Kronborg Castle Chapel.

There must be a large cross on display. It has to be a simple Protestant cross, not a crucifix. Denmark, and Shakespeare's England, were both officially Protestant when Hamlet was in performance.

There must be a reproduction of The Last Supper. It must be positioned where the Claudius actor can't see it while he's doing dialogue with the Hamlet actor, but the Hamlet actor can. It's for Hamlet to look at when he says, "At supper."

Ditto a pair of cherubs. Same thing. They're for Hamlet to look at when he says, "I see a cherub that sees thee." Properly, cherubs are always in pairs, when used for decoration. These can be placed flanking The Last Supper. One cherub would be enough for the dialogue, tho.

Return: Scene 14 Setting Note

Scene 15

Scene 16

Scene 17

Scene 18

Scene 19

Scene 20

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