This humble rubber skull made its appearance in the Shakespeare Society’s spring 2015 production of Hamlet. In Act V, Scene 1, the Danish prince took up the object, the remains of a deceased court jester just exhumed by a gravedigger, and began his often misquoted speech: “Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him, Horatio.” (Some people insist that Hamlet says, “I knew him well, Horatio.” Wrong.)
The challenge for actor Danielle Zarbin ’16, who was contemplating the skull in this production? To be sure not to squeeze it too hard, lest it collapse in her hand.
The skull is just one of myriad props that reside in the basement of Shakespeare House, the society’s Tudor-style headquarters and theater. The group is the College’s oldest continually operating student organization, founded in 1877 by Henry Fowle Durant himself. Hamlet opened this spring on Shakespeare’s birthday, April 23.
“Shaker” Katie Suchyta ’15, director of Hamlet, says she surprised people when she took on the challenging play, which can run up to five hours long in traditional productions.
Suchyta had three texts of the play from which to choose. “You’ve got Quarto 1, which some call the ‘bad’ quarto, because it was either a knockoff by the guy who played Marcellus, and he just wrote it down from memory—because of course all his [own] scenes are perfect—or it was a traveling production. We don’t really know,” she says. “And then there’s Quarto 2, which is much more complete, and the First Folio edition, which was completed after Shakespeare’s death. I took Quarto 1 because it’s very streamlined in its storyline. Hamlet is much more a man of action and decisive in Quarto 1. I mean, it’s Hamlet, so it’s never easy to handle, but it does make the order of events clearer.”
Shakers tend to stay connected to one another and to the Bard after Wellesley, notes Erin Nealer ’15, president of the society, which currently numbers 38 members. Notable alumnae include Ellen Fitz Pendleton 1886, the College’s first alumna president. “Her retirement party was here,” says Suchyta. “She dressed up as Queen Elizabeth.”