Since 1950, Hofstra University's Department of Drama and Dance has an annual Shakespeare Festival, now the longest continuously-running Shakespeare festival in America. For many years a popular feature of our festival has been our Shakespeare tour, in which we bring reduced versions of Shakespeare plays to local high schools free of charge.
With COVID-19, that all had to change. Instead of bringing live Shakespeare to a handful of local schools, this year we are sending our work out to schools across America. I'm writing to cordially invite you to share our work with your students.
This Mortal Coil is a 90-minute film noir version of Hamlet, filmed entirely from Hamlet's perspective. Adapted by Maureen Connolly McFeely and directed by Jennifer Hart, the film features a cast of talented undergraduates from Hofstra's nationally-renowned Drama program.
This Mortal Coil is available free-of-charge at the following Web address:
I've attached some information from the adaptor and from the director about this remarkable, experimental version of Hamlet.
Thank you and enjoy the show!
Department of Drama and Dance
From Maureen Connolly McFeely, Dramaturg and Adaptor of This Mortal Coil:
Cutting any Shakespeare play to one hour is like cutting out a piece of my heart. Cutting HAMLET is like including part of a lung. My first attempt several years ago was "The Play's the Thing," which except for the Fortinbras plot, tried to follow the throughline of the entire play. This year, in the face of Covid restrictions, director Jen Hart suggested even further cuts - to create a screenplay that included only those scenes in which Hamlet appears. The prospect was painful. How could we do without Polonius's misguided theory of Hamlet's love madness, or Ophelia's heart wrenching madness, or Claudius's encouraging Laertes to slit Hamlet's throat in the church? But it turned out to be an inspired idea. Focusing only on what Hamlet knows, we realized, might more deeply engage the audience as Hamlet wrestles with the call to revenge. Thus we hope those who view "This Mortal Coil" will overlook what's missing and instead enjoy puzzling through Hamlet's struggles with him.
From Jennifer Hart, Director of This Mortal Coil:
A few notes regarding the film you are about to watch:
This film was based on the hypothesis that Hamlet's dramatic action can stand on its own as a film. Therefore, the film follows only Hamlet's action, removing many of the well-known scenes. We follow Hamlet through the halls, rooms and ramparts of Elsinore, and even on the ship to England. We make the discoveries of the play with Hamlet, creating the suspense of the Prince's plight and surprise of the plans that are laid for him. This has spurred many interesting conversations with the dramaturg, designers and cast- What does Hamlet overhear? What does he do with the information that he gathers? Is he constantly in action?
Conceptually, this film is constructed to have the sense of the Film Noir genre. There are many reasons for this-
A film noir usually follows the view of the protagonist- a man on a journey of truth. This is sometimes a less than perfect man on a mission to clear his name, or sometimes a detective (gumshoe) solving a mystery. Here, Hamlet is a combination of the two, struggling to find the truth and claim his throne. We utilized typical characters in the film noir- stricken and inquisitive hero, crime boss, femme fatale, innocent girl, henchmen, etc. to represent the characters in Hamlet. We also utilized film noir devices such as spinning newspapers, flashbacks, and voiceovers to connect our story.
Most importantly, we utilized the Film Noir genre to gracefully create a theatrical endeavor in a Covid-19 pandemic. Film Noir's black and white aesthetic allowed for continuity and consistency in film quality. In our makeshift soundstage, we shot footage of long shots, overheads and back shots to establish who is in a scene and where we are. Anytime we were shooting on our soundstage, we all wore masks and gloves. Hats, fog and shadows (which are all elements of Film Noir) were employed to cover masks. This also allowed for transitions into close up and medium shots of actors in scenes they filmed on their own in their rooms on campus.
We hope you enjoy the fruits of our efforts to present Hamlet in this very unique time in history.