Reading the intro to the Arden 3 ed of Hamlet yesterday (as I get ready to teach next week), I was reminded that the first performance of the play for which we have clear evidence was on board a ship off the coast of Africa in 1607. We assume it had been played in London before that — it had already been printed, in two different versions, in 1603 and 1604 — but we don’t have records of those performances. What we have is a note in Captain William Keeling’s journal, on board the Red Dragon, dated 1607 September 5th, “we gave the tragedie of Hamlet.” The ships were anchored off what is now Sierra Leone for six weeks, trying to re-assemble a fleet. They also played (some version of) Richard II during the same month.
A strangely resonant beginning for the most famous play in the language…
You mention in your most recent entry that swimming was considered in “exotic practice” in 17th cent. England, and this post makes me wonder what the attitude towards the ocean in general was.
It also reminds me of the performance of Antony and Cleopatra we saw in the Shakespeare and Islam class, where a small pool with, I think, a few toy sailboats in it occupied the front of the stage. The class talked about how the pool symbolized the ocean and may have served to point out the cultural distance between Antony and Cleopatra, as well as Antony’s obligations to both Rome and Cleopatra and Egypt. In the same way Shakespeare for a New Audience decided to have that small pool on stage, could Hamlet’s performance at sea have been Shakespeare’s idea? Might it have related to the play’s setting in Denmark and distance from England?