Mr Bruckner as Claudius, Mrs Henke as Gertrud, Johann Brockmann (sitting) as Hamlet, Mss Döbbelin as Ophelia. Berlin, 1777/78. Copper engraving by Daniel Chodowiecki, 1778. © Deutsches Theatermuseum München
Since its appearance on stage 400 years ago William Shakespeare's Hamlet has not lost of its fascination and timelessness for both theatre artists and audiences. It is without any doubt the most performed drama in theatre history. The human being and its relations are its subject. But it is also a play about theatre. When performed for the first time verifiably in 1602, London was a theatre metropolis. English actors brought the play to the European continent. With their activities the professional German theatre starts.
The exhibition was first shown in Munich and will open in Düsseldorf on October 26th (running through to April 26th 2015). It is based on the long-term research of the Düsseldorf Theatre Museum and follows Hamlet's traces through German theatre history. The joint efforts of both theatre museums - supported by the German Shakespeare Society - underline the importance of theatre and the documentation of the intangible art of theatre in Germany.
Hamlet is the part all actors dream of and it is an artistic challenge at the same time. It holds an immense mass of lines and a wide range of ways to interpret the character. The list of leading actors resembles a Who is Who of theatre, but it also offers surprises when directors (German as well as foreign guests) cast "untypical" actors in terms of age and appearance. Actors like Johann Brockmann, Josef Kainz, Gustaf Gründgens, Maximilian Schell up to Ulrich Wildgruber, Klaus Maria Brandauer or Bruno Ganz give just an idea of the complexity and the countless ways of interpretation of the play and its title part.
Even people who have never been to a theatre do know Hamlet. Parts and pictures of its plot can be found all over in our every day life. Adaptations in film and other media, comics, mangas even picture books transport the image of the Danish prince and give an example for the unbroken impact of the theatre myth.
German speaking readers and audiences are surrounded by numerous translations, which often are fashionable for some time and sometimes even form visual and listening habits for generations to come. With all these impressions the exhibition opens up a large field of questions and options.
As theatre serves as the seismograph of time which is as Hamlet says "out of joint ", the exhibition follows different interpretations (up to now there are more than 90 different German translations) and staging concepts from the 18th century up to now. Current productions of Leander Haußmann, Volker Lösch, Jan Klata or Luc Perceval will be contrasted by productions of the 18th century or staging concepts of the 1920s up to the 1990s by Max Reinhardt, Gustaf Gründgens, Karl Heinz Stroux, Peter Zadek, Hans Günther Heyme or Jürgen Gosch. They give insights into artistic decisions at different times.
The play offers the chance, to learn more about theatre as well as the parts we all play in everyday life. The reflection of the artistic means of the theatre contributes to the education of both present and future audiences. A translation in English will be provided for foreign visitors.
Sein oder Nichtsein - Hamlet auf dem deutschen Theater - The exhibition will be accompanied by a publication by the well-known German Henschel-Verlag. Editors Claudia Blank and Winrich Meiszies are responsible for the Munich and the Düsseldorf theatre museums. Further contributions were made by renowned theatre researchers and museum practioners as well as German Shakespeare-experts. The publication focuses on Hamlet on the German stage in the 17th and 18th century as well as on extraordinary actors like Gustaf Gründgens, Fritz Kortner or Ulrich Wildgruber. A pictorial theatre history accompanied by an extended commentary pictures details of German theatre history. Experienced education specialists give information about dealing with Hamlet in school.
The book is available at the shop of the Theatre Museum Düsseldorf or through book trade for EUR 18, 95!
Concerning the Exhibition at Munich
Article (newspaper) in Süddeutschen Zeitung of 2014 April, 25.