These photographs show the actors John Gielgud (1904–2000), his close friend Peggy Ashcroft (1907–1991), Leslie Banks and Marian Spencer performing in the acclaimed 1944 production of Hamlet, directed by George Rylands and staged at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket in London.
- John Gielgud as Hamlet isolated at the Danish court
- John Gielgud as Hamlet, Marian Spencer as Gertrude, and Leslie Banks as Claudius
- John Gielgud as Hamlet and Peggy Ashcroft as Ophelia
- John Gielgud holding the skull in the famous graveyard scene
The renowned classical actor Sir John Gielgud was most famous for his melodious voice, likened by Alec Guinness to a ‘silver trumpet muffled in silk’ (Blessings in Disguise (Glasgow: Fontana, 1986), p. 103). Gielgud played Hamlet more than 500 times and, alongside Lawrence Olivier, he became one of the touchstones for 20th-century actors taking on that coveted role. His first Hamlet at the Old Vic Theatre (1930) was the youngest in memory – full of emotion, loathing and Oedipal tension between mother and son. Gielgud went on to play another youthful Prince of Denmark, under his own direction, at the New Theatre in 1934; then on Broadway in 1936; at Elsinore in 1939; at the Haymarket in 1944; and on tour in East Asia soon afterwards, playing his last Hamlet in Cairo in 1946.
The 1944 Haymarket Hamlet
Many agreed with the critic James Agate that Gielgud’s performance in the 1944 Haymarket production was ‘the best Hamlet of our time’. A Guardian review praised his unmatched ‘grace and dignity’ in portraying the Prince as a ‘gentleman’. It said ‘No other actor … can make so just an enchantment of the lines’, but felt that the production lacked ‘the lightning flash … the tempest or the terror’ that are also vital to the play (L H in The Guardian, 1944). Gielgud himself later admitted that, when acting at the Haymarket, ‘he found little pleasure in [his] favourite part of Hamlet – feeling confused and uncertain after so many previous productions with different directors’ (John Gielgud: An Actor’s Biography in Pictures (1952), p. 79).
- Full title:
- John Gielgud Archive. 1945. Cuttings and photographs relating to the Haymarket productions of Hamlet and The Duchess of Malfi, Lady Windermere’s fan (also Theatre Royal, Haymarket, Gielgud directing), and the productions of Hamlet and Blithe spirit.
- Photograph / Image
- Cecil Beaton
- © The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby's
- Usage terms
- Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial licence
- Held by
- British Library
- Add MS 81547
- Article by:
- Elaine Showalter
- Interpretations of ‘madness’, Tragedies, Gender, sexuality, courtship and marriage
The character of Ophelia has fascinated directors, actresses, writers and painters since she first appeared on stage. Here Elaine Showalter discusses Ophelia's madness as a particularly female malady, showing how from Shakespeare's day to our own Ophelia has been used both to reflect and to challenge evolving ideas about female psychology and sexuality.
- Article by:
- Will Tosh
- Interpretations of ‘madness’
Will Tosh examines early modern attitudes towards madness, and how these informed Shakespeare's varied depictions of mental illness in Hamlet, King Lear and other plays.
- Article by:
- Kim Ballard
Shakespeare's plays contain both prose and verse. Kim Ballard discusses the playwright's selective use of blank verse, and considers several cases where the choice of prose or verse helps us understand class, character psychology and mood.