WESTWORD: Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s Hadley Kamminga-Peck on Its Female Hamlet
A tragedy centered around a woman fighting for political power may give audience members a stinging sense of déjà vu, but the play in question is not about the 2016 presidential election.
Rather, it’s the Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s production of Hamlet, which makes the bold choice of portraying the titular character as a woman.
This artistic decision has garnered strong opinions as well as coverage in the New York Times. Dramaturg Hadley Kamminga-Peck, who wrote her dissertation on Shakespeare and his contemporaries, has been immersed in the iambic pentameter and history of Hamlet since last summer, when director Carolyn Howarth approached her on the heels of 2016’s festival. In the middle of the play’s run, which ends August 13, Westword caught up with Kamminga-Peck to talk about how Hamlet’s sex impacts Shakespeare’s tragedy.
Westword: What prompted the idea to have a female Hamlet?
Hadley Kamminga-Peck: It was actually watching the summer Olympics last year. [Carolyn Howarth] was watching the female fencers, and she said she was just absolutely riveted by watching these incredible women demonstrate their athletic prowess and grace and strength. And it made her think of Hamlet, because she already had the play in mind.
Westword: What did you glean from your research into other versions of Hamlet that cast a female Hamlet? How do a female Hamlet and other female-cast characters, like Laertes and Polonius, affect the play as a whole?
Hadley Kamminga-Peck: A female Hamlet appeared in 1741, so quite a while ago — but those first female Hamlets, from 1741 through pretty much the early twentieth century, were all women who played the role as men. In 1920, there’s a silent film that has a woman playing Hamlet as a princess who was raised as a prince for reasons of political succession. Really, it’s not until thirty to forty years ago that you start to see women playing the role as women. It’s still a relatively new thing to have Hamlet played as a woman. As far as I can tell, we’re the only production to have done Hamlet, Laertes and Fortinbras all as women.