Hamlet Act I (Paper Project)
Hamlet explores what happens when people operate with insufficient information. In the play, reality is often obscured or unknown, and the characters are caught not knowing who is and isn’t loyal to whom. Hamlet especially suffers from this lack of information, especially in his relationship with the ghost. Hamlet doesn’t know if the ghost is truly the image of his father back from the dead, or the imaginings of a madman. His uncertainty here results in the major conflict of the play - should Hamlet be loyal to the king, or to the ghost. The lighting design for Act I brings the audience into this world.
All line numbers referenced refer to those found in The Folger Online Shakespeare Edition.
The stage is represented by a rectangle, upstage right there is a circle marked tower with three xs in front of it. Downstage Center there is another x with an arrow pointing to it from upstage. The arrow is labled "Ghost Special". In the lower left hand corner are three arrows pointing up and left at the Downstage left corner of the stage. These arrows are labled Deep Blue Box Booms
The first scene of the play opens in the dark, not only in the literal sense of the scene being at night and the characters not being able to see other characters, but also in a metaphorical sense, where the darkness represents how the truth is obscured, and the characters don’t answer the question of who they are directly; instead, they identify where their loyalties lie. The people on stage are both literally and figuratively in the dark.
I briefly considered the idea of having only the tower lit, standing stalwart and alone in contrast to the sea of darkness engulfing the rest of the stage. Ultimately, however, I wanted lighting that would suggest obscurity across the whole scene, not the sharp contrast between light and dark that a spotlight on the tower would suggest.
Instead I made the whole scene extremely dim. The front lights are a cool white, perhaps even verging on blue, and are just bright enough to define outlines of the individual characters on stage. The primary illumination for the scene comes from the Box Booms which are a very deep blue. The goal is to have the audience only vaguely able to make out what's happening on stage – just as the characters can only vaguely make out what's happening in the play.
All of the actors carry torch practicals, which not only set the time-period of the play; they also create a warm flicker on each character, making each one an island of light in the darkness. The most important feature of the torches used would be their flicker, and ideally I would like them to have a moving center of light to create the shadow jitter you get with a real flame.
The other major piece of this scene is, of course, the ghost. I designed this imagining that the director and costume designer are envisioning the typical white flowy supernatural ghost. The ghost special is white with a green tinge, and backlights the ghost to give them an otherworldly glow. If possible, I’d love to make the costume itself glow, but that would obviously be a conversation with the costume designer. I might also try and hamper the color rendering on the ghost’s front light to make them look pallid.
As the characters talk about the sun rising at the end of the scene, the fronts start getting warmer, and the groundrow on the cyc warms up while the top remains deep blue. The scene looks like the beginning of the day where the horizon has just begun to warm up, but it is still clearly dark outside. The cue would start somewhere around line 165 and have a reasonably long fade time so that it completes somewhere around line 180.
A group of 4 xs on stage. Hamlet stands stage right, and two unnamed people stand stage left. There is an arrow pointing from downstage at the person in center stage labled "King Special".
A group of 4 xs on stage, Hamlet has moved to center stage, and is pointed at by the king special, while three people stand stage right.
Scene Two takes place inside the castle, in the royal court. This room is bright and warm – in contrast to the previous night. The scene opens with the king talking, and talking, and talking, about war and the state of the kingdom and other matters of varying relevance. He is very much both the center of power and the center of attention, so he’s got special on him with a hard edge. While the night before truth was nebulous, here in the center of the royal court the king’s word is indisputable as truth, so the characters are not in the same place of confusion as the guards we checked in with in Scene One.
This indisputable truth feels wrong to hamlet, who is physically separated from his family on stage, which is emblematic of the emotional separation he feels as he is still mourning his father while everyone else is moving on with the king. While those who are with the king stand in his circle of light, hamlet, in his separation, stands outside of it.
Hamlet not only stand outside the king’s special, but also has a special all to himself. Hamlet’s special isn’t meant to be visible as the king’s is, rather it’s meant to give the sensation of Hamlet being in a pool of sadness. The special has heavy diffusion to blend into the rest of the lighting, and is just bright enough to be seen without being obvious. The light should subtly communicate to the audience that Hamlet is in a different “space”.
At the start of the “O that this sullied flesh would melt” monologue Hamlet walks over to where the King was standing and recites the monologue. During that transition the king special snaps to the gloomy color of the Hamlet special and the rest of the wash goes out, putting Hamlet in the same physical space as the king, but isolating him emotionally. The snap (as does the monologue) puts us inside Hamlet’s head, where the drama that we saw before has been multiplied vastly. When Hamlet’s friends come back on stage we snap back to the was as they remove us from his head.
Scene Three is carries over the warm wash from Scene Two because we’re still in the castle. We stay in the wash for the whole scene because there are no super heavy emotions that need to be brought out. Because this is taking place in someone’s bedroom, not the throne room, I want it to feel a bit less grand, so I would take out the extreme stage left and stage right columns, so only the center of the stage is in use.
The stage from act 1 now has a castle upstage right.
Scene Four takes us back to the Guard Tower and uses mostly the same lighting as Scene One. The lights in the castle windows are warm and come on when the trumpets are sounded to draw the audiences attention. The excess light in the castle compared with the dearth of light in the foreground shows the king’s broad material pleasures, which Hamlet discusses.
Two people downstage, there are two crossing lights pointing at them from downstage, one is marked "Ghost film FX" and the other is marked "Hamlet Up Light". There is also an arrow marked "Ghost Special" poining down from upstage.
Hamlet stands in the same place as in the last picture, but he no longer has the special on him and the ghost has disapeared. Horatio and Marcellus are upstage left.
Scene Five is functionally a continuation of scene four, so we start in the same lights that we ended Scene Four in to give the audience a sense of continuity. A forest breakup sneaks in to move us away from the castle. This is the scene where the question of reality truly comes to the forefront – as we see the ghost speak for the first time, which finally sets the plot in motion.
Hamlet and the ghosts both have uplights which makes the scene feel unintuative and uncomfortable. While Hamlet’s uplight is a neutral white, the ghost’s is a warm white that moves to orange with the ghost’s rage. I would also have a Film FX or similar device to provide a moving texture on the ghost’s face to create a sense of intensity and boiling fury.
When Horatio and Marcellus come back on, the uplights snap off as we have left the ghost’s reality, and returned to the normal forest lighting as it was in the earlier part of the scene.