If you know nothing about Hamlet — William Shakespeare’s most famous character and one of the most well-known fictional characters in English-language literature — then you at least know what third-person pronoun to use to profess your ignorance.
But this summer, Santa Cruz Shakespeare is challenging even that most fundamental identification.
For one summer, in at least one California city, Hamlet is a woman.
To be clear, that does not mean that SCS’s new production of “Hamlet” features a female actor pretending to be a man. It means that Hamlet, in the context of the play, is a woman, played by a woman.
At first glance, you might think that the big news coming out of Santa Cruz Shakespeare is the company’s historic change in venues, from the beloved, redwood-shrouded Glen on the campus of UC Santa Cruz where its mother company Shakespeare Santa Cruz operated for more than 30 years, to its new site adjacent to DeLaveaga Golf Course.
But as seismic as that change is, the company’s initiative with “Hamlet” is every bit as significant.
The casting of actor Kate Eastwood Norris in the role of Hamlet is the result of a policy initiated by SCS artistic director Mike Ryan for gender equity in his acting company. Bringing in equal numbers of men and women for a Shakespeare season necessarily means that the male-heavy casts of Shakespeare’s plays will have to endure a gender make-over.
In the new “Hamlet” — which opens July 29 as the second play in the new season — the title character isn’t the only one flipped to female. Polonius, the father of the star-crossed Ophelia, will be instead’s Ophelia’s mother. And Hamlet’s old pals Rosencrantz and Guildenstern will also be re-imagined as women.