Monday, June 22, 2009

Alas Poor Yorick

One October day, I was in a Walgreen's and saw a rather convincing replication of a human skull. It was a Halloween decoration made out of foam. Now I had been searching for a skull to sit next to my copy of Hamlet on my bookshelf for years but had never found once that I was satisfied with. Usually they are too cheesy and don't look real or are made of soft rubber and squeak. A skull with eyes also wasn't appropriate either. This one looked like it would work and so I purchased it and made my way home.

Feeling a little macabre and wanting to have some fun, rather than carrying my purchase down the street in the bag and packaging in which I had purchased it, I stopped at a trash can and discarded everything except the skull. I then proceeded to carry it down the street under my arm trying to act as nonchalant as possible and watch people reactions.

As I passed a woman walking her dog, she stopped and asked me "Is that Del Close?"

This was more than the reaction I was looking for.

Del Close was a comedic actor who taught and directed for the Second City. It is a well known Chicago theatre legend that he requested that upon his death his skull be donated to the Goodman Theatre to play the role of Yorick in all future productions of Hamlet. Sadly, while this part of the legend may be true, an alternate skull was given and he never go the chance to play the part.

The woman who stopped me was a former actress and knew Close's story well - even the part about the old switch of the skull. We had a fun chat and each of us continued on our way.

What is this obsession with the human skull that actors have? Does it relate purely to the iconic scene in Hamlet or is it something more? Slings and Arrows features a character who, like Close, requests that his skull be used in productions of Hamlet after his death. NPR recently reported on Jude Law's request for a real skull in his current production of Hamlet playing on the West End. Share with us any other stories you have about real human skulls playing Yorick or any of your ideas as to why there is this obsession with real skulls rather than props skulls?

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