Yes, Larger Men Can Play Hamlet

Hickory Community Theatre

Hickory Community Theatre

Shea King

In Act 5, Scene 2 of Hamlet by William Shakespeare, Hamlet is described by Queen Gertrude as “fat, and scant of breath.” This comment comes during Hamlet’s fight with Laertes. I even checked the Folio, Hamlet is fat. So, why aren’t there more fat Hamlets?

People seem to be very particular with which kind of actors play which parts and they seem to always comment on someone’s race or gender when they want to bring into question the legitimacy of someone’s performance. So, I ask again. Why aren’t there more fat Hamlets?

I do not want to hear about how most Shakespeare productions feature cuts and edits. Or, that I am misinterpreting the text. I have lexicons to y’all, so come at me. I want a fat Hamlet, and I want him now. I want him on Broadway, BBC, and front and center at my favorite Shakespeare institution, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. I want a fat Hamlet because once we get a fat Hamlet, who slays as the Prince of Denmark, then we can have more plus sized people taking the lead for once. 

Imagine a theatre season full of diverse sizes, shapes, colors, and creativity. I’m tired of seeing portly sidekicks and main roles for those of us with a little more padding, being designated to plays directly dealing with someone with ‘weight issues,” or coming to terms with who they are after being tormented for being bigger. I’m done with that. It is bad enough we have the Kardashians on every single possible inch of social media telling us we aren’t good enough until we completely strip our bodies of anything resembling nature.

I am still struggling to find plus size actors getting there chance to really kill it as a central role that is not strictly written to be bigger. It’s just obnoxious at this point. Dramaturgically, Hamlet is fat. Hamlet looks like me actually when you collect all the different comments about his appearance in the Folio. He is beautiful. He was beautiful before Jude Law and Andrew Scott brought him to life on stage. Hamlet was beautiful before Benedict Cumberbatch made me ugly cry in front of my friends when I saw that production. He will be beautiful when someone who looks like me pulls that skull from the grave to speak of a long lost friend. 

Hamlet is fat and we need to let him be fat because kids like me need to be reminded every once and a while that I can do anything just like other kids can. I can do it without hating my body. I can be trusted to bring love and life to a character I adore without having to doubt myself because someone skinnier is also auditioning. We can rely on our ability to create meaningful connections and give grounded resonate energy to an imaginary world. Times are changing. 

Elle Woods could and should be black, we can have same sex productions of Oklahoma, we finally get trans representation on Broadway. Now give me a fat Hamlet. Obviously I am being hyperbolic with some of this. But if diversity in the theatre was where it could be, I wouldn’t be able to write about how mad I am at straight white men, not having enough gays, and my desires for a big fat Hamlet acting their asses off about the question to live or die. We could be better if we could just be able to live close enough to our inner child that loves to play for the joy of playing, instead of buying into a system that is benefiting from our insecurities with one hand, and taking away our funding with another.

Diversity breeds brilliance and I want more brilliance in our medium, and a fat Hamlet.