Hamlet vs. Child Actors
My new Harvey Weinstein-related column in Taki’s Magazine, “The Overlord of Oscar Bait,” argues that, just as Hollywood should no longer import chimpanzees to appear in movies like Bedtime for Bonzo because they can now be digitally simulated by putting Andy Serkis in a motion capture suit, we should consider banning professional child actors in the fairly near future. Perhaps acting ought to be a profession for adults to choose freely, rather than for children to be pressured into by their stage moms and dads? For example, you aren’t allowed to be a professional football player until roughly age 21, so maybe child acting could be restricted to amateur theatricals up through, say, age 18.
One of the funnier aspects of Hamlet is that in the same astonishing scene (II, ii) in which Hamlet delivers his “quintessence of dust” speech for the ages, Shakespeare, speaking through Hamlet, goes on to indulge in some extremely topical and local satire regarding the London stage fad c. 1600 for grown-up plays (including a couple by Ben Jonson) performed by all-child troupes. (This exchange is often cut to shorten the run-time of productions of Hamlet.)
Shakespeare, the theatrical businessman, is particularly annoyed that Jonson’s plays for child actors satirize adult actors (such as Shakespeare’s own mostly grown-up troupe):
Hamlet — Do they [i.e., Globe players] hold the same estimation they did when I was in the city? are they so followed?
Rosencrantz — No indeed they are not.
Hamlet — How comes it? do they grow rusty?
Rosencrantz — Nay, their endeavour keeps in the wonted pace: but there is sir, an aery [nest] of children, little eyases [eaglets], that cry out on the top of question, and are most tyrannically clapped for’t: these are now the fashion, and so berattle [i.e., abuse] the common stages – so they call them – that many wearing rapiers [i.e., gallants] are afraid of goose-quills [i.e., the satire of the boys’ playwrights] and dare scarce come thither [i.e., to the public playhouses].
Hamlet — What, are they children? who maintains ‘em? how are they escoted [i. e., paid]? Will they pursue the quality [i. e., the profession of acting] no longer than they can sing [i. e., before their voices change]? will they not say afterwards, if they should grow to common players – as it is most like, if their means are no better – their writers do them wrong to make them exclaim against their own succession [i.e., the profession of public actor, to which they must shortly succeed].
Also, in Tom Stoppard’s inversion of Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, it is pointedly implied that the impoverished mostly adult actors troupe that comes through Elsinore is not above — times being what they are — pimping out the youngest boy in their troupe for special performances.