“Anger or irritability or excitement, she said she didn’t mind any of that,” said the Irish actress Aoife Duffin, who plays Ophelia. “The one thing she said she doesn’t want in the room is indifference.”
Negga, for her part, didn’t hold back. “I drew a lot on my anger and frustration grappling with his character, and wondering just what I was doing,” she said.
Taking the stage in both Dublin and Brooklyn, Negga joins a grand line of female Hamlets dating back to 1741. Over the years, the greatest actresses of every age have tackled the role, from Sarah Siddons in the 18th century to Charlotte Cushman in the 19th; in 1900, the legendary Sarah Bernhardt became the first actor, of any gender, to play Hamlet on film.
Why have so many women clamored to play an indecisive, often rage-filled young man? “It’s the best part in drama,” said Tony Howard, an English professor at the University of Warwick and author of “Women as Hamlet: Performance and Interpretation in Theater, Film and Fiction.” “And as actresses have become more and more powerful in their own right, it’s become obvious that they should play that part.”
That’s not to say Negga is taking the opportunity lightly. “I think a lot of actors who reach a certain pinnacle of success in their career, generally men, and often white men, will sort of go, ‘Do I get my Hamlet now?’,” Farber said. “There’s nothing about Ruth that takes any of this for granted.”
When Negga first began working on the production, Farber said, “we kept stumbling over the pronouns. I said to Ruth, ‘I don’t think we’re changing this into “Hamlette,” or stepping into the gender neutral of it.’ It wasn’t a negating of her femininity or a bolstering of a masculinity. It was simply Hamlet.”