Hair and Hamlet

In a recent post I made a comparison between Hair and Shakespeare’s work. Driving to work the following day I got to thinking about cross-fertilisation. I wasn’t around the Big Apple when the seeds of Hair were sown but I do know that it “was nurtured by Joseph Papp’s NY Shakespeare Festival” (

But to what extent was Hair deliberately referencing Hamlet? Is the resonance in some of the characters names, e.g. Claude (Claudius) and Berger (Hamburger/Hamlet) accidental? “The rest is silence” appears in both Flesh Failures and in Act V of Hamlet – these are Hamlet’s dying words, and are meaningful in both contexts. It’s certainly no coincidence that the words of Hamlet’s “What a piece of work is man” speech (Hamlet II, ii, 115-117) are reworked into the Hair book.

Columnist Gary Shapiro in the New York Sun (23 June 2005) writes: “Steven Cohen, a former Public Theater producing director, said that when "Hair" was being made, its creators heard the line "what a piece of work is man" in a production of "Hamlet" downstairs” (sic). Is it that simple – or is there more to the Shakespeare influence? I for one should like to know.

Reactions invited from those with nothing better to think about today.

Lancaster, UK



This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 31st, 2006 at 1:11 AM and filed under Miscellaneous, Uncategorized. Follow comments here with the RSS 2.0 feed. Skip to the end and leave a response. Trackbacks are closed.

3 Responses to “Hair and Hamlet”

  1. LilacAmy11 said:

    I don’t know for sure, but there are several parallels (Claude’s indecsion — “Where Do I Go? is pretty much the theme of Hamlet, etc.) which makes it seem like more than just a coincidence.


  2. Martin said:

    Dunno if anyone is following this thread but wanted to add three more Shakespearian links: in no particular order.
    The first is in ‘Flesh Failures’ again. Set behind the main track are underlying lyrics straight from Romeo and Juliet – where the dying Juliet says:

    Eyes, look your last!
    Arms, take your last embrace! and, lips, O you
    The doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss

    The second is the song “Where do I go?”. As Amy pointed out, the uncertainly here is close to Hamlets’s famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy.
    And the third: when Berger and Clause wake up after the trip, Berger (who must have been paying attention to Claude’s words) says, "Face reality, Shakespeare". Guerss these two were fairly erudite hippies.
    In his book Rebels with Applause: Broadway’s Ground-Breaking Musicals (Heinemann), Scott Miller points out that "in both the Broadway and off-Broadway scripts, a scene is included in which Claude even makes Sheila act out a scene from a screenplay Claude has been writing about the tribe, just as Hamlet writes a play about the murder of his father by his uncle". I’ve never seen the book for either of these so can not comment on this.
    Martin Eayrs
    Lancaster, UK

  3. John Herzog said:

    Both Jim and Gerry we’re trained classical actors before meeting and writing “HaiR”. Not hard to make the connection in the show.

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