August 9, 2002

Act V

A group of inmates at a high-security prison rehearse and stage a production of the last act—Act V—of Hamlet.

Edgar Evans. Photo by Suzy Gorman, courtesy of Prison Performing Arts.

Shakespeare may seem like an odd match for a group of hardened criminals, but Jack Hitt found that they understand the Bard on a level that most of us might not. It's a play about murder and its consequences, performed by murderers, living out the consequences. The program these prisoners were involved in is run by Prison Performing Arts.


Host Ira Glass surveys various productions of Hamlet being staged around the country: At community colleges in Brooklyn and Honolulu, on a professional stage in Boston, and at a Shakespeare camp for kids in San Francisco—where all the scenes are death scenes. (3 minutes)
Act One

Act V, Scene 1

Jack Hitt begins his story about a group of prisoners at the Missouri Eastern Correctional Center who are rehearsing and staging a production of Hamlet. The man who plays Hamlet gets in character by recalling times he's wanted to hurt people, like the crime that sent him to prison, in which he shot two people and left them for dead. Big Hutch, who plays Horatio, explains how it would work if you set Hamlet in a prison, and why it would actually improve a flaw in the plot. You can see video clips of the Prison Performing Arts performances online. (30 minutes)
Act Two

Act V, Scene 2

Jack Hitt's story about a prison production of Hamlet continues. He discovers that almost all the actors draw on their pasts in one way or another to get into character. And some of them have committed crimes even worse than Jack had imagined. (22 minutes)