by Bence Sarkadi 

Bence Sarkadi 1

In an article submitted to the Millstone in August 2013, entitled “Puppeteering Shakespeare”, I talked about the possibilities of adapting Shakespeare to the puppet stage. I pointed out the fundamental differences, as well as some common points, between the genres of the live theater and puppetry and attempted at presenting an overview of the specific tools of puppetry. I also discussed ways in which the live theater can make use of the methodology of the puppet theater when presenting a Shakespearean play.

In the present paper I would like to give the reader an insight into the actual workings of the puppet theater when dealing with a Shakespeare drama. This time I will focus on the process of adaptation and discuss some very practical questions a director/creator of the puppet theater is faced with when working on an adaptation. The basis for the analysis will be my own adaptation of Hamlet to the puppet stage, entitled “Re:Hamlet”.

While the aim of this essay is to provide an objective analysis of the process of creating an adaptation, such an analysis could not be completely neutral and thereby ‘correct’ even if it were performed by an impartial critic as opposed to the creator of the adaptation. As Jan Kott, one of the most influential Shakespearean scholars of the 20th Century and a great source of wisdom in Shakespeare studies says,

It’s virtually impossible for a director, and even more so for a critic to be ‘correct’. If someone wants to be ‘correct’, they must become a proof-reader and not a director or critic.[1]

In this particular instance, I stand as director and critic and even though all the key concepts of the production are either supported or deliberately questioned by setting them against the theories of scholars and observations of notable theater practitioners, it is impossible for someone in such a position to perform a completely impartial analysis of his own work. The point of the exercise, however, is not to assess the value or success of the production, or even to decide whether the concept of Re:Hamlet is in any way better than any other concept of adaptation, but to show how one particular system of translating Shakespeare’s text to a nonverbal medium can be applied in practice. Even if such an investigation cannot claim to be absolutely objective, it can and will aim to be thorough (considering multiple aspects of the method applied), diagnostic (examining the problems involved in applying this method) and authentic (providing a practical insight into the workings of the puppet theater). I sincerely hope that the readers of the Millstone will be as open to this investigation as they have been to my previous article.

 Adaptation as creative interpretation

Hamlet on the puppet stage

 What exactly are we are doing when we are adapting Shakespeare? It is Jan Kott again, who provides an explanation that may serve as a starting point for describing this process. In a recorded conversation with Charles Morowitz, a radical minded and immensely creative director of the theater, Kott makes a statement that addresses some very important aspects of adaptation:

One says to Shakespeare: thank you very much for providing us with this story, but we don’t really need you any longer as we are going off in another direction. In just the same way as Shakespeare might have said ‘thank you’ to Belleforest or Kyd or Holinshed or Boccaccio.[2]

Although Kott’s observations are generally very accurate, this time I believe he is exaggerating a little, even if only to emphasize a perfectly valid point. I will argue for the validity of his statement shortly, but first I would like to point out a very important problem with his interpretation of the process of adaptation. The fact is, the above description of adapting Shakespeare is applicable only as long as one considers himself at least as great, or even greater than Shakespeare. Shakespeare could easily say farewell to his sources because he only needed the stories they had written (or had themselves adapted from other sources), but he did not need their name and fame, that is to say all that is connected to a ‘brand name’.

It is quite obvious that in choosing to stage a Shakespeare play as opposed to, for example, a possibly similarly great Marlowe paly, we are jumping on the bandwagon. Shakespearean adaptations have enjoyed, and will probably continue to enjoy the attention of a much wider audience than productions of any other playwright. If we forget, for now, about the immense burden of expectations connected to a Shakespearean adaptation and concentrate only on the benefits of staging his plays, it becomes clear that we do need Shakespeare, not only for the stories his plays provide, but also for the ‘Shakespeare brand’, that is, all that his name means, and which makes a production appeal to the public more than, say, the ‘Ben Jonson brand’ or even the highly popular ‘Chekov, Shaw, Moliere or Ibsen brands’. This is not to suggest that there is no other motivation for staging Shakespeare than his name being a sure bet to bring in the audience. Shakespeare does speak to all of us and his works not only provide a source of learning about history, culture and the human psyche but they are also immensely entertaining. One should not forget, however, that the reason for producing an adaptation as opposed to an entirely original piece of art is precisely to create something that is innovative, but at the same time recognizably stemming from an existing, and in most cases, already successful work. The truth is that while thanking him for providing us with a story, we continue to need Shakespeare, as him being the most famous playwright of all time is at least one of the reasons for choosing one of his plays to adapt.

With this said, we should recognize that Kott does hit the nail on the head when he talks about “going off in another direction”.[3] Whether it is a literary genius rewriting a story or an average dramaturge, director or puppeteer transforming a play according to the requirements of another medium, what all adaptations will necessarily have to do is find their own direction. In the same interview, Kott says, “we have to force the classical texts to give us new answers. But to obtain new answers, we have to bombard them with new questions”.[4] These new questions will shape the direction a certain adaptation will take and define the answers one can get.

To be very specific then, adapting Hamlet to the puppet stage will require that we: (1) look for and find those elements of the drama which make it relevant for our time and social environment and which can lead us to a new direction for presenting the play; (2) define and follow this newfound direction which differs but also stems from the original in order to produce a creative interpretation of the work and; (3) in following this direction transform, reduce and emend the play, within the limits of recognizability, to render it suitable for the medium of the puppet theater. Based on these three steps three questions can be formulated. These questions are the following: (1) WHY (why is the adaptation justifiable and relevant); (2) WHAT (what is the new direction the adaptation will take) and; (3) HOW (how can puppetry serve the play and how can the play be suited for the puppet stage). These three questions have served as the backbone of the process of staging Re:Hamlet. As the focus of this paper is the process of adaptation, I will, through the analysis of the production, try to provide an answer to the third question.

How can puppetry serve the play and how can the play be suited for the puppet stage?

Puppetry, like every other performing medium, has its own set of tools and finding the ones most suitable for achieving a given effect will not only define the individual style, but ultimately the success of the final product. But how does one start working on an adaptation at all? Firstly, the director of the puppet theater, just as the director of the live theater or of a film, will have to decide where he wants to place the emphasis and how he can best reconcile the values of Shakespeare and the values of the performing medium. Just as in the case of the cinema where the director has to translate some, or even most of the words to pictures and action, the puppet theater will also need to create its own ‘screenplay’. As Syd Field, one of the greatest names in screenwriting today observes: “a screenplay is a story from play-script to screenplay told in pictures, and there will always be some kind of problem when you tell the story through words, and not pictures”.[5] The starting point for the ‘screenplay’ of Re:Hamlet was the understanding that the puppet theater, just like the cinema, has a unique ability to tell a story in pictures and action: to translate verbal poetry into visual imagery and movement.

But what is the reason for this unique ability? The answer is to be found in an area of theater studies concerned with the kinds of signs the art of puppetry uses to transmit its message to the audience: the semiotics of the puppet theater. According to Steve Tillis, a theoretician I have also quoted in my previous article, the puppet theater makes use of three signs: that of design, movement and speech. Tillis talks about the three signs of having equal importance in puppetry, this view, however, cannot account for the evident ability of the puppet theater to translate verbal poetry into visual imagery and movement. I believe that the puppet itself is primarily distinguished from other, non-performing, inanimate objects by the necessity of the signs of design and movement, while the sign of speech is only an optional constituent of the puppet. This hierarchy of signs in the puppet theater becomes more distinct if, in contrast, we look at how the same signs are applied on the live stage.

Although the three basic signs of design, movement and speech are also the basic constituents of the live theater, it is the order of their significance that distinguishes the two genres. While speech is only a complementary tool of puppetry, on the dramatic stage it is the spoken word that generally serves as the main channel of communication. At the same time, movement (of the actors) and design (of the make-up, costumes, props and scenery) are only optional elements that may become important means of communication in many cases, but are not inherently essential to a live theater performance. Any live stage performance can decide to omit the use of props, scenery or costumes and even movement, and build its communication exclusively on the sign of speech. Although the spectator of such a performance will surely benefit from the gestures and facial expressions of the actor and the atmosphere of the space in which the performance takes place, the event will effectively function as a theater play and an audio play at the same time. Such a performance can be recorded and published as an audio book without any editing, and will be fully enjoyable as such. Radio plays or audio drama presentations (performances created for the purpose of being listened to) are also examples of performances without the use of visual elements.[6]

With the essential constituents of puppetry being design and movement, a performance not based in visuality would lose its meaning in the puppet theater. It is just as impractical to imagine a non-visual puppet performance as a non-visual exhibition of paintings, a non-visual pantomime or a non-aural music concert.[7] Puppetry makes use of the capacity of the graphic or fine arts for expressing complex metaphors, allegories or entire stories through visual signs, and as such, it can produce creations of the fine arts. Design in the puppet theater, in the broader sense, includes not only the design of the puppet, but of the scenery and props, as well, and a finely sculpted head, a masterfully painted face or background or a skilfully sewn costume can easily have the expressive strength of a painting. But just as there is no sense in speaking about a painting without ever looking at it, there is no point in discussing a puppet performance without experiencing its visual signs. Without the sign of design, the puppet theater cannot exist.[8]

Movement is the other essential sign of puppetry without which the puppet theater becomes just as meaningless as without design. Puppetry, where movement gives life to design and therefore becomes an essential element of the meaning, is like dance or pantomime where movement is the meaning, in that neither of the three can exist without movement. Pantomime, in fact, is so close in its methodology to the puppet theater that Fijan, Ballard and Starobin in Directing Puppet Theatre declare that

Pantomime is the basis of all puppetry. It is the visual development of the story without words. A person whose hearing is impaired should be able to watch a puppet performance and understand the story because the movements the puppets make, the positions they assume, and their relationship to the stage are all clear and concise.[9]

Although pantomime does not, by definition, use any text in its performances while puppetry can and often does work with the spoken word, it is a fact that puppetry is based on movement more than on anything else. Fijan, Ballard and Starobin make the very important observation that

If words are necessary to explain the action, something is wrong with the blocking. If it hasn’t been said in pantomime, it hasn’t been said. Too many puppeteers rely on dialogue to tell the story when it should be apparent from watching the pantomime.[10]

The creation of Re:Hamlet was based on the understanding that puppetry can work most effectively by employing the tools of the graphic arts as well as those of dance and pantomime to translate verbal poetry into visual imagery and movement. One cannot, however, take all the metaphors, allegories and rhetorical structures in Hamlet, the 184 different types of figures of speech as defined and categorized by Henry Peacham,[11] and simply ‘draw a picture’ or ‘construct a choreography’ from each one. One needs to find suitable methods for the process of translation to the idiom of puppetry.[12] One such method was the use of a technique originally aimed at developing puppeteers’ ability to substitute words with non-verbal signs and borrowed from the teaching repertoire of the Ernst Busch Academy of Dramatic Arts in Berlin.[13]

The process starts out with a puppeteer performing a monologue or selected lines from a longer speech, for example part of the “O, that this too too solid flesh would melt” (I.ii.129-159) soliloquy from Hamlet. Whenever a puppeteer performs a text, it is of course the puppet that is performing. The puppeteer animates the inanimate object and gives his own words to the puppet, placing the puppet in the spotlight and himself in the background. For students of puppetry or actors new to the world of the puppet theater this in itself is immensely difficult, because one has to repress the natural urge to communicate feelings and thoughts through one’s own movements, gestures and facial expressions. Once all the metacommunicative elements of the scene are successfully given to the puppet, comes the exercise of eliminating the text. The actor now speaks only the first half of every line with the aim of expressing the same feelings, the same dramatic content with the puppet as before. When this is achieved, he continues with speaking only the first word of every line, then only the first word of every sentence. Finally, he will act out the whole scene with only the first and last lines of the monologue spoken.

This technique is quite useful when trying to teach students how the tools of puppetry can be effectively applied in translating the signs of one medium into the signs of another. It is, however, difficult enough even when the object is translating only a few lines. How can it work if the material to translate is an entire play? The answer is that the technique could be effective since the objective of Re:Hamlet was never to translate the entire play, as it is rarely the intention of any adaptation to use the complete, uncut text. Any version of the play prepared for any type of performance will be inevitably and intentionally different from the written text, and because of this, differences between adaptations will not only be defined by the visible differences in the interpretative media or by the various ways directors use scenery, lights, puppets or the camera, but also by the differences in the text of their screenplay. Speaking of directing Hamlet for the stage Trevor Nunn, former Artistic Director of the Royal Shakesepare Company and the Royal National Theatre and currently of the Theatre Royal, explains that “the cutting is virtually the production. What you decide to leave in is your version of the play”.[14]

This is obviously true for all those productions that use some version of the actual text, but in the case of a puppet adaptation which aims to make the most of its potential for translating verbal material into images and movement, it may seem that every single word, every sentence, every soliloquy or dialogue that has been translated to this other medium is effectively cut, since it will not appear as text in the performance. This, however, does not mean that the version we are left with is empty or even non-existent, the reason being that translation and cutting are not the same notions but different processes that can and should be applied consecutively. When the director of the live theater decides to cut lines, those lines are truly left out and will generally not appear in any form in the performance. The fact that only some lines, few lines or even no lines at all are spoken in a puppet performance, however, does not necessarily mean that those lines were cut. Cutting is part of the process of adaptation, but it happens before translation.

The director of the puppet theater will have to prepare a version of the text from which he can start working on the translation to the sign system of the adapting medium. This is what director Balázs Szigeti and I did: we prepared a text variant for Re:Hamlet containing all the elements we intended to include and omitting those scenes, speeches and dialogues which were not central to our interpretation. The version thus achieved was what we may call the script of the performance, a play-book similar to what any dramaturge or director of the live stage or the cinema would prepare for an adaptation. This script essentially kept the structure of acts and scenes (albeit with some rearrangement), it contained dialogues and monologues, and, had it been performed on the live stage, it would have made for a two-hour performance.

The final length of the puppet performance based on this play-book was just under one hour. What accounts for the shortening of performance time is the fact that the language of the puppet theater is more concise than spoken language, because it is able to express complex metaphors, sentences, even entire dialogues or speeches with a few images or movements. This is not to suggest, of course, that every single word of the script was translated to the idiom of puppetry without any loss of information. Even in the case of intralingual or interlingual translation (as described by Jakobson) there will be some loss of information as well as the inevitable addition of new layers of meaning due to differences in the source and target languages. In the case of intersemiotic translation, or translation to a nonverbal sign system, this will be true many times over, and thus, it would be an illusion to expect a perfect translation of the text. The puppet theater cannot metaphrase the text but it can paraphrase the experience, the impact, or the essence, thereby creating an instance of the work, rather than a mirror translation of the words. The most the puppet theater can strive for is to know and understand the text as thoroughly as possible; to find those elements of the drama that are presentable (and at times, presentable only) by the tools of puppetry; and to create an instance of the work that makes the drama relevant and thus, of interest to its audience. This instance of the play will never be completely accurate in its interpretation of the original, but if it remains faithful to the perceived essence of the work it may enrich the Shakespearean experience with something that will be worth the effort.

Producing a creative but still recognizable interpretation of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy through an adaptation that works by translating the drama to the sign system of a nonverbal medium had seemed quite an intimidating challenge for the creators of Re:Hamlet. Even with the understanding that it was not only the words but also the work, the play with its independent life, the cultural entity existing outside its text, the so called ‘Hamlet phenomenon’ that we would be working with, the first and most difficult task was letting go of the text without letting go of the meaning, or rather the essence of the text. For someone like Balázs Szigeti, who had directed and played the lead role of Hamlet in the live theater, having a performance without speaking any of the lines must have seemed unorthodox, if not straight insane. After all, what remains of Shakespeare if we take away his words? Charles Morowitz, who never produced a Shakespeare play entirely without text, nor does he ever mention such an intention, nevertheless provides an important insight as to what we might look for in Shakespeare, other than the text itself. He writes:

Language itself is no longer the plays’ essential ingredient. It is their metaphysic, their subterranean imagery, that means most to us today. We are interested in Hamlet, not because of what he says, but because of the way the character connects with our own 20th century sense of impotence and confusion.[15]

It is the images of the play, reinterpreted by each generation, and the associations connected to the story and the characters that we are looking for, and which have made Shakespeare’s plays new, exciting and thought provoking for over four centuries. These images and associations have been separated from the text, and live on as individual elements of our cultural heritage in a repository of motifs arts of all genres can and will draw on. This repository of motifs is what, in great part, constitutes the dramatic content of the play, and it is the ability of the puppet theater to express the dramatic content with using its own unique set of tools that served as the starting point for staging Re:Hamlet. Iconic motifs, such as the poison, the duel or the skull in Hamlet, for example, are images with connotations just as strong as those of the text. These iconic motifs are, as Maynard Mac explains in Everybody’s Shakespeare, “eloquent moments that his plays have etched on the whole world’s consciousness, moments that speak to the human condition as such”.[16] To illustrate one of the most “eloquent moments” he brings the example of Hamlet standing in the graveyard with Yorik’s skull in his hand, about which Szigeti observes that

Even though there is no textual indication of Hamlet ever taking Yorik’s skull into his hand, the picture of a pensive young man with a skull in his hand is just as much a part of our knowledge of the play as the words “to be or not to be”.[17]

Puppetry can make use of our recognition of these iconic images (regardless of whether they are actually in the text or only in our knowledge of the play), and thus, can stage certain textual or cultural images as actual, moving pictures.

To take a concrete example from Re:Hamlet, let us look at its treatment of the fact that Claudius is not only the murderer, but also the only living witness of his crime, a motif understood but unstated in the text of Hamlet. There is no direct textual reference to this fact, and even if the director of the live theater decided that the dual position of Claudius, effecting his reaction to the performance directed by Hamlet was important to emphasize, it would be very difficult to do so without adding some lines to the Shakespearean text to explain this idea. As the methodology of Re:Hamlet was finding and translating motifs, images and metaphors, whether explicit or implied, the puppet performance was able to make use of the opportunity to express something the reader of the text or the spectator of a live theater production would not immediately see.

After the mousetrap scene in Re:Hamlet, images of the actual murder of Old Hamlet are projected from the puppet Claudius’s eyes onto a white material, which, in a previous scene, had served as the body of Old Hamlet’s ghost. This, combined with sudden darkness and the only light coming from the king’s eyes, and the opening bars of the Commendatore aria from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, effectively expresses Claudius’s state of mind as he rises from his seat and gasps: “Give me some light: away!” (III.ii.269), and at the same time conveys the implied understanding that the memory of the murder only exists within Claudius’s mind, and when he sees the play he is confronted with this knowledge.

Another example of how puppetry can translate textual metaphors to visual signs can be observed in a scene based on these words, spoken by the Ghost in reference to Claudius: “know, thou noble youth, /
The serpent that did sting thy father’s life
/ Now wears his crown” (I.v.38-40). The word ‘serpent’ carries the strong connotations of evil and sin, which are obvious elements in Claudius’s personality, but ‘serpent’ is also connected to sexuality and lust (the snake itself being a phallic symbol); to fear (ophidiophobia being one of the most primal fears of mankind); to our general revulsion against slippery, slimy, wriggling animals; as well as to the identification of the venom of the snake with the poison of lies. This association becomes especially important since lies enter through the ears just as the lies of the Biblical serpent enter Eve’s ears, and just as the poison poured by Claudius enters the old king’s body through his ear. The character of Claudius, if played well, will evoke all these associations in the spectator of the live theater, but few will directly connect the image of the king lying about his sorrow over the old king’s death (I.ii), the image of the “incestuous” and “adulterate beast” seducing Gertrude (I.v), and the image of the stabbed king still trying to wriggle his way out of an obviously hopeless situation when he says “O, yet defend me, friends; I am but hurt” (V.ii.324) with the image of the serpent. Re:Hamlet works with trying to understand the core of these verbal metaphors, capturing the essence of each character’s personality and inner conflicts, and transforming them into material that can be presented on the puppet stage. When Claudius literally appears as a snake and seduces the mourning Gertrude into placing the crown onto his head with her very own hands, we are constructing a scene to which there is no direct textual reference, but to which the whole text serves as a testament. As Szigeti says,

We take a motif or metaphor and deconstruct it to its last bits, then reconstruct it in visual signs, showing more layers of meaning than we would expect. This is both different and more than what the live theater can do.[18]

Another scene that reconstructs the text as visual signs is based on what Hamlet tells his mother in the “closet scene”:

Look here, upon this picture, and on this,

The counterfeit presentment of two brothers.

See, what a grace was seated on this brow;

Hyperion’s curls; the front of Jove himself;

An eye like Mars, to threaten and command;

A station like the herald Mercury

New-lighted on a heaven-kissing hill;

A combination and a form indeed,

Where every god did seem to set his seal,

To give the world assurance of a man:

This was your husband. Look you now, what follows:

Here is your husband; like a mildew’d ear,

Blasting his wholesome brother. Have you eyes?

Could you on this fair mountain leave to feed,

And batten on this moor? Ha! have you eyes? (III.iv.53-67)


After this Hamlet goes on to further pronounce his mother’s guilt and shame in loving a murderer, and questions her virtue, even her judgment, to which Gertrude answers:

O Hamlet, speak no more:

Thou turn’st mine eyes into my very soul;

And there I see such black and grained spots

As will not leave their tinct. (III.iv.88-91)

There are two conflicts in this scene: one is between Hamlet and Gertrude, the other within Gertrude herself. As Re:Hamlet was, from the very first moment, designed as a one-man show (and the marionette technique used in the performance generally allows for the manipulation of a single puppet at a time), one of the basic methods of producing the screenplay of the adaptation was finding the inner conflicts of the characters. The most rewarding moments for puppetry are those points in the drama where a character is faced with a dilemma and has to make a decision. The more difficult the decision, the more interesting the scene will be, as it is in the case of Gertrude, who is in a truly impossible predicament. After marrying Claudius, probably out of love, should she suddenly throw away her happiness in the face of an unproven accusation of murder and be faithful to the memory of a dead man, someone she might never have truly loved, or defy her son’s pleas, warnings and allegations and try to be happy with a man who might or might not be a murderer, but because of whom she will surely loose her son? This is the kind of dilemma that can physically destroy a person, and it is this physicality of the situation that the puppet theater can work with.


In Re:Hamlet, Gertrude enters the scene and kneels for prayer in front of a black curtain. She stands up and reveals a gigantic portrait of her late husband behind the curtain. She begins dusting the picture frame and as she works, her hand snags on another black cloth on the other side, accidentally revealing another portrait, this one of Claudius. At first she only glances across at the second picture, trying to devote her full attention to the dead king’s portrait, but after a while she cannot resist going over to the other side, and she starts wiping the other picture. Now she not only cleans the frame, but rather tenderly, even lovingly strokes the picture itself. Suddenly the portrait of Old Hamlet tilts dangerously, threatening to fall off the wall. Gertrude hurries over to the picture and pushes it back in its place. The cycle repeats: she goes over to Claudius’s portrait; the first picture tilts; she pushes it back. But now, as she leans on the old king’s picture after wrestling it back into position, the portrait of Claudius tilts. As she starts toward it the first picture tilts again, and she is left in the middle with both gigantic paintings hanging in mid air, threatening to crush her. Unable to reach both pictures at the same time she takes a few tentative steps toward the picture of Old Hamlet, then stops, turns, and without looking back she goes to the painting of Claudius and secures it in its place on the wall. As she stands there panting, practically embracing Claudius’s likeness the late king’s portrait finally crashes to the ground – revealing behind it another painting of Claudius, identical to the first. Now the ever-intensifying music (In the Hall of the Mountain King from Grieg’s Peer Gynt) reaches its summit with a crash, and the scene ends with Gertrude collapsing beside the fallen ‘corpus’ of Old Hamlet while the two images of Claudius tower over her from both sides.

Is the entire dialogue incorporated in this scene? Certainly not word for word, but in essence, yes. The overpowering presence of the two paintings evokes the force with which Hamlet had demanded that his mother look at the pictures and had not allowed her to look away. The painting of the old king shows him the way Hamlet sees him: majestic in his armour and with his crown on his head. But the eyes reveal a kind of blankness, an expression that is nothing like Hamlet’s recollection of his father with “An eye like Mars, to threaten and command” (III.iv.57). This is the face of a man who does not fully comprehend the world around him, and is, thus, vulnerable to treachery and deceit. The portrait of Claudius is no less imposing in its appearance, and is far from the image of “A king of shreds and patches” (III.iv.102), as Hamlet sees him, but is rather a painting of an assertive man with a regal stature as beheld by Gertrude. But again, it is the eyes that reveal something more and, in this case something only Hamlet can see: there is something undoubtedly cunning and calculating in those eyes.

The three scenes described above are by no means a representation of the only way the puppet theater can work with a Shakespearean text, nor are they examples of ideal solutions. They are merely examples of possible ways of bringing together the worlds of Shakespeare and the puppet stage. The work of any creator or director of the theater, and not only the puppet theater, begins by taking a first step towards that “other direction” Jan Kott talks about, which in this case is the translation of verbal poetry into visual elements. All of the visual details work toward the interpretation of the text: images present in the given dialogue, as well as ideas and metaphors understood from other parts of the drama are transformed into visual signs. Although the number of possible directions is endless, without this first step one may never be able to transform Shakespeare’s plays from the two dimensions of the page to the three dimensions of the stage. As Morowitz puts it:

The director who is committed to putting the play on the stage exactly as it is written is the equivalent of the cook who intends to make the omelet without cracking the eggs.”[19]

P1480604Photos © Róbert Révész

[1] Jan Kott in: Charles Morowitz, Recycling Shakespeare (New York: Applause Theatre Book Publishers, 1991) 3.

[2] Morowitz 110.


[4] Morowitz 109.

[5] qtd. in Russel Jackson, “From play-script to screenplay” The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Film: Second Edition. Ed. Russell Jackson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. 16.

[6] See the complete BBC Radio Shakespeare, for example.

[7] I have used the word ‘impractical’ as opposed to ‘impossible’, since the latter would imply that a blind person, for example, could never enjoy an art exhibition, a pantomime, a dance performance or a puppet show, or that a deaf person could never appreciate a concert. There are numerous ways of offering involvement for the visually impaired in the visual arts, such as explanations, descriptions or even hands-on experience, while a deaf person may enjoy music by feeling rather than hearing the rhythm. I have performed for blind audiences, and according to their accounts they not only gained information from touching the puppets after the show, but also from the feel of air currents generated by the movements, the ’music’ of the wind playing on the strings of the marionettes and the pattering of the puppets’ feet on the floor. The fact remains, however, that while the live theater can choose to build on aural experience to communicate its message without needing further support, puppetry generally has to rely on visual signs as its primary channel of communication.

[8] This is true even in the case of object animation where there may be no apparent design to the performing object. Design, in the sense used here, does not necessarily denote the act of drawing, carving, assembling, painting etc. a figure, but rather consciously using an inanimate object to represent something other than itself.

[9] Carol Fijan and Frank Ballard with Christina Starobin, Directing puppet theatre step by step (San Jose, Calif.: Resource Publications, 1989) 17.

[10] Ibid. 17.

[11] Henry Peacham, The Garden of Eloquence, 1577 (London: British Library, Historical Print Editions, 2011)

[12] According to Roman Jakobson, “we distinguish three ways of interpreting a verbal sign: it may be translated into other signs of the same language, into another language, or into another, nonverbal system of symbols. These three kinds of translation are to be differently labeled: (1) Intralingual translation or rewording is an interpretation of verbal signs by means of other signs of the same language; (2) Interlingual translation or translation proper is an interpretation of verbal signs by means of some other language; (3) Intersemiotic translation or transmutation is an interpretation of verbal signs by means of signs of nonverbal sign systems.” (Jakobson, R. (2000). On linguistic aspects of translation. In L. Venuti (Ed.), The translation studies reader (pp. 113-118). London, United Kingdom: Routledge, p. 114) It is important to note that I have been and will continue using the term ‘translation’ in this third sense of the word, since it is precisely the “interpretation of verbal signs by means of signs of nonverbal sign systems” that I am referring to when I speak about the translation of a written text to the nonverbal sign system of puppetry.

[13] This is a method that, with some variation, I now use in my work as a teacher of puppetry. The technique had been explained to me by puppet director Ágnes Kuthy, graduate of Ernst Busch Academy of Dramatic Arts. The version presented here is my own.

[14] Margaret Jane Kidnie, Shakespeare and the Problem of Adaptation (London: Routledge, 2009) 35.

[15] Morowitz 59.

[16] Mac 2.

[17] Szigeti 2011

[18] Szigeti 2011

[19] Morowitz 3.