It’s All Fun And Games Till Somebody Loses An Eye

Laurence Olivier Statue at London's National Theatre photo via Hulk, Smash! on Flikr

Fortunately, nobody did but it did put a stop to their play. A production of Hamlet by Second Age in Cork’s Everyman Theatre was halted when Conor Madden, playing the eponymous Dane, was wounded in the final duel.

The last act of Hamlet culminates in a duel between Hamlet and Laertes, the latter using a poisoned blade (the dastard). Dramatically, the duel takes the form of three passes or bouts.  In the final one,  Hamlet is first stabbed by Laertes whose sword he then grabs and turns upon him to deliver a fatal cut. Both then die, although Hamlet lingers on long enough to tie up a few loose ends. The production of this duel is notoriously complex and it is hardly surprising then that the audience did not realise initially that one of the players had really been cut.

Notwithstanding that the blades are blunted, theatrical weapons are made from real metal and capable of doing serious injury. In this case the actor fortunately received a relatively minor cut under one eye. However, the show did not go on as he did require medical attention. Marty Rea will be filling in as Hamlet for a few nights until Conor Madden is able to return.

Conor Madden, until recently starring in Hamlet photo courtesty Second Age Theatre

So, let us learn the lesson and learn it well. Masks are compulsory in real for fencing for a reason.




An interesting condensed take on the duel with the great Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet (on the right) from 1899. This clip is over a century old. Note that they are using rather nice Italian grip épées along with daggers in their left hands. The spectral chicken floating in the middle of the picture is, possibly, a reference to the ghost of Hamlet’s father or, more likely, the Pathé Films watermark.

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