Skull thumbnail 1
Not currently on display at the V&A

Skull

1980 (made)

This is the human skull used as Yorick's skull in the Royal Court Theatre's acclaimed production of Hamlet directed by Richard Eyre, starring Jonathan Pryce as Hamlet, which opened on the 2nd April 1980. The skull was signed by many of the members of the cast and production team before it was offered as a raffle prize, presumably by the theatre.

The most popular image of Hamlet is that of the solitary figure of Hamlet holding Yorick's skull, despite the fact that when Hamlet holds it he is with the gravedigger and Horatio. The incident comes from the graveyard scene in Act V scene 1, where Hamlet takes Yorick's skull from the gravedigger and says to Horatio: 'Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy.' That moment has somehow become emblematic of the play, and is often misquoted as: 'Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him well'. The critic Francis King, writing in The Sunday Telegraph, 6 April 1980, noted that when Pryce picked up the skull: 'it wasn't with the usual wistful regret for human mortality but with a childish glee'.


object details
Category
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
CONTAINS HUMAN REMAINS
Brief Description
Human skull used as the skull of Yorick in the production of Hamlet starring Jonathan Pryce, Royal Court Theatre, 1980.
Physical Description
Human skull containing one tooth, with bone loss around the left eye socket and left cheek area. Signed on the cranium in blue felt tip pen by cast and members of the production team.
Dimensions
  • Approximately height: 13.0cm
  • Approximately width: 15.0cm
  • Approximately depth: 20.0cm
Marks and Inscriptions
'Kevin Quarmby' (Player); 'Will Knightley' (Guildenstern); 'Simon Chandler' (Laertes); 'David Neville 1980' (Rosencrantz); 'Colum Gallivan' (Marcellus); 'Jude K' (Jude Kelham, ASM); 'Harriet Ophelia' (Harriet Walter); 'Jill Bennett' (Gertrude); 'Geoffrey C. with love' (Geoffrey Chater, Polonius); 'Rick Cottan xx' (Richard Cottan, Reynaldo); 'OSRIC' (David Sibley); 'ANNA'; 'Katrin x'; 'Bo' (Bo Barton, SM); 'ELPHICK' (Michael Elphick, Claudius) (Signed in blue felt tip pen on the cranium. The signatures are those of members of the cast and production team.)
Gallery Label
3, 4, 5 Hamlet 1980 Hamlet has been interpreted in many different ways since it was first performed around 1599. In Richard Eyre’s production at the Royal Court, the part of Hamlet’s father was cut and his words spoken by Hamlet, a decision that strengthened the suggestion of Hamlet’s madness. The photograph shows Jonathan Pryce as Hamlet Play by William Shakespeare, 1600-1 Royal Court Theatre, London Photograph Gelatin-silver print By John Haynes (active from 1965) Given by the Royal Court Theatre Museum no. THM/273 Prompt book showing cuts to Act 1, Scene 1 Given by the Royal Court Theatre Museum no. PLAYS SHA PROMPT Skull stage property Anonymous gift Museum no. S.151–2007 (March 2009)
Credit line
Given anonymously
Object history
Used as the skull of Yorick by Jonathan Pryce as Hamlet in Shakespeare's Hamlet, Royal Court Theatre 1980. Jonathan Pryce is depicted holding the skull in the photograph accompanying the Observer Reviewcriticism by Michael Coveney, 4 May 1980, when the skull appears to have had more teeth. Some were obviously lost during the production.
Summary
This is the human skull used as Yorick's skull in the Royal Court Theatre's acclaimed production of Hamlet directed by Richard Eyre, starring Jonathan Pryce as Hamlet, which opened on the 2nd April 1980. The skull was signed by many of the members of the cast and production team before it was offered as a raffle prize, presumably by the theatre.



The most popular image of Hamlet is that of the solitary figure of Hamlet holding Yorick's skull, despite the fact that when Hamlet holds it he is with the gravedigger and Horatio. The incident comes from the graveyard scene in Act V scene 1, where Hamlet takes Yorick's skull from the gravedigger and says to Horatio: 'Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy.' That moment has somehow become emblematic of the play, and is often misquoted as: 'Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him well'. The critic Francis King, writing in The Sunday Telegraph, 6 April 1980, noted that when Pryce picked up the skull: 'it wasn't with the usual wistful regret for human mortality but with a childish glee'.
Collection
Accession Number
S.151-2007

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record createdAugust 2, 2007
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