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  • Date:

    1980 (made)

  • Credit Line:

    Given anonymously

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

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'.

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.


1980 (made)

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.


Height: 13.0 cm approximately, Width: 15.0 cm approximately, Depth: 20.0 cm approximately

Object history note

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.

Descriptive line

Human skull used as the skull of Yorick in the production of Hamlet starring Jonathan Pryce, Royal Court Theatre, 1980.

Labels and date

3, 4, 5 Hamlet

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

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

Skull stage property
Anonymous gift
Museum no. S.151–2007

[March 2009]




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