Rachel Stewart

Rachel Stewart

Shakespeare Institute
Doctoral researcher

Contact details

PhD title: Performing Madness in Hamlet, 1980-2010
Supervisor: Professor Michael Dobson
PhD English
Hometown: Wokingham, Berkshire


  • BA (Hons) English Literature, 2011.
  • MA Shakespeare and Theatre, 2012.


My thesis explores the progression of theatrical representations of “madness” in major professional London productions (and RSC productions that have visited London) of Hamlet from 1980 to 2010, investigating how representations of madness reflect and challenge social perspectives of the times. The level of knowledge and views about mental illness underwent a considerable change between 1980 and 2010 as mental hospitals were gradually replaced by the Care in the Community system, medication became safer and side effects were reduced, guidelines were put in place for diagnosing and treating metnal illnesses through the Mental Health Act of 1983 and the Mental Capacity Act of 2005, the prevalence of mental health in the media increased and the growth of the internet allowed greater awareness to be spread. My thesis explores how and why the changes in attitudes towards mental illnesses that have occurred as a result of this have affected practitioners’ decisions regarding the theatrical treatment of madness in Hamlet and how these decisions have been received by audiences. This includes Hamlet's and Ophelia’s madness and the staging of the Ghost. Although I will refer to a range of productions, the focus is on four productions which took place roughly ten years apart: one from 1980, two RSC productions directed by Ron Daniels in 1989 and Steven Pimlott in 2001 and the National Theatre’s production from 2010 directed by Nicholas Hytner. A brief exploration of the Renaissance definition of madness, therefore of what madness is likely to have meant to Shakespeare and his contemporary audiences, bookends this research.