Posthumous acting — Donate your body to science…but your head to theater

By Abraham Piper


When polish composer André Tchaikowsky died in 1982, according to his wishes, his body was donated to science, but his head — his skull, in particular — was donated to Shakespeare.

From Wikipedia

Tchaikowsky died of colon cancer at the age of 46 in Oxford.In his will he left his body to medical research, and donated his skull to the Royal Shakespeare Company, asking that it be used as a prop on stage.

In making this cranial contribution, Tchaikowsky hoped that his skull would be used  in Hamlet as Yorick, the dead jester whose skull is exhumed by the gravedigger in Act 5, Scene 1…

For many years, no actor or director felt comfortable using a real skull in performances, although it was occasionally used in rehearsals. In 2008, the skull was finally held by David Tennant in a series of performances of Hamlet at the Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon.

After the use of Tchaikowsky’s skull was revealed in the press…the RSC announced that they would no longer use Tchaikowsky’s skull (a spokesman said that it would be “too distracting for the audience”). However, this was a deception; in fact, the skull was used throughout the production’s West End run, and in a subsequent television adaptation broadcast on BBC2.

Director Gregory Doran said, “Andre Tchaikowsky’s skull was a very important part of our production of Hamlet…”

(via Futility Closet)