The Brief Reign and Death of King Claudius, a play within the text of Shakespeare's Hamlet

Edited by Charles Adams Kelly and Dayna Leigh Plehn

Excerpted from an interview conducted at University Commons in Ann Arbor

UC: Congratulations on your recent book award. Out of over 5600 books entered from all 50 states and 33 foreign countries, only nine received the designation of Outstanding Book of the Year. This is a remarkable achievement. What was your first reaction when you got the news?

Dayna: My first thought was that a lot of people had given the project their best effort, and as it so often does, luck played a role. We recognized that developing a “plot element grid” to enable stage directors or text researchers to more efficiently work with the 4000-line text of Hamlet would be a major effort, and we did not know if the idea had already been tried and perhaps abandoned.

Charles: Sir Michael Boyd, Creative Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, was in Ann Arbor to receive an honorary degree from the University of Michigan. Dayna carefully drafted a note describing our concept and seeking Sir Michael’s encouragement. I had a few minutes with Sir Michael, and was fortunate to be able to deliver Dayna’s note and a prototype layout. Sir Michael’s lengthy note of encouragement has altered Dayna’s academic life. Immediately, she developed the Grid and extracted the narrative of King Claudius. Subsequently, she extracted the Hamlet sub-texts of Ophelia, Queen Gertrude, and Horatio, which were used in the U of M Theater Department’s Performing Shakespeare course Winter Term, 2014.

UC: Turning to the book itself Dayna, you graciously said that a lot of people had done a lot of things well, some of whom are named on the award. Please tell us how it all came together.

Dayna: Just as Rose Jaffe, a U of M Art student was completing her senior year, we recognized that the century old Hamlet woodcuts by John Austen might be the perfect complement to Rose’s watercolor talent. This proved to be the case, and having both a significant text and artwork worthy of a special edition, we had the pleasure (and sometimes stress) of going through the cycles of planning for design and production. The Bessenberg Bindery, now a part of the Thomson-Shore book manufacturing operation in Dexter, Michigan, was our choice for a binder, and at this point one final piece of good luck occurred.

Charles:It certainly did. The Thomson-Shore people asked if they could investigate how much of the design, art reproduction, and general appearance of the limited addition they could capture in a regular hard cover edition that could be offered for 20% of the price of the award winning premium edition. We were deeply gratified at the result and are pleased to offer an edition of an Outstanding Book of the Year award winner at an attractive price.


The Brief Reign and Death of King Claudius is available for purchase from the Howland Research Shop in two distinct binding formats: