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Fat Ham(let): What to know about Hamlet (1599-1601) to understand Fat Ham (2021)

William Shakespeare wrote Hamlet between 1599-1601. A profound and unsettling revenge play, it had numerous precursors that Shakespeare almost certainly would have been aware of, found in Scandinavian, Italian, Spanish, and Arabic folklore and literature. This story about a person at terrible odds with his family and his legacy is an old one, and it keeps shapeshifting in remarkable and heartbreaking ways. Now we have James Ijames’ Fat Ham, its own death-defying piece of theater magic. How is this play similar and how is it different from its "source" material?  

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The Protagonist • In both plays we have a musing, melancholy main character, dressed in all black, mourning the surprising death of his father and the quick remarriage of his mother to his uncle. In Shakespeare’s play that character is Hamlet, and in Fat Ham, it’s Juicy.  
The Speeches • Both Hamlet and Juicy speak directly to the audience, pouring out their hearts with words. They both ponder the genius of humanity with this famous speech:  

What a piece of work is a man!  
how noble in reason!  

how infinite in faculty! in form  
and moving how  
express and admirable!  
in action how like an angel!  

in apprehension how like a god! 

The Ghosts • In both plays, our thoughtful and perplexing lead character is urged to act by the ghost of his dead father. And then, the main character interrogates himself and us about mortality and murder.  


The Setting • Fat Ham takes place at a wedding celebration at a Southern backyard barbecue. Hamlet is set in the freezing and echoey halls of Denmark's vast palace, Elsinore.     
The Context • Instead of the royal takeover that happens in Hamlet, in Fat Ham we have an expensive bathroom makeover and a new lead barbecue pit master.  
The Characters • All the characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet show up in Fat Ham, but with different names and some different relationships: 

Hamlet Fat Ham
Hamlet, the protagonist, or main character Juicy
Claudius, Hamlet's uncle, and murderer of his uncle Rev, pig farmer and pit master, Pap's brother
Hamlet's father Pap, Juicy's father
Gertrude, Hamlet's mother Tedra, Juicy's mother
Polonius, advisor to Claudius  Rabby, Tedra's friend
Laertes, Polonius' son Larry, Rabby's son, a Marine
Ophelia, Polonius’ daughter and love interest of Hamlet Opal, Rabby’s daughter, one of Juicy’s only friends 
Horatio, Hamlet’s friend    Tio, Juicy’s cousin 

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Hamlet is famously a tragedy and ends with a wrecked Horatio on a stage littered with corpses. But in Fat Ham, Ijames poses the question: can we tell a different story? Watch to find out! 


See Fat Ham on stage at Seattle Rep, playing April 12 - May 12 in the Bagley Wright Theater.



Dedra D. Woods, Reginald André Jackson, and Taj E.M. Burroughs in rehearsal for
Fat Ham (2024).
Reginald André Jackson, Felicia V. Loud, Timothy McCuen Piggee, Dedra D. Woods, and Taj E.M. Burroughs in rehearsal for
Fat Ham (2024).
Photos by Sayed Alamy.