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On London's West End, 'Hamlet' With Human Skull

Actor Jude Law is appearing in London's West End as Hamlet, using a real human skull instead of a fake one.

The production bought the skull for $400 from a dealer in Salt Lake City.

Barry Edelstein, director of The Public Theater Shakespeare Initiative, says this is not the first time a real skull has been used in a production of the Shakespeare play.

"Some actors want to go for authenticity at all costs, and if that means having a real human skull in their hands when they are speaking to Yorick, they're going to do what they can to make that happen," he tells NPR's Melissa Block.

Edelstein says that sometimes having a real skull can make a real difference to the actor.

"It's very much like an actor in a film who's going to play a policeman, saying, you know, 'I want to ride around with some cops on the streets of New York for a couple of nights,' " he says.

But, Edelstein says, Shakespeare wanted the skull in Hamlet to be handled roughly, and Edelstein says he wouldn't want his own cranium to be knocked around for all eternity.

Still, that doesn't prevent people from donating their skulls to theater companies. The main donors: actors, Edelstein says.

"Theater people can be odd sometimes," he says.

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