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Kenneth Branagh: Corpsing

Following a performance as Hamlet at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford one evening, Kenneth Branagh was approached by a fan. "You were so emotional!" the man enthused. Branagh, however, was less pleased with his performance. "There is a sword fight," Branagh later recalled, "and the night before I had had a few drinks--it was the Heineken Hamlet, the hung-over Hamlet--and the sword fell apart in my hands, and I started to laugh..." So laughing was the problem? No: "I was crying," Branagh explained, "but they weren't the right tears!"

["Corpsing," a form of hysteria in which an actor breaks into uncontrollable fits of inappropriate laugher at serious moments, has plagued many careers. Corpsing has plagued many careers: "Ooooooh! Dorothy Discipline needs to sprinkle some of her fairy dust in here!" Kenneth Branagh once cried in a crazed female voice during a radio version of "Hamlet," sending the entire cast into a corpsing fit. (Branagh and Dame Judi Dench were also once kicked off the set during Ibsen's "Ghosts" because of their helpless giggling.) And Regis Philbin also had a case of corpsing: "I did it in the middle of a news event in the early sixties. There was a train wreck in the Alps. I went on and said, 'Well, there was a train wreck--ha-ha-ha-ha!'"]

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