I have read this in Maugham's "Theatre":

She wrote her letters at a satinwood desk, seated on a gilt Hamlet stool.

   [Source (PDF)]

What does it mean?

I have googled it and found tens of images and no formal definition. As there are so many various images, with 3 legs and 4 legs, with and without back, high and low, I really cannot understand what exactly does it mean, what kind of chair it is and why it is called so, what is its relation to Hamlet.

  • I’m voting to close this question because no evidence has been supplied to counter @Stuart F's claim that this is merely a brand name. Google search results strongly bolster that claim. Sep 18, 2021 at 12:02

2 Answers 2


Curule. Among the Romans, a sort of folding stool without a back, conveyed in a chariot, which only the chief magistrates were permitted to sit upon; sometimes called "Hamlet stool". A. C. Passmore; Handbook of Technical Terms Used in Architecture and Building and Their Allied Trades (1904)

Curule images (Google)

The photographer's first duty is the production of a likeness...and the face and clothed figure of the client should be considered before the Grecian pillar or the Hamlet stool.
Hundreds of books have been written, and endless controversies waged round the subject of hamlet's mentality. There can be little doubt about his state of mind, for a youth spent among Hamlet stools would make anyone dotty. J. Effel; "With a Portraitist in the Studio," Bulletin of Photograpy, p.708 and p.710 (1922)

In the drawing room there were occasional chairs, settees, Juliet seats, Hamlet stools. L. W. Peat; Grandma Did it this Way (1950)

This sort of undifferentiated recycling of stock material from a theater's warehouse was stoutly opposed by the romantic theorists of the early twentieth century and by the realists who followed them, both of which envision a stage in which every element would be selected to contribute to the total artistic vision of each production and not utilized again. Nevertheless, custom and economy made this a vision unrealizable for most theaters. Even at the end of the nineteenth century, Nemirovich-Danchenko, Stanislavsky's codirector at the Moscow Art Theatre, reports that the sort of properties Wilkinson might have call "old-acquaintances" had by no means disappeared. Moreover, audiences had become so familiar with certain of these that they, like certain actors associated with particular types of roles, brought with them certain expectations with each new appearance. Thus, Nemirovich-Danchenko reports, a certain tall lamp with a yellow shade became associated with "cozy love passages," while a curule chair in a "Gothic/Renaissance style," was in fact referred to by at least one director as the "culture chair." Marvin Carlson; Shattering Hamlet's Mirror: Theatre and Reality

Hamlet seat

Front and Side Elevations of a Hamlet Seat P. N. Hasluck; The Handyman's Guide: Essential Woodworking Tools and Techniques (Figure caption in the "Drawing Room Furniture" Chapter) (2011)

Inlaid Hamlet Seat, upholstered in rich silk, £2 9 6 Illustrated ad in Pall Mall Magazine (1899)

  • 1
    Good research, and almost certainly the sense used in OP (though rare nowadays). Sep 18, 2021 at 15:51
  • 2
    Wikipedia has, for 'curule-seat' 19th-century dealers and collectors termed these "Dante Chairs" or "Savonarola Chairs", with disregard to the centuries intervening between the two figures.... The [famous] photo of actor Edwin Booth as Hamlet poses him in a regal cross-framed chair, considered suitably medieval in 1870' Sep 18, 2021 at 16:08
  • 1
    It looks like the curule seat, stool, or even bench (a love-curule for two??) has stayed around and just changed name from period to period.
    – DjinTonic
    Sep 18, 2021 at 18:46
  • 1
    Wikipedia also has the photo of Hamlet in a Hamlet seat mentioned by @EdwinAshworth. Sep 19, 2021 at 13:10
  • @MichaelSeifert Indeed, however the caption has curule chair. I added the two citations for Hamlet seat because the illustrations use that name. In other words, if we can't link the name Hamlet to the furniture, we're back at square one, with Hamlet sitting on a curule coincidently made by Hamlet furniture, Ltd. Clearly all that sitting by the play's character rubbed off on the stool/seat :-)
    – DjinTonic
    Sep 19, 2021 at 13:47

If we search for the word "stage" in the novel (Theatre) using the PDF document linked in the question, there are 70 instances. The name Hamlet is mentioned 8 times:

  • seated on a gilt Hamlet stool
  • Over the chimney-piece was an old copy of Lawrence's portrait of Kemble as Hamlet
  • "I wonder if I'm too old to play Hamlet. Siddons and Sarah Bernhardt played him.”
  • "Don't be idiotic, Charles. I wouldn't play the Queen. I'd play Hamlet." etc.

I haven't read the story but it appears to be centred around an actress whose ambition is to play the role of Hamlet on stage. It's my assumption that the gilded stool refers to a rather expensive-looking stool the theatre used as a stage prop in the play Hamlet. In this instance the "Hamlet" is a (proper) noun adjunct acting as an adjective.

On Google images I searched for "19th century gilt stool" as the story was first published in 1937. It is possible that the stool in question resembled the one below; it is British-made and certainly looks theatrical.

The renowned auction house, Christie's, describes the following piece of furniture:

an English green-painted and parcel-gilt stool [partially gilded stool] possibly early 19th century, after a design by Thomas Hope


  • 1
    @Flot2011 maybe being a theatrical actress, Julia wanted that piece of furniture from the stage production of Hamlet in her bedroom, after all the stool was gilded in gold....
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 18, 2021 at 11:10
  • 1
    The brand name theory looks far more likely. Sep 18, 2021 at 12:01
  • 4
    Might be worth noting that the Russian version of the book explicitly states, in a footnote, that the Hamlet stool was a stool which had been part of the stage props in the play "Hamlet" Sep 18, 2021 at 12:36
  • 5
    @EdwinAshworth Perhaps it's best to retract your vote to close the question. It's been closed once, then the OP edited and provided context and evidence of research. I like to think my theory and idea sparked DjinTomic's excellent and by far better answer.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 18, 2021 at 17:22
  • 3
    And I said it was very unlikely a theatrical actress in the 1930s would have purchased a modern chair in steel and plastic for her bedroom. So, what did I do? I searched for a type of stool that was theatrical-looking and guess what? It's very similar to DjinTonoic's answer , curule stool/seat, which happens to support the image I posted. No, I shan't delete it because where do you think the name Hamlet came from? :)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 18, 2021 at 18:18

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.