Hamlet and the Knock-knock joke

You know Shakespeare invented the knock-knock joke. In  Act 1 Scene 1, “Hamlet” begins with “Who’s there?” Made me wonder if “Hamlet” was one long knock-knock joke without a punch line.

You know, in those days, there were not any knock-knock jokes going around. Until:

Barnardo: “Knock knock.”

Francisco: “Who’s there?”

Barnardo: “Eliza.”

Francisco: “Eliza Who?”

Barnardo: “Eliza Bet You Can’t Be Queen.

Francisco: “I may not be Queen but I sure can sing.”

Barnardo: “Sing?”

Francisco: “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?”

Okay, you didn’t get it. Shakespeare did, and so did Freddie Mercury.

This “Who’s there?” asked by Francisco, the guard on the turret, sets the whole mood and theme of the play. The play is about who is who and what is what and getting it all sorted out.

Do you have a favorite knock-knock joke?

“Hamlet” and the Opening Scene

Shakespeare could have opened “Hamlet” with the ghost of his father and his demand for revenge. After all, “Hamlet” is a revenge tragedy. A play where revenge drives the plot. An eye-for-an-eye kind of thing. A play where the audience asks, “Will the main character do it? Will he get away with it?” Shakespeare had done it before with “Titus Andronicus”. But he wasn’t satisfied with just another revenge tragedy.

Instead Shakespeare has more irons in the fire than just revenge. He begins “Hamlet” with two simple words. “Who’s there?” Those words tell us that there are more things in the play than just getting even. It is about identity. It is about Hamlet finding out just who he is.

An opening scene in Shakespeare is like an opening act for a concert. It gives the audience a taste of what’s to come. It’s Joan Jett opening for The Who. It foretells what the is isn’t and what the is-not is. Sometimes it’s obvious what’s to come. Sometimes it’s not. Then you have to listen hard. Here’s some opening scenes.

“The Tempest”: Miranda needs a boy friend..

“Julius Caesar”: Not everybody likes J. C.

“Macbeth”: Don’t hang out with witches.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream”: One good Puck deserves another.

“Othello”: Iago does not like Othello.

“Twelfth Night”: Cross-dressing is in.

“As You Like It”: Cross-dressing is in some more.

“Romeo and Juliet”: This is the Hatfields and the McCoys Italian Style.
Later there’s a balcony scene.
Juliet. Romeo, Romeo, whereforth art thou?
Romeo: I’m down here.

“King Lear”: Cordelia does love her Daddy.

“Richard II”: It’s my throne. No, it’s my throne.

“Henry IV Part 1”: Let’s party hardy.

“Henry IV Part 2”: What do they see in this Hotspur anyway?

“Henry V”: It’s time to kick some French butt.

“All’s Well That Ends Well: What does she see in that guy anyway?

“Anthony and Cleopatra”: Don’t play with snakes.

“Richard III”: It is the winter of my discontent that I am not king. But, hey, I can fix that.

See what I mean. Easy peasy.

“Hamlet” and the Dark and Stormy Night

Blow, blow, thou winter wind! Thou art not so unkind as man’s ingratitude. As You Like It. Act 2, Scene 7

Act 1. Scene 1.

“Hamlet” begins. It was a dark and stormy night. A ghost amucked about. Think of all the stories that begin with a dark and stormy night. Let’s see.

There’s “The Shining”. No, that starts with snow. How about “The Great Gatsby”? No.

“King Lear” does have a dark and stormy night, but it’s not till later in the play.

“The Tempest” starts with a storm on the sea. “Macbeth” starts with night. There you go. You put the two plays together and you definitely have a dark and stormy night. With witches.

“Hamlet” could have started the way “Anna Karenina” does. You know the quote about happy families. “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” But it didn’t. One thing is for sure. “Hamlet” is not about a happy family.

“Great Expectations” doesn’t start with a dark and stormy night. But it’s late in the afternoon, and Pip feels like it is a dark and stormy night when he runs into an escaped convict.

Jesus was born on a dark and stormy night. You think not. Look, you have a wicked king. He sends his troops into Bethlehem to kill all the babies in town. If that isn’t a dark and stormy night, I don’t know what is.

Talk about dark and stormy, how about Good Friday. It was definitely dark and stormy that afternoon. We all know how that turned out on Sunday. It’s like Annie sang, “The sun’ll come up tomorrow. You can bet your bottom dollar.”

Even Scarlett O’Hara knew about tomorrows. After all, she closed the movie, “Gone With the Wind”, with “Tomorrow is another day.” ‘Course she was stating the obvious. Tomorrow is always another day. ‘Cause it ain’t today. If it’s not today, it has to be another day. I think what Scarlett was trying to say was that there is always Hope. Hope with a capital H. Except for Hamlet.

You know Shakespeare was breaking that Elmore Leonard rule. Don’t start a story with the weather. But look at all the writers who do. Hemingway does in “A Moveable Feast”. “And then there was the bad weather.”

Everybody forgets the second part of that rule. If you do start with weather, put a ghost in your story. Works every time. Just take a gander at how many times Edgar Allan Poe used it. You’re going to need all your fingers and your toes to count up the times.

Will Shakespeare sure knew how to start a story. Take Macbeth. There may not be ghosts, but there are witches. Three of them, if I remember right.

I know you’re saying that “Hamlet” starts off with a dark and cold night. I am here to tell you that it might as well be a dark and stormy night. When there is a foul mood about, you’ve got a dark and stormy night.

Now on with the play. It’s Act 1 Scene 1. In one of the turrets of Elsinore Castle is a guard named Francisco. He may not be able to see Russia from his house but he sure can see Sweden. And down the way from the Swedes is Denmark’s enemy, Norway. Standing there, watching, Francisco shivers, says to himself sarcastically, “Nice weather we’re having, Francisco.” The church bell in the distance tolls midnight. “Where’s Barnardo?”

Next week we’ll find out where Barnardo is, whoever he is. Till then, sayonara or the Danish version of adieu.

Do you have a favorite dark and stormy night scene in a movie, novel, story or play?

Hamlet and the Scene of the Crime(s)

All that glistens is not gold. Merchant of Venice Act 2. Scene 7.

Hamlet’s world is no sunny Italy. It is nary the world of color and flowers and sun. Nor is it the lands of comedy and romance and song and spring, glorious spring. Hamlet’s world is the world of snow and ice. It is the north. A north that calls to mind the bleakness of the films of Ingmar Bergman. It is the dark, brooding landscape of Elsinore, home to the Danish King.

It’s a castle, this Elsinore. A great stone castle. Three of its walls face the sea, guarding against an invasion by sea. Across the Oresund Strait faces Sweden. Just down the way Norway threatens.

It is a castle, this Elsinore. Not a palace but a castle. If it were a palace, it would be luxurious and designed for comfort and showing off. No, it is a castle which makes it a fort that can be easily defended against the young Fortinbras, better known as Norway.

It is a castle, this Elsinore where six murders are executed. A great stone castle. The home of a king of Denmark. Though it must be a medieval fortress, it is also a home.

Think about your home. How comfortable you are there, comfortable to be yourself. If you were a king lodged in a fortress-like castle, you would have tapestries hung on the cold stone walls. Tapestries of the history of your family’s battles, a history of the great kings of the past. Maybe a tapestry of the latest defeat of a Fortinbras some years back.

In each room of this great stone castle is a large fireplace, the fires roaring to keep the cold winters at bay. In every room, there are bear hides laid out on the floor for warmth. Just to let the folks know what a badass the king is, there are spears, swords and armor everywhere.

In the great hall sits the throne of the king. Not a throne of stone with jewels carved into it to prove how wealthy the kingdom. It is a large wooden seat of governance where the ruler sits to do the kingdom’s business.

Though this Elsinore is a castle, it is comfortable enough for a king. But no one, not even a king, can be himself here. For this is a place where everything is political. Here Machiavellian things occur. This is a castle where kings and princes, queens and daughters, fathers and sons become corpses.