“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?

11 thoughts on ““Hamlet” and the Dark and Stormy Night

  1. I start my daily journal with a short description of the weather. You would think it would make me good at describing weather. Maybe if I lived somewhere else it might. All I get is, “overcast and cold”.

  2. Your Hamlet series is feeding my reading addiction very nicely. Wonderful stuff. So far Elsinore lingers most prominently, but it may fade in the light of Dark and Stormy Night. When I read your question, it popped into my head that the nights were always dark and stormy on the moors surrounding Wuthering Heights and in the tormented soul of the handsome Heathcliff.

  3. It’s hard to resist the weather metaphor when we begin our day with either the sun upon our face, or the shadow gloom of a threatening storm. Years ago I read Half-Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls and she began with a beautiful first line that included weather. “Those old cows knew trouble was coming before we did.” Then she describes a flash flood about to descend. So I believe there are exceptions, however, they must be exceptional.

  4. My grandmother used to tell me this story:
    “It was a dark and stormy night.
    The children sat by the fire.
    ‘Rufus. tell us a story!’
    And Rufus began….”

    And then it would just loop endlessly, although after the first two times through, you kind of got the idea.

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