“Hamlet” and The Thing

Now is the winter of our discontent. Richard III Act 1. Scene 1.

Act 1. Scene 1 (Continued). What would you do if you met a ghost? Oh, you don’t believe in ghosts. Neither did Horatio. After all, he had taken enough philosophy to know that he was a materialist. If it didn’t exist in the material world, it didn’t exist. Then he found himself stumbling into the first scene of “Hamlet” and all hell broke loose.

Act One Scene One opens and everybody is identifying themselves. You know the guard post is darker than dark ’cause everybody keeps asking who everybody is.

The guard, Francisco, tells Barnardo, his relief, to unfold himself. Ain’t no way that Barnardo is going to unfold himself. He’ll freeze. Don’t know why Barnardo didn’t say back, “Unfold your own self.” Then give Frenchie the finger.

But he didn’t. He did a long-live-the-king, then everything is A-Okay with Francisco. Just about the time Frenchie leaves, up shows Marcellus, another one of the guards. He’s dragged Horatio, Hamlet’s good bud, out of bed.

Once Barnardo identifies Marcellus and Marcellus identifies Horatio, Barnardo calls Marcellus “good”. How does Barnardo know that Marcellus is good? We are only in the first scene and here Shakespeare is telling us that Marcellus is good. Whatever happened to that writerly dictum, “Show don’t tell.”

If Shakespeare is not careful, Jonathan Franzen will be copying him and that will never do. Oh, that’s right. Franzen already does “tell, don’t show” better than a lot of other writers. After all, he is the twenty-first century’s answer to the question of who is the latest version of the great American novelist.

Why doesn’t Barnardo think Horatio is good? Could it be because Horatio is from out of town, so he’s looked down on by all the Elsinoreans? An Elsinorean, of course, is someone who lives in Elsinore. But you already knew that.

Horatio is poor. He is going to school on the G I Bill. He served with Hamlet’s dad when Dad was the King of Denmark and did a slamdunk on Norway. Horatio was the dead king’s squire and Hamlet’s roommate at Wittenberg University, Marty Luther’s alma mater. Go Lions. Horatio and Hamlet are besties. If he were asked, Horatio would say that he is at Elsinore for the old king’s funeral and the new king’s coronation and wedding.

In this story, Horatio is to the hero, Hamlet, what Nick Carroway was to Gatsby. He knows all the missing parts and he still loves the Ham. He is the one who can tell his friend’s side of things long after he is gone.

Rubbing sleep from his eyes, Horatio wanders why Marcellus dragged him out on a knight like this. And for guard duty, at that. He’d been there done that till he didn’t want to done that no more.

“We saw a thing last night,” Marcellus says.

“A thing?” Horatio asks.

“Yes, a thing,” Barnardo says.

“What kind of thing?” Horatio wants to know.

“You know,” Barnardo says, “a thing.”

“Horatio thinks we’re making this up,” Marcellus says. “But I convinced him it would appear as it has two times before.”

“I don’t know what you guys have been drinking,” Horatio says. “Or smoking, but we’re not going to see a thing tonight.” Horatio has a case of the Missouris. He has to be shown. And shown he shall be.

Then they hear the waves, splashing below, making a ruckus. Out of the darkness of the sea below…

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