Hamlet: A Free Man in Paris

If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.
― Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast.

a thin actor with a skull playing hamlet

Act 1. Scene 2 (Continued). King Claudius sits upon his throne. He takes out a mirror and gives his face a quick looksee to make sure every hair is in place. He smiles, then turns to Laertes, the son of the Lord Chancellor of the Reign. His radiance smiles down on the young man.

King: Your father tells us you have a petition you wish to place before us. If it meets with his approval and it is in our power to grant, we shall.

Laertes hesitates. He has never been before this king. He doesn’t want to goof up.

King (smiling down on his subject with magnanimity): Relax, Laertes, relax. Polonius is our friend and you are his son. He can ask whatever he would, for either himself or his son.

He kissed our royal rump. Let us count the ways.
He kissed the depth and breadth and height of it
He hath kissed it with such a lively wit
And since our college fraternity days
When we followed every fashion and craze.
When we needed a name that was a hit
Or we drank until we were royally lit.
He bailed us out with muchly that is praise
And he introduced us to our royal bride.
He sponsored our election at the court
To be the king and he did it with pride,
Kissed our royal tushy we’re glad to report.
So ask what you will. You won’t be denied.
It’s your dad’s reward for our rump’s support.

Laertes (in his most Laetesian style): It’s about time I got out of Dodge. I am about to bust a gut, Your Sireship. The sooner I get back to the ladies of Paris the better. I got to tell you this Castle is barren when it comes to the ladies. There’s just the Queen here and my sister, Ophelia. A man could die of pure loneliness in this place.

King: True, true. You are a frisky young man and there are only two women in the Castle. Neither you can date. I have been thinking on that very thing. Soon, very soon, there will be more women at Elsinore than you can shake a stick at. My lovely queen (turns to Gertrude) has completed the first part of our Plan. As soon as I make that Young Fortinbras sit up and beg like the dog he is, then Part 2 of our Plan will commence. We just need your patience in this matter.

Laertes (chomping at the bit); It’s not just the women. It is the joie de vivre the French bring to everything. And then there are also my studies.

King: Why not Wittenberg U? Hamlet, over there—(points to Hamlet). He really likes it.

Laertes: Those Ninety-five Theses are a drag. Besides they messed up a beautiful oak door.

King: Why not Moscow?

Laertes: Talk about bad winter here. They have really bad winters there. And I’m not into hiding my figure under a coat. I am a fine figured man, don’t you think?

King: I do. I do. Why not Rome?

Laertes: I am not ready to face down the Inquisition.

King: What about Spain?

Laertes: T-t-t-torquemada nada.

King: I guess England is out of the question too.

Laertes: Plague.

King: So it’s Paris.

Laertes: Since the Sorbonne went coed, it is the coolest place. Talk about parties, they have some parties. We party like it is 1599.

King: Ah, to be young again. Well, if you’re daddy says it’s okay, it’s okay with us.

Polonius (steps forward): I have agreed. Even though it’s costing me an arm and a leg.

King: Then Paris it is. Go with our blessing.

Laertes (steps forward and bows): Thank you, Your Magnanimousness. (He turns to Gertrude and bows to her.) And thank you, Your Majesty.

Laertes leaves the chambers and heads to Polonius’ apartments.

Young Fortinbras

Thus much the business is: we have here writ
To Norway, uncle of young Fortinbras—
Who, impotent and bedrid, scarcely hears
Of this his nephew’s purpose—to suppress
His further gait herein, in that the levies,
The lists, and full proportions are all made
Out of his subject; and we here dispatch
You, good Cornelius, and you, Voltemand.
Hamlet Act 1. Scene2.

Act 1. Scene 2 (Continued). Claudius is not happy. I know he was happy a Wednesday ago. Guess a king has the right to change his mind. He is king, and that is one of the kingly prerogatives.

Young Fortinbras, nephew to the king of Norway and son of the former king, is on the warpath. He’s got an itch. He’s got it bad. Besides, he has something to prove. To show he can kick some butt. That is one way for Forte to prove he would make a terrific king.

This is the Middle Ages. Everybody is Middle Age crazy in those days. Warrior kings are considered saints. Don’t think so. Just look at St. Charlemagne, St. Louis (not the town but the king), St. Edward the Confessor and St. Alfred the Great. I can hear Tony the Tiger saying, “Heeez GRRREEET.”

Anyway, Claudius calls in his Ambassadors to Norway, Cornelius and Voltimand. No, that is not He-who-must-not-be named. The two bow and kowtow before His Magnanimousness.

Claudius sings a pickin’ and grinnin’ song:
Oh, Cornelius. Oh, Voltemand,
To Norway We’re sendin’ you.
Tell that king and tell him well
He’ll be in a lot of screw-you
If he don’t tell Young Fortinbras
Not to get his panties in a wad.
He’s a huffin’ and a puffin’
Like he’s some young almighty god.

There’s a new sheriff in town.
We’re the Baddest Wolf around.
If he don’t let things be
We will blow his house down.

Think our brother was really bad?.
We’re three times worse than he was.
Wherever We ride, the snow melts.
When We decide to show our claws
Goliath would run away scared.
You Philistines ain’t got a chance
We’ll melt Norway and take her down
And make you Norwegians dance

Well, Judgment day is a-comin’
Our wrath like a volcano blow
Our patience is a runnin’ out
Soon We’ll be sending Norway low
But We are a generous man
Fortinbras can stretch his muscles
On the Germans and the Cassocks
And make the Poles his vassals

Voltemand and Cornelius say a quick, “Yes, Your Magnanimousness.”

Claudius responds, “And don’t you forget it.”

Fun With Claudius and Gertrude

Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more,
Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea and one on shore,
To one thing constant never.
Then sigh not so, but let them go,
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into Hey, nonny nonny.
Sing no more ditties, sing no mo
Of dumps so dull and heavy.
The fraud of men was ever so,
Since summer first was leavy.
Then sigh not so, but let them go
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into Hey, nonny nonny.
Much Ado About Nothing Act 2. Scene 3.

Oops. That’s the wrong play. This is a much darker play than that. It’s a “Hamlet”.

Act 1. Scene 2. Claudius and Gertrude, their Royalnesses, descended the Staircase of the Stars. To the spectators below, they seemed to be floating. They weren’t. They were wearing the latest in shoewear, camouflage slippers, designed by Dr. John Dee himself. They were all the rage among the royals of Europe. They didn’t come cheap but they were well worth it. They made a Royal royal and a King kingly.

As the two progress their way down the Staircase, they pass Gallery of the Danes, portraits on the wall of past kings, all ancestors of Claudius. Beginning at the top, Hamlet- the Really-Old, the founder of the Hamlet royal lineage. You know, the word “lineage” is akin to “laundry”? Dirty laundry in the case of royalty, of course. ‘Cause some of the Royals on the Wall were real doozies. Their reps had to be washed and dried a number of times by the royal spin doctors. But no matter how clean their reps became, there were old timers who never forgot.

For instance, Hamlet the Really-Old became known as the king who lived to be as old as Methuselah. Actually he was very old when he came to the throne. Mostly his subjects called him Hamlet the Pincher. He liked to pinch his subjects bottoms.

Next was Hamlet the Not-so-old. He was only six months old when he inherited the throne. But he didn’t live to be six months and a day. Some say it was poison. Some say the plague. All anyone knows for sure was that it was not the colic.

Then came the Mutt and Jeffs of the family. Hamlet the Tall and Hamlet the Short. Bet you can’t guess which was Mutt and which was Jeff. After their long reigns, there was Hamlet the Medium-sized. He was a roly poly sort of fellow who had so many wives he beat Henry VIII on two fronts, weight and wives. As soon as he married a maiden, he misplaced her. Three hundred years later, the Royal Guards are still looking for lost wives. Henry could take party lessons from Hamlet the Medium-sized as well.

Hamlet the Lecher was no better. No virgin in the kingdom was safe. A new position was created by the town councils throughout the land. The Devirginizer. Bet you can guess what the guy did. Unfortunately, that left the farmer’s daughters unsafe.

Down the line came Hamlet’s daddy’s daddy, Old Smutmouth I. The name says it all. Finally there was Daddy Hamlet, the recent king and brother to the current king. Nary a Claudius in the bunch. The now-king would be Claudius I.

Actually Claudius’ name did not start out as Claudius. Shakespeare gave the new king a new name. One that fit his dignity. After all, Claudius was a Roman patrician name. One thing was for sure. Feng, the name Claudius’ father had given him, would never ever do.

With a name like Feng, Claudius had an absolutely horrible childhood. “Here, Feng. Here, boy,” all the other kids shouted at him. They treated him like a dog. Dog biscuits and bones kept showing up in his school locker.

On top of that, there were the Feng Shui jokes. At fifteen, Claudius took off for parts unknown. During that time, he took the advice, “When in Rome, do what the Romans do.” So he did. Like a good Roman, he changed his name.

That was all in the past. On this day of his royal ascendage, he descended the stairs with Queen Gertrude at his side. Claudius was happy. The eyes of his dead ancestors followed him from their portraits. Look at him. A king’s crown was the best revenge.

Gertrude was happy too. Phew. A close one. She ended up queen when she could have ended up queen mother. She knew a thing or two about statecraft. Besides she knew where all the bodies were buried.

Gertrude had not loved Daddy Hamlet when she married him. She was fourteen, and like Juliet, she loved another. But she didn’t have the courage to run away from home and wed her Romeo. Daddy Hamlet was fifteen years her elder. At twenty-nine, he had already killed off two wives. Both of them had died in childbirth.

He needed an heir, and he needed one badly. There was no way that he was about to let his younger brother, Feng, take the throne. With a name like Feng, nobody would respect him.

Gertrude seemed like an excellent choice. She was young and had a lot of childbearing years ahead of her. Besides, she was sexier than all get out. So a deal was made with her father, Michael of the Rus. When she arrived at court, Daddy Hamlet got down to business. After several tries, wallah. A son. No matter that Gertrude wanted to name the boy, Michael. He was dubbed Hamlet.

Unfortunately, her childbearing was over. Hamlet had been a difficult birth and the barbers said no more babies. “The barbers?” you ask. In those days, doctors didn’t know much. They were in the dark ages when it came to medicine. So they weren’t consulted that often. On the side, they had a barber business. It worked out real well. They would give a haircut and a pill all at the same time. Two for the price of one, so to speak.

After that, Daddy Hamlet was off fighting the Cossacks, the Poles, the Swedes, the Germans and anybody else he could think of. While he was away, Gertrude had to wear that damned chastity belt. She might not get a chance to pee, except for once in a blue moon when he was home. On top of that, she only got a chance to make whoopee once a year. She was a woman with needs. And Big Daddy wasn’t supplying them. When they did make whoopee, he was a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am kind of guy. She didn’t call him Brutus for no good reason either.

One Sunday afternoon Claudius showed up at court. She took one look at him and suddenly they were like Lancelot and Guinevere. Though she was under lock and key, they figured out a way to get down. The pièce de résistance was when Claudius sneaked the key from around Big Daddy’s neck. Thank God, the king was a sound sleeper.

It was her lucky day when Big Daddy finally died from snake bite. Okay, there weren’t snakes on Elsinore Island. Maybe he brought one back from his distant wars. And it was late October and chilly when the snake bit him in the garden. Not good weather for snakes. Still, could happen.

When Claudius proposed, it was the happiest day of her life. She immediately, and with that sigh of relief people are always referring to, said yes. After all, he could have gone with a lot younger woman. Like Alice of Stuttgart or Denise the Greek or Lucretia Borgia. The sluts. At least, Claudius knew where Gertrude had been. Her reading “The Princess” by Machiavelli had paid off well. No other woman’s child would inherit the throne. It would be her son. All in all, things had worked out very well.

The feet of Claudius and Gertrude touched down on the Throne Room floor.

“Your Majesty,” his subjects praised Claudius.

“Your Magnanimousness, please,” the king corrected them.

Yes, Your Magnanimousness.”

Gertrude gritted her teeth and thought, “Oh, here we go again.”

Xtra! Xtra! Xtra! Read all about it!

This is the short and the long of it. The Merry Wive s of Windsor. Act 2, Scene 2.

THE ELSINORE TOWN CRYER

HONEYMOONERS RETURN

My, my, readers, we do love a good romance, don’t we? What is more romantic than a romance of the royals? Of course, I’m talking about the whirlwind courtship of our fresh off the shelf new King Claudius and his fabulous Queen Gertrude.

The former Mrs. Hamlet Senior first noticed her Prince Charming at the funeral of her hubby, King Hamlet Senior. He is none other than Prince Claudius, the former king’s young brother. He saw her. She saw him. Love turned their heads almost as fast as that demon turned Regan’s head in “The Exorcist”. Seems it was what the doctor ordered to cure both their griefs over the sudden death of her husband. Love at first sight.

After a two week whirlwind romance, the two lovebirds were wed at the social event of the season. The wedding was a knock-down-drag-out affair. The queen had that new queen kind of dress on. You know the kind I’m talking about. Dark blue with a gold trim. It was designed by the designer to the stars, Royal Prince Eggbert. Any woman would look good in a Bertie. But the queen looked absolutely scrumptious. She had a smile on her that could launch a thousand ships.

Prince Charming was all dressed in his best Sir Lancelot. He was the handsomest thing you ever did see. He was so good looking that most of the women swooned, even his fair bride.

At the reception, the honored couple and their guests partied like it was 1599. Then it was off to a honeymoon in the Swiss Alps. “Skiing was fab,” Claudius reported.

We’re all so tickled pink and pleased as punch to say the happy couple have returned. They are taking up residence at Castle Elsinore. The word on the street is that there will be a party to end all parties to welcome the Royals back.

NEW KING ELECTED

Home boy and all around good guy, Claudius, is the new king. His election was a rout. Led by the very resourceful Lord Chancellor of the Reign Polonius, Team Claudius gave it the old one-two punch and took out any opposition. They won the election for the new king with the campaign, “A vote for Claudius is a vote for Claudius. Claudius won’t screw things up.”

“Gee,” Claudius was quoted as saying. “I had no idea I was so popular. I just thank God that he gave me a lovely bride in Gertrude and a wonderful son in Hamlet. What more could a king ask for?”

So let’s hear it for the new King. Long live King Claudius.

QUEEN GERTRUDE IKEA STYLE

Let’s talk furniture. You know that stuff you rest your tushie on. Have you seen what Queen G. has done with the royal digs at Elsinore?

Gertrude saw that Casa Elsinore needed a complete makeover. The old stuff just would not do. I mean it went well with Hamlet Senior’s personality. You know brute 15th century. That medieval look and armor everywhere.

Now we have very modern royals. Gertrude did a Jackie Kennedy and gave the castle something sophisticated and elegant, something softer and modern that would go with her new hubby, Claudius. King Claudius loves the decor she chose. Especially since the queen got it on the cheap.

After the complete do-over, the Queen said, “I couldn’t be more happy with the décor. I was able to go with Scandinavian Modern. And I didn’t have to go running all over Europe to get what I wanted. It was in my own back yard. I got to tell you, the folks at Ikea at just with it.” There you have it from the Queen’s own mouth.

THE GOLDEN BOY RETURNS

Di and Carmilla got their Chuck. Kate got her Wills. Now it’s your turn, ladies. There’s a new prince in town.

Of course, I am talking about young Prince Hamlet, heir to the throne of the Danes. All that aristocracy, and he’s a real hottie too. Dark red hair and the bluest eyes you ever did want to see. He’s got much to commend him.

He’s smart as a tack. At Wittenberg U, he has a 4.0 gpa. Very athletic as well. He qualified for the Wittenberg Olympic Fencing Team. He’ll join another hometown boy, Horatio, on the team.

Hamlet is a pretty progressive guy. Everybody says so. Why he’d even led the Wittenburg Debating Team when they’d argued the thesis: “Ninety-five theses. Why not ninety-six? ” Of course, he was one of the first to put his John Hancock on the Ninety-five Theses after Martin Luther.

He joined the LGBT Alliance at Wittenburg U. He sat in as a protest against the Hundred Years War. (Hell, no. We won’t go.”)

Rumor has it that this handsome gadabout town, Prince Hamlet, will be around a while. So, ladies, get in line. You might have a chance at princesshood if you’re a very modern Scandinavian girl. Gossip says that he really likes the lasses from the common folk. No snobbery for this royal.

OPHELIA de POLONIUS WINS MISS DENMARK

A big congratulations goes out to our little Miss Ophelia. She has won the big one. She is the new Miss Denmark, getting high points for the swim suit contest. On top of that, she took away Miss Congeniality.

For her talent, she sang ” To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s Day” a la Kate Bush. The judges were very impressed that it was Ophelia’s own composition.

Her big moment was her answer to the question the master of ceremonies asked her, “If you had any wish, what would it be?” Her answer, “I would wish for world peace. I can’t understand why we all can’t be friends the way Miss Esbjerg and I are besties.”

Everybody in the audience knew right then and there Ophelia de Polonius had the crown all sewn up.

WAR MAY BE COMING

Rumors of war and rumors of rumors of war have been cropping up lately. Norway is on the war path again. Old Fortinbras got whipped by Daddy Hamlet. Now young Fortinbras seems to want a whipping too.

Our new king, King Claudius, assures us that, if need be, he’ll take care the Norwegians out the way his brother, Daddy Hamlet, did. “Have no fear. Claudius is here.”

He is sending his two best negotiators, Cornelius and Voltimand, They will let the old King Norway know that two and two equals four, not five.

So let us be thankful we have such a wonderful leader in our new king. God save the king.

“Hamlet” and One More Thing

Foul deeds will rise, though all the earth o’erwhelm them, to men’s eyes. Hamlet 1. 2.

Act 1. Scene 1 (Continued). Let us not call Horatio, Marcellus and Barnardo cowards. All three were brave veterans of Daddy Hamlet’s wars against Norway. They had seen some bad ass stuff that would scare most mortal men. War is like that.

If you had seen the Thing they saw that night, you would have been terrified. The Thing was no run-of-the-mill ghost. It was a different matter. It was supernatural. It might even have been the Devil. The Big D himself. There’d been stories of Lucifer showing up like a wedding crasher, coming around as a familiar just to raise a ruckus.

Needless to say, the three were scared. Shaking-in-their-boots scared and glad the Thing was gone and hoping it wouldn’t come back though they pretty well guessed it would. At least, not on a night like this. Let It pick a night when the moon and the stars were out and the sky wasn’t covered in darkness.

Horatio couldn’t believe his eyes. He couldn’t believe his ears. In all his twenty-two years on Planet Earth, Horatio had never ever seen anything like Thing.

He was the first to speak. “Did you see what I saw? Did you hear what I heard?”

Marcellus wondered, “It sure looked like Hamlet’s dad.” Hamlet is the dead king’s only son and heir to the throne once the new king, his uncle Claudius, is dead.

“Or at least it wore the old king’s armor,” Horatio said.

“Maybe he stole the armor,” Barnabas said.

“Not a chance,” Horatio said. “Ain’t no way that the old king would let go of that armor. I remember that armor from my squiring days with the king. Not all the hounds in all the hells of the nine circles of hell could get that armor away from him.”

Marcellus rubbed his hands to keep warm. “I really can’t blame the Thing for wearing the armor. Otherwise he’d be out there in his altogethers freezing his ass off.”

“I’m not sure what this means,” Horatio said, his teeth chattering from the ice cold coming off the sea, “but it sure feels like it’s a bad, bad thing. Could it be that it wasn’t a Thing but an omen?”

“Omen?” Marcellus and Barnabas asked.

Horatio continued, “Yes, an omen of terrible, terrible things ’bout to be. Just like the omens Shakespeare put in his play, ‘Julius Caesar’ ‘fore J. C. got the dagger.”

“We got a war a-coming” Marcellus said. “There’s ships getting built. Cannon readied. Soldiers training.”

Horatio agreed. “Norway has been cruising for a bruisin’ since the king’s death. He’s testing the new king’s resolve.”

Since the young Fortinbras is the head dude in Norway, the characters often refer to him as Norway. Folks did that in the olden days.

“He’s really smelling up the situation,” Barnardo said. Fortinbras means “strong underarms” so it was very appropriate for Marcellus to say this. In those days, a bath wasn’t needed to be a strong leader. His feet probably stank too. Fortinbras’ smell wasn’t nothing. Folks in Scotland could smell Macbeth miles away.

“His daddy got clobbered,” Horatio went on. “Now he’s coming back for more. He’s gonna get it too. We’re going to whop up on him good this time.”

“Just like Norway,” Marcellus said. “Those Norwegians are so Norwegian.”

They had relaxed, thinking it was safe to hang out. The Thing made a reappearance. Not willing to settle for one shakedown, Thing came back for the Big Boo.

This time Horatio wasn’t sitting still. He yelled out at the Big Boo-sky, “What you want?”

Boo was not talking. Maybe It couldn’t and maybe It could. It wasn’t.

“C’mon guy. Has the cat got your tongue?” Horatio shouted out.

Horatio was thinking. Here we go again. Just like college when nobody would talk to me. This Thing shutting me out. Not a word. All cause I am not aristocracy. Only Ham would speak to me.

The rooster did his cock-a-doodle-doo. Then The Thing was gone. The apparition had left the room. It slipped out into the fog and the sea. The night too slipped out to sea and the sun was pretty near up in the east.

Barnabas was the first to speak. “Did you guys notice how wet the Ghost was? It could have easily passed for Swamp Thing with a helmet and armor.”

“One thing is for sure,” Marcellus said. “We have a war coming. I saw it in the Thing’s eyes.”

Horatio pointed toward the sun, arising over the horizon and painting the sky red. “Look. The red glow of morning. Our watch is now over. Let’s go to young Hamlet. Perhaps the Thing will speak to him.”

Marcellus and Barnardo shook their heads in agreement. And off to find Hamlet, Prince of the City, they went. They were glad to be rid of the Thing.

But the shiver from The Thing, the moan lingered in the three men’s bones. So much so that, on dark, cold nights, their bodies would remind them. The shutter would course through their veins like a river.

So where does this leave us? This Opening Scene is a summary of the whole play. From the first words of “Who’s there” until the final “it’s up to Hamlet”. Hamlet, and only Hamlet.