HAMLET The king doth wake tonight and takes his rouse, Keeps wassail and the swaggering upspring reels, And, as he drains his draughts of Rhenish down, The kettle-drum and trumpet thus bray out The triumph of his pledge. HORATIO Is it a custom? HAMLET Ay, marry, is ’t. But to my mind, though I am native here And to the manner born, it is a custom More honored in the breach than the observance. This heavy-headed revel east and west Makes us traduced and taxed of other nations. They clepe us drunkards and with swinish phrase Soil our addition. And indeed it takes From our achievements… HAMLET ACT 1 SCENE 4.
Act 1. Scene 4. Let’s talk Hamlet. In Scene 2, Team Hamlet—Horatio, Marcellus and Barnardo—told Hamlet they’d seen the ghost of the prince’s daddy. Now Hamlet was no believer in ghosts. So why did he go up to the roof? It sure wasn’t to party.
Back in Scene 2, Hamlet had a problem. He was a teetotaler in a castleful of drinking folk. So much so, the revelers were asking, “What happened to the Hamster?” They knew what a drinker Hamlet had been once upon a time before he went off to University. He could do a keg in five. He had been proclaimed the Kegman by Elsinore High in his senior year. It was pretty much assumed by his fellows that the Hamster was going to shake things up at Wittenberg U.
Well, he got there and came under the spell of Mr. Badass Protestant himself. In case, you’re not sure who I am talking about, Mr. B P was none other than Marty Luther himself.
Back in his pre-University days, Marty had a gruel issue. In the monastery where he monked, Marty felt like he wasn’t getting his shared of the gruel. He hadn’t minded the tonsuring. He hadn’t minded the flagellation. Actually he liked it so much he had his whip engraved with his initials. He even got used to the four a.m. prayer meetings.
He never got enough gruel. At the prayer meetings, his stomach grumbled. It roared. It quaked. Besides all that, it made a sound that could be reasonably thought of as a fart. Now we all know what happens when you pass gas at a prayer meeting. Before his fellow monks could say “Praise the Lord” three times backwards in Latin, the Abbot was casting the devil out of Marty. In case you’ve never been to a Casting-the-Devil-Out Exorcism, I’m here to tell you it hurts. On top of that, the Abbot put Marty on Inquisition rations.
There was no more blowing off steam for Marty. Somehow he got himself under control. But he still had such an empty tummy from a lack of enough gruel. Things came to a head when one morning Marty got up enough courage to approach the Abbot. “More,” he pleaded with those Oliver Twist eyes of his. “More, sir.”
That was the straw that broke the camel’s back for the Abbot. He had had enough. Since everybody called Marty Spot, it seemed appropriate for the Abbot to cry out, “Out, damned Spot. Out, I say.” Out Marty went and landed on his caboodle.
NINETY-FIVE, NOT NINETY-FOUR, THESES
What happened next is greatly disputed. Marty said he saw the angel, Angel. The otherworldly creature had not been in the Lord’s Service long enough to have a real name. That’s what he told Marty. Then he instructed Marty to write down all the things the ex-monk thought was wrong with the Church.
The real story is much more mundane than that. Marty landed his caboose on a family of porcupines. He hurt so bad he couldn’t sit down for a month. During that month of de-pinning, he did a Hemingway and wrote down his complaints standing up. He wrote them out on a long roll of toilette paper a-la-Kerouac. Said it was good for his soul.
Mostly he was concerned with the lack of gruel for monks. This amounted to seven-five complaints. There were twenty additional complaints about church concerns. Concerns like the monasteries should be coed. Marty had always considered himself fashion-conscious so he demanded that the Pope wear brown, not white. Stuff like that. He called his complaints Theses.
Marty typed them up in Latin and they sounded real good. ‘Course anything sounds serious in Latin. That is what Latin was invented for. Back in the olden days of Ancient Rome, Seriosimus and his bosom bud, Mediocrites, thought Rome needed something to make the Greeks take it serious. “How about a language?” Mediocrites asked. Seriosimus felt like saying Eureka but somebody else had said that already. Instead he said, “Good idea. I’ll call it Latin.”
Nero recorded his first album, “There’ll be a hot time in the old town tonight”, in Latin and, as the scribes say, the rest was history. It hit Number 10 with a bullet on the Billboard Charts. Pretty soon the darn thing went platinum. As you can see, Latin was some serious stuff.
Since there was no Fox News nor Dr. Phil nor Oprah in those days, Marty did the next best thing. He nailed those Ninety-Five Theses on a church door. Unfortunately the nail he used had termites. Before the next mass, the door fell off its hinges. Marty was arrested for destroying church property.
THE PROTESTANT REFORMATION
It looked bad for Marty. Real bad. It seems that two German princes, Blotto the Rufusite and Otto the Dufus, had gone to war over the Burning-at-the-Stake Concession. They both wanted to demonstrate their methodology to the Pope. Seems Burning-Witches-And-Heretics was the latest in sports. Not only was it a hoot of a game, it was the precursor to modern polo and futball. That’s soccer for all you who don’t know.
As a part of the Game, said Witch or Heretic would have their head chopped off just as they were getting toastee. The head would then be thrown into the field. Players on the two teams knocked it around with mallets. After a while, things did get kind of messy. The heads got chewed up something fierce.
Marty did not fancy going out this way. It didn’t sound like fun to him. This is the place I could say that something dramatic happened. Like Marty baptised Blotto in the Holy Ghost and he came out speaking in tongues. Or he raised Otto’s daughter from the dead. But I wouldn’t be speaking true. What really happened was that Blotto’s wife had the hots for Marty.
Since she was Otto’s kid sister, she put a stop to all the fighting. When she and Marty got together, they hit it right off. She was a former nun who left the order because she was getting none. So they made a religious connection immediately. She understood the gruel issue completely. On top of that, they had a hot time in the old town that night. To top it all off, here was a man she could tell what to do.
Before you could spit twice, the ex-nun was divorced and marrying Marty. Since the Pope did a Henry-the-Eighth to her and decreed no divorce for her, she took matters into her own hands. She talked the local JP into divorcing her, then she tied the knot with Marty. That’s when things got interesting.
Under his wife’s influence, Marty started his own church. They wouldn’t be Christians anymore. They’d be Lutherans. They had tent revivals all over Germany. The ex-nun, Griselda, was Amee Simple McPherson and Marty was Jimmy Swaggart (before he sinned). They really packed them in.
Pretty soon Marty had disciples. One of those disciples turned out to be a real troublemaker. Johnny Calvin told Marty to his face that the ex-monk was not predestined to be one of the Chosen but Griselda was. And so was Johnny. It wasn’t the theology that got to Marty. It was the way J C looked at Griselda, and Griselda looked at J C.
Marty couldn’t have that. Griselda was his one-and-only. Besides, if he lost Griselda, the offerings would drop. Seems Griselda was a real show stopper. Marty had a showdown with Johnny at sundown. They faced each other down on Main Street of Wittenberg Town. They eyeballed-to-eyeballed each other, then had a knocked-down-drag-out. At the end, Marty sent Johnny packing, kicking his heaney all the way to Geneva. That’s in Switzerland, you know. Not since Freud kicked Jung out of the psychoanalytical fraternity had there been such a theological rift between two intellectual giants.
After a couple of years, Marty and Griselda settled down in Wittenberg Town. Since they were loaded from all the cash they took in, they decided to do an Oral Roberts and start their own University, Wittenberg U. To prove he was a real edumacator, Marty translated the Bible into German. He left all the juicy parts out, like Solomon making whoopee big time.
THE HAMSTER COMES TO JESUS
That was where the Hamster came in. He was one of the first students to sign up at WU. Since Hamlet was not the smartest kid on the block, he had failed his SATs big time. So Mama Gertie was looking for anyplace that would take her son and turn him into a real prince. She saw Wittenberg U’s brochure, and she was smitten. That was the place for her boy.
It wasn’t really Marty that brought the Hamster to Jesus. It was the hangovers. When it came to drinking, Hamlet was no amateur. He could drink five people under the table. Thing was he hurt like the devil the next day. On top of that, his hangovers took an unusual course of action. Either his head hurt or his body. They didn’t hurt at the same time. And when his head hurt, his head hurt.
Hamlet had always been an inquisitive kid. In some future time, he would’ve been an investigative reporter for the New York Times and won the Pulitzer. The Hamster being the Hamster, he just about who-what-where-when-and-howed anything standing on campus. Anybody that gave him a hard time, he would say, “Inquiring minds want to know.”
So he gets to campus at Wittenberg U and hears about Marty’s cure for just about anything that ails you. He goes to a prayer meeting. One smack on the head from Marty and Griselda and the Hamster is a Lutheran.
HAMLET THE TEETOTALER
The first thing the Hamster did was join the campus chapter of AA. At first, he started packing folks into the meetings. After all, he was a prince and he did have those Elvis looks. The girls may not have wanted to give up the booze. But they sure wanted a date with the prince. Not because of the things he said but because he was Elvis.
The popularity did not last. As we all know, there is nothing more obnoxious than a reformed smoker. “You know you’re going to die from cancer. And not just any cancer. Lung cancer.” Then they start ticking off a list of other possible diseases. Sounds a little like a hypochondriac, doesn’t it?
The Hamster had become a regular stick-in-the-mud. He went around campus, handing out pamphlets. He busted up sorority and fraternity parties. And he put a real nix on tailgating. So when he got the call that Daddy was dead and Claudius was king, even Marty and Griselda were relieved. They loved Hamlet’s enthusiasm. But a little glass of wine at dinner wasn’t about to hurt anything.
BACK AT THE CASTLE
They say that misery loves company. Despite his enthusiasm for all things Marty, the Hamster was miserable. As we saw back in Act 1 Scene 2. He didn’t miss the hangovers. He did miss the fun guy he had been when he was snockered.
When he was drinking, there wasn’t a party he wasn’t invited to. There wasn’t a guy who wouldn’t choose the Hamster for their team. There wasn’t a girl he couldn’t seduce. He was a regular Casanova, Witttenberg U’s own Don Juan. Now all that was gone.
Just about the time he was ready to backslide, he got the call from home. Now he had a new mission. He would convert the folks back home to Protestantism. Make teetotalers out of them too.
So when he went up to the roof that night, it wasn’t to see no ghost. He went to have a prayer meeting. While Claudius, a Catholic king, was downstairs Henry-the-Eighthing all over the place, Hamlet was on the roof, having his first AA meeting at Elsinore. There would be some real casting out demons on that roof too. Horatio, Marcellus and Barnardo would have their first come-to-Jesus moment that very night. Soon they would be new men.
I know it’s a small thing in the face of all the various skills you employ in a piece like this, but I really enjoy the way you consistently tweak the names of the characters in your Hamlet series: the Hamster and Marty Luther, for example. This writing habit of yours gives me a chuckle every time.
You had me at George Thorogood. I love this piece, btw 🙂
Glad you liked it. Thanks very much. 🙂