Shakespeare and Santa Claus

“He was not of an age but for all time.” Ben Jonson, Shakespeare’s fellow playwright and rival.

Shakespeare is a literary person’s Santa Claus. And an actor’s too. For an actor, it’s not like Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney saying, “Let’s put on a show.” Well, it kinda is, but it is still Shakespeare. You say, “You do Shakespeare really well,” and the actor’s in hog heaven. Of course, there’s one of Ol’ Will’s plays on every actor’s bucket list.

Like Santa Claus, you don’t even have to say The Bard’s first name. By the way, Santa’s first name is Will. Just like Will was Shakespeare’s. Guess that is how we ended up with where there is a Will, there is a way.

Once you get hooked on Shakespeare, you’ve got Christmas 365 days a year. There’s so many presents under that Christmas tree. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. Only the Bible competes. And Johann Sebastian Bach.

For instance, there’s the Sonnets. One hundred and fifty of them. Like the Psalms. Each of the Sonnets has something to say. It’s like sticking a shell against your ear. One day you hear a symphony. The next day it’s a sonata or a nocturne. You could read Sonnet 18 everyday for a year and you would get something different for each day. Now how many things in life can bring you that much pleasure?

As an actor, an actress or a scholar, you can build an entire career on one of The Bard’s plays. “King Lear” or “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, “The Tempest” or “Hamlet”, “Othello” or “As You Like It”. An actor can play Romeo early in his career, then move on to Macbeth and Richard III and Henry V. This is how Olivier became Olivier. At the end of days, there’s King Lear. For a an actress, you’ve got Juliet, Desdemona, Ophelia, Gertrude, Cleopatra, Rosalind and Prospera.

Then there’s the villains. Shakespeare had some villains that would make the Wicked Witch of the West or Lex Luthor look like a Barbie Doll. I am speaking of Iago, Lady Macbeth and Richard III, and Hamlet’s Uncle Claudius. Now those were some real villains who put the capital e into Evil.

And nobody does it better when it comes to a lovable character. Falstaff is as unique as Don Quixote and a lot more fun.

Do you have a favorite Shakespeare play?

The Very True Story of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark

You think you’ve heard what happened in Castle Elsinore back in fifteen-four-ought. You know, how Hamlet had his Daddy’s revenge on Claudius. Well, that’s not the story the Ham’s best bud, Horatio, told me, and he ought to know. He was an eye witness to all things Hamlet.

The truth of the matter is the Ham was afraid of ghosts. Hard to believe since the Old Man showed up slinking around the castle like he owned the place. But if you’re living in a castle five hundred years old, what can you expect? Walls gonna talk and what they’re going to say is Boo.

And not just ghosts scare bejeesus out of the Ham. Shadows walking the halls. Even his own shadow. The graveyard. Ophelia tippytoe-ing down the hall in her flip flops. His Mommykins anoring so loud it could be heard down in the graveyard. Claudius giving a kingly command. You name it. He was afraid of it. If he heard a clinking of armor outside his room at midnight, he was kissing the ceiling.

When the Ham was knee-high to a grasshopper, his Dad had sent him to Anti-Boo Skool. But that hadn’t worked. Those monks walking around in black scared him all the more.

Since this was the middle ages, there was no internet, no tv, no smart phone, no movies. There was not even books. So folks had to find a way to entertain themselves. After a while, counting toes just don’t hack it.

That’s when Polonius came up with a boo-a-thon. He just loved running up behind the Ham and watching him turn white as a white picket fence. Pretty soon half the castle was in on the gig. The one that sent the Ham the highest with their boo won a prize. It might be a free ticket to the fair. It might be sitting on the king’s throne for a minute. It might be getting on the graveyard express with poor Yorick. It became so popular that Claudius and Gertrude joined in.

For the Christmas, 1541, Polonius planned a boo-a-pa-looza, For the winner, there was a week’s vacay with the Romeo and Juliet Sunny Italy Tour. Some years before, the R&J had been a venture capital startup with King Lear as a silent partner. That had been in the days before Goneril and Regan had conned daddykins out of his kingdom and he ended up in the mad house.

Well, the Ham’s Dad got wind of the plan on the other side. Seems Horatio had a seance with Macbeth’s three witches and they communicated with him.

“What to do? What to do?” Dad asked in his best W.C. Fields. He asked Faust. He asked Beelzebub. He even asked Beetlejuice. Three times, no less. They came up with nada. Nothing. They thunk and they thunk until they were boo in the face. Then it hit them. Their old friend Scrooge. Perhaps he had a solution.

Scrooge introduced Dad to Tiny Tim. Tiny Tim knew people. He was a regular medieval Facebook and he had thousands of Friends and millions of Likes. Tiny Tim introduced him to Doctor Frankenstein. Doctor F snapped his fingers and said, “Have I got a monster for you,”

He opened his closet and rolled out the ugliest thing you ever saw. It was on roller skates.

“This is Thing,” he said. “He’s slow on the up side but I think he’s the Thing for you.”

“Great.”

Needless to say the night for the boo-pa-looza was not a pretty sight. Dad slipped the Ham out of the castle and dressed up Thing like the Prince.

Around midnight Thing left the Ham’s room. It was Polonius who took the first boo. Thing turned and went, “Boo.” Polonius’ eyes became saucers. His whole body turned white. And he left the castle faster than a speeding bullet. Right behind him were Claudius, Gertrude, Laertes and Ophelia and the rest of the boo-pa-looza gang. They disappeared into the darkness and haven’t been seen since.

Hamlet decided Italy was the place for him. it was sunny and the food was good and everybody had wonderful Italian names.

As far as Elsinore was concerned, it became a ghost town. I mean, literally it was a ghost town.

Shakespeare Hits the Books

I must say that I find television very educational. The minute somebody turns it on, I go to the library and read a book. Groucho Marx

Bet you’re wondering how Will got so smart. Smart enough to write all those plays. Shakespeare had a hobby. He read books. When he was just knee-high to a grasshopper, he got hooked on Ovid’s Metamorphoses. He was smitten with words so much so that he read everything he could get his hands on. If Abe Lincoln had been around, Will would have given him a run for the money in the reading department.

When it came to books, his daddy, Ol’ John Shakespeare, told Will to “just say no”. The “Just Say No” campaign had worked well with Good Queen Bess. That’s what her daddy, Henry 8, had told her when it came to marriage. So Ol’ John figured it would work on Will. It wasn’t that Daddy Shakes was against reading. It was reading at night under the covers by candlelight. He was afraid Will would set the house on fire. In those days, there was no Smokey the Bear to put out the fire. On top of that, Will was going blind from all that reading. John was getting to the point where he couldn’t afford the cost of glasses.

Now you would think his dad’s lectures would work with Will. That and the other kids calling him Four-Eyes all the time. But Will was a stubborn cuss. He was going to read and nobody was about to stop him. Besides he kept telling anybody who would listen that he wanted to grow up and be a playwright. Thing was that nobody believed him . They didn’t even know what a playwright was. It was going to be up to Will to grow up and invent the word the way he invented a lot of other words.

When his dad said “Just say no”, Shakes would say, “Get with it, Dad.” You see, reading was the latest craze in the sixteenth century. Books were the iPads of that age. It was all started by Henry 8. Seems he had gotten an email from some guy named Gutenberg. The email said, “Have I got a deal for you.” Before you can say 3-D printer three times backwards, King Henry had gone all out and bought shares in Gutenberg Press stock. To make sure Gutenberg didn’t go bankrupt, Henry ordered enough printing presses from the company to stock every English town with at least one press.

It was a very wise investment. Sixteenth century England became the readingest country ever. To celebrate, Henry wrote his own version of “Greensleaves”. It was a hit. With that kind of encouragement, the English wrote and wrote, then they wrote some more. They wrote plays. They wrote essaies. They even wrote poetry.

To be a Somebody in Elizabethan England, you wrote poetry. Phil Sidney wrote poems. Ed Spenser wrote poems. John Donne wrote poems. Poems were the blogs of the sixteenth century.

The English became so literate they no longer read stain glass windows for their Bible stories. They actually read the Bible. Until that time, there had only been Latin Bibles. No one was about to be caught dead with Martin Luther’s German Bible. He had left some stuff out. In fact, it was against the law to even possess one of “Marty’s ditties”. If caught, you’d be made dead. Believe me. A roast was no fun in those days. Especially if you were the roast.

Speaking of dead, Latin was a dead language. That is why nobody, but nobody read the Bible in Latin. People wondered why it had not been buried long before. In Sunday school, the teacher would ask, “Anybody know John 3:16?” His students answered, “It’s all Latin to me.” Before you know it, the English had their very own King James Bible. Now every inn room in the land got its own Gideon’s Bible.

And they got their own prayer book too. The Book of Common Prayer. Pretty soon just about everybody could pray. Gave God something to think about. He’d never heard so many prayers asking to win the lottery.

So, as you can see, the English were readaholics. And Will Shakespeare was the readingest of them all. He read everything he could get his hands. He read Holinshead’s Chronicles and wrote his two Henriads, “Richard III” and “Macbeth”. Geoffrey of Monmouth gave him “King Lear”. He read Ariosto and gave the world “Taming of the Shrew”. He read the Italian, Cinthio, and made “Othello”. He read Ovid and wrote “Titus Andronicus”. He read Plutarch, then scribbled down “Julius Caesar”, “Coriolanus” and “Antony and Cleopatra”. Arthur Brook provided the framework for “Romeo and Juliet”. “The Decameron” and “The Canterbury Tales” were the inspiration for several of his comedies. “Gilligan’s Island” gave him the idea for “The Tempest”.

As far as “Hamlet” is concerned, don’t blame it on the rain. It was Saxo Grammiticus and Tom Kyd’s play and wallah, “Hamlet”.

Makes me wonder what kind of play Shakespeare would have written after reading “Gone With the Wind” or  “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”.

Scarlett: Why, Ashley Wilkes, you are the winter of my discontent.

Later Rhett: To Scarlett or not to Scarlett, that is the question. This is the long and the short of it.

Still later Rhett to Scarlett: God has given you one face, and you make yourself another, Scarlett.

Scarlett: “What’s in a name? That which we call a Yankee by any other name would smell like a Yankee.”

Rhett (to Scarlett): Something is rotten in the state of Tara.

Scarlett: Out, damn’d spot! out, I say!—One; two: why, then
’tis time to do’t.—Hell is murky.—Fie, my lord, fie, a soldier, and
afeard? What need we fear of you, Rhett Butler.

Rhett: All that glisters is not gold.

Scarlett: But it is, Rhett, it is.

Rhett: Frankly I don’t give a damn. (Rhett leaves.)

Scarlett (tears rolling down her face): I suppose tomorrow is another day. Yet to-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more.

Mammy (Voice over); This was a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

If Shakes could do this with “Gone with the Wind”, just think what he could do with “Fifty Shades of Gray”.

Hamlet: Horatio One More Time

Last we heard of Horatio, he was saying “Good night, Sweet Prince.” Then he slipped into the night before Fortinbras was all over Elsinore. Some say that Horatio went east and made himself a kingdom someplace in the Urals. After all, he had learned soldiering from Old Hamlet.

Personally I go with those who say that he went south. Since he was a kid, he dreamed of Venice. One thing is for sure. He earned his way in the world with his sword. Along that way maybe he worked for Othello, the Moor. For a bit of time, he was a Capulet, then it was on to Florence and the Medici fam.

For a while he had a run in with the Borgias. If Elsinore had taught him any one thing, poison was not his gig. So he was out of Valencia in a hurry. Along the way, he spent some jail time with Cervantes. At least, this is what I believe.

Since he had been Hamlet’s Nick Carroway, Horatio was in demand everywhere. Last we heard from Horatio was that he was doing TED talks.

He begins this way: “Guess you thought Shakespeare was going to do this talk today. Sorry to disappoint. He had some business back at Straitford. Something about bailing out his son-in-law. He sent me instead.

“So how did Shakespeare come up with Hamlet? Guess you’ve heard the tale that it was a response to his son, Hamnet’s, death. Hamnet died back in ’96. It was in all the papers….”

Hamlet: Now the Stuff Hits the Fam

O God, Horatio, what a wounded name,
Things standing thus unknown, shall live behind me!
If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart
Absent thee from felicity a while,
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain
To tell my story. Hamlet Act 5 Scene 2.

Act 5. Scene 2 (continued). It is the final scene. The swords are ready. The drums beat. The drums begin slowly. Claudius and Gertrude enter the hall and take their seats. The courtiers fill the room.

Claudius looks first at Hamlet and smiles, then at Laertes. He is happy as a lark. Soon his troubles will be over.

“Gentlemen,” he says, “first shake hands, then choose your swords.”

Hamlet turns to Laertes and offers his hand. “I have wronged you. I was out of my mind. Mad. That is no excuse. For the wrong I have done, I am deeply sorry.” Hamlet too knows this day will bring an end to things in the play.

You can feel the tension in the room. Everyone knows what Hamlet and Claudius know. Deep down.

Laertes takes Hamlet’s hand. “I cannot yet forgive you. But I take your words as sincere.”

“Let us get to it then.” Hamlet is no longer doubtful. Hamlet is at peace, knowing that fate will take care of things. In the end, all will be right in the world.

“Give them swords, Osric,” the king commands, anxious to get on with things. Tonight he will sleep well in his bed. No more worries about his stepson.

Hamlet and Laertes choose swords, each feeling his weapon out, trying it to see its workings. The two move into position, preparing to play.

The king calls for goblets of wine. Into one, he drops a pearl. “When you make a hit, Hamlet, this goblet is yours.” He raises a second goblet. “Salut, gentlemen, and begin.”

The two men move around the floor, scoping each other out. Then Hamlet makes a hit.

“One,” he says.

“No, it wasn’t,” Laertes protests.

“It was,” the judge of the match, Osric, decides in Hamlet’s favor.

“Another pearl.” Claudius drops a pearl into Hamlet’s goblet, knowing Hamlet will never own it. “Hand the goblet to Hamlet,” he commands a servant.

“Not now. Not till I have played this hand out.” Hamlet returns to position and waits on Laertes to strike.

The two go at it, then Hamlet makes another strike. Surprised at how well he is doing, Hamlet says, “Another hit.”

“You did get me,” Laertes admits. He too is surprised.

“My son will win,” Claudius says.

Gertrude reaches for Hamlet’s cup. “To your luck and happiness, my son.” She is happy that all is going well with the match. Soon things will return to normal. Hamlet will be as beloved as he was. She drinks from the cup.

Claudius screams, “Don’t drink that, my queen. It is for your son.” Panic is on his face.

“I will drink it if I want.” Gertrude drinks a second drink from the cup. Claudius’ poison moves through her body. She goes to Hamlet and lovingly wipes the sweat from his brow.

Hamlet and Laertes are at it again, moving like two wolves facing down each other over a kill. Laertes moves in and wounds Hamlet with his poison blade. The two scuffle and drop their swords. Hamlet picks up the weapon of Laertes. They fight again and Hamlet slashes Laertes’ arm.

“Come on again,” Hamlet teases Laertes.

The queen falls to the floor. The poison is doing its work.

“Tend to the queen,” Osric calls out to the servants.

“They are both bleeding,” Horatio says of the two fencers.

Osric sees that Laertes too has fallen. “How are you, my lord?”

Panic is in Laertes’ eyes. He is not sure what is happening. “I have done it to myself,” Laertes confesses.

“How’s the queen?” Hamlet wants to know.

“Oh, she fainted,” Claudius says. “Can’t stand the sight of blood. Women, you know.”

Gertrude with her last breaths calls out, “It was the drink. It was poison. I am dying.”

“What evil,” Hamlet yells. “What evil. Lock the door and let no one leave.”

Osric escapes before the door can be locked. Things are not looking good in the chamber. His motto is to save your own skin no matter the cost.

Laertes now comes to his senses. “We are both dead. My blade was tipped with poison. It is the king. The king has done it to us.”

“Soon,” Hamlet says, “it will do its work and we will all be done.”

Hamlet rushes Claudius. He drives the blade deep into the king’s body. Then he grabs the poisoned wine.

“Here, thou incestuous, murderous, damnèd Dane, drink off this potion. Is thy union here? Follow my mother, you son of a bitch.” Hamlet forces the wine down Claudius’ throat.

“He got what he deserved. Forgive me, Hamlet,” Laertes begs. Then he dies.

With tears in his eyes, Hamlet stumbles to Laertes’ wounded body. He raises the dead man’s head and looks into his once alive eyes. “Heaven, and I, forgive you. My, how it might have been. Such friends, you and I.”

Hamlet falls to the floor. “Horatio, I am dead.”

Horatio sees that there is poison left in the goblet. He lifts the poison cup to drink.

Hamlet grabs the goblet from Horatio’s hand. “No, you cannot. You must live to tell my story.”

The sound of Fortinbras’ troops are invading the castle.

Hamlet continues, “It is my will that Fortinbras be the new king. He will rule well. Now I am dead.” And so he is.

Horatio blesses the prince who once was, “Good night, sweet prince, And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!”

Now the play is done. The tale has been told. Prince Hamlet sleeps peacefully with the knowledge that justice was done.

It’s been a long slog, this “Hamlet”. The actors have said their lines. Now it’s home for them. Only the furniture is left on the stage. Soon even that will be gone for the halls of Elsinore are empty. Then only the ghosts walk through the rooms, searching for their former lives, wondering when their haunting will be done and they can move on. To another world.