Hamlet: Horatio One More Time

For Hamlet’s plot till now, see Hamlet So Far.

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….”

Next week at this same time and same station, Uncle Bardie will be singing a whole new song. So put it on your calendar and be ready to follow the Yellow Brick Road. You might even hear Miss Scarlett proclaim, “Tomorrow is another day.” 

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.

For Hamlet’s plot till now, see Hamlet So Far.

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.

Hamlet Does His Laundry

Does it not, think thee, stand me now upon—
He that hath killed my king and whored my mother,
Popped in between th’ election and my hopes,
Thrown out his angle for my proper life
(And with such cozenage!)—is ’t not perfect conscience
To quit him with this arm? And is ’t not to be damned
To let this canker of our nature come
In further evil? Hamlet Act 5 Scene 2.

For Hamlet’s plot till now, see Hamlet So Far.

Act 5 Scene 2. I could easily subtitle this one: The Stuff Hits the Fan. But we’re not there yet. First Hamlet must do laundry. Everybody knows that you can’t go to a duel in dirty clothes.

Hamlet retreats to the basement. That part of Castle Elsinore where the dragons are hidden. But Hamlet has dealt with dragons. On the ship to England, he stole into Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s cabin. He read Claudius’ order to chop off his head. So he wrote a new order. It would be Rosenstern’s heads to roll.

“How did you seal the document?” Horatio asks.

“I had my father’s seal,” Hamlet says as he slips out of his clothes. As he stands in his altogether, he throws his doublet, his breeches, his underwear, his collar and his ruff into the washing machine. “The next day our ship was attacked. I escaped to the pirate’s ship. The pirates befriended me as they felt I was escaping from capture. Thus I returned here.”

“So Rosencrantz and Guildenstern went off to their death?”

“They got what they deserved. It is indeed dangerous for lesser men to play with great events.”

“What a king Claudius is,” Horatio concludes.

“Wouldn’t I be damned to let this canker of our nature come in further evil?”

“He will soon know of England and his pawns,” Horatio comments.

“It will be short. The interim’s mine.” Hamlet then moves his laundry to the dryer.

Osric, a courtier, enters the room. “We are so glad you’re back, my lord. The whole court is.”

“Thank you. It’s good to home,” Hamlet lies.

“If you have a moment,” Osric says, “I have a message to convey to you from the king.”

“I can’t wait to hear all the king has to say.”

“His Magnanimousness has placed a large bet on you.”

“Now why would he want to go and do that?” Hamlet asks Horatio. Turns back to Osric and gestures. “You can return your hat to your head as a gentleman should.”

“It’s okay just where it is at the moment. I feel I am in the company of friends. Am I not?”

“Oh, yes you are,” Hamlet says enthusiastically. “Oh, yes you are.” He winks at Horatio.

“A gentleman has arrived at court,” Osric imparts more information. “A fine swordsman this Laertes is.”

“I know him very well. And he has many good qualities.”

“The king believes you are the better man,” Osric assures the prince. “In fencing. So he has wagered a bet that you will defeat this Laertes in a match. In a dozen passes, he will make three hits less than you.”

“What if I say no?” Of course, Hamlet won’t say no. Not only is he confident that he will win the bet, but he will also find a way to do Claudius in.

“The king, and Laertes, would be so disappointed. And myself as well. The court hasn’t of late had much entertainment. Things have been a bit gray around here.” Guess that’s what it’s like when you have no HBO or Internet.

“Then let’s entertain the troops,” Hamlet says, “I’ll finish my laundry. Then take a walk for exercise.”

“I will let His Magnanimousness know. He will be overjoyed.” Osric places his hat on his head and leaves.

“Gee, you just can’t get good courtiers these days. Such riff-raff,” Hamlet says, referring to Osric.

‘Tis true,” Horatio agrees. “A courtier is riff-raff by any other name.”

“Looks like my doublet is done.” Hamlet goes to the dryer and takes out his clothes. “Thank God, I am feeling a bit if a chill.” A fast dresser, Hamlet is all dressed up and ready for a duel before Horatio can say two shakes of a spear.

Hamlet: Ophelia’s Finale

Gertrude: Sweets to the sweet. Farewell! (scatters flowers)
I hoped thou shouldst have been my Hamlet’s wife.
I thought thy bride-bed to have decked, sweet maid,
And not have strewed thy grave. Hamlet Act 5 Scene 1.

For Hamlet’s plot till now, see Hamlet So Far.

Act 5 Scene 1 (continued). Everything has conspired against Ophelia. She can’t even get a decent burial. The priest won’t bury her in consecrated soil. She was a suicide, or so everyone believes.

She is so like Shylock. At the end of it all, she is a woman without family or country or love or even religion.

She is ultimately the tragic hero of Hamlet. Hamlet has choices. She does not.

Gertrude has choices. Ophelia does not.

Everybody gets to choose. Not Ophelia.

This is why Ophelia is so hard to play.

Think about this. Ophelia’s mother is dead or maybe she went insane. Now Ophelia is at the mercy of her father and her brother. Polonius and Laertes are a lot to handle.

Again and again Shakespeare reveals the terrible plight of women. Ophelia and Juliet are at the mercy of the pleasure of their fathers. They command their daughters to marry Paris or leave Hamlet out standing in the rain. Hero is falsely accused of indiscretion in Much Ado About Nothing. Only Benedict, a man, proves her innocence. Kate in Taming of the Shrew has to marry Petruchio and then is at the mercy of his abuse. Hermia in Midsummer must marry a man she does not love. Thanks to her father. Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, too must have been commanded by her father to marry Hamlet Senior. Then there is Ophelia. Poor Ophelia. It seems daughters just can’t win.

Laertes and Hamlet throw themselves onto the Ophelia’s wooden coffin, proclaiming their love for her.

“My poor dead sister,” Laertes cries out.

“I loved her,” Hamlet cries out.

“You scoundrel,” Laertes protests, grabbing Hamlet by the throat. “You killed her. You are responsible. You did not love her at all.”

“Did too.”

“Did not.”

The two are pulled apart.

They have given Ophelia what she wanted. Love. But it’s kinda late, fellows.

 

Hamlet and Skulls

That skull had a tongue in it and could sing once. How the knave jowls it to the ground, as if it were Cain’s jawbone, that did the first murder! It might be the pate of a politician, which this ass now o’erreaches, one that would circumvent God, might it not? Hamlet Act 5 Scene 1.

For Hamlet’s plot till now, see Hamlet So Far.

Act 5 Scene 1 (continued). Things were looking bad for Hamlet. After all, he returned to Elsinore with no army behind him. The only weapon he had was the truth. Maybe this was the naked he wrote about in his letter.

So the first thing Hamlet saw when he returned to Camelot, Goodman Delver digging a grave. “Who died? Who died?” Hamlet asked.

Gravedigger Goodman doesn’t answer.

Hamlet asked once again, “Who died? Who died?’ But afraid he’d get an answer.

“Not sure, my lord,” Horatio answered.

“Could it be a politician who lost his head over a tongue waggin? Or that fellow Cain, who started the murder business?”

“It could be,” Horatio answered.

“Could it be a lawyer Lady Worm has taken a liking to?” Hamlet asked. Mostly he was asking himself. “Perhaps I will speak to the fellow. Sir, whose grave is this?”

“Mine, sir,” the Gravedigger Goodman Delver said.

“I guess it must be yours since you are the one lying in it.”

“Well, it’s not yours since you’re lying outside it.”

“What man,” Hamlet asked, “are you digging the grave for?”

“For no man, sir.

“Then for what woman?”

“Not a woman either,” Gravedigger gives a smart answer. No respect in his voice. He’s a gravedigger and he’ll see them lying down like he’s seen so many before.

“Whose grave is it then?”

“Well, I’m glad you asked. One that was a woman, sir, but, rest her soul, she’s dead.”

“I tell you, Horatio, these peasants have lost all respect for their betters.”

“All the days of my life. At least, since the old King Hamlet defeated that Fortinbras.”

Hamlet likes this back and forth between the gravedigger and himself. It has allowed him to set aside his worries and have some fun, something he hasn’t had since before he went away to college and became the serious student his parents wanted him to be. “How long does it take a man to rot as he lies down the cold dead ground?”

“Eight or nine year. Nine year for a leather maker. He’s in the tanning trade and he gets a bit of a tanned skin himself. Now here’s a skull of a man who’s been dead some twenty years and more.”

Hamlet catches the skull. “Whose skull is it?”

“A crazy madman who poured milk on my head once as a joke. This same skull be the king’s jester. The fellow once named Yorick.”

Hamlet handles the skull tenderly. His voice suddenly becomes sad. “I knew this fellow. He was a man of infinite jest. A man of infinite jest.” He whispered words to the skull Horatio or the gravedigger cannot hear.

When Hamlet spoke to Yorick, he could have been Prince Hal addressing Falstaff. For Hamlet thought back to the days when Yorick was his tutor and nanny. The days he rode on Yorick’s back. The days when Yorick played toys with the young lad. “A man of infinite jest. And imagination.”

Then to Horatio he said, “How low we can fall.”

“Yes, my lord. ‘Tis true how low we can fall.”