Hamlet: Gravedigger, gravedigger

Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.
Cymbeline, Act 4 Scene 2.

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

Act 5 Scene 1. It’s rather late in the play. The groundlings are getting restless. They want to see someone like themselves. All they’ve been getting is royalty, royalty, royalty. Where’s the ordinary guy? Why can’t you put somebody like me in the play? He doesn’t have to be a hero, but at least, give him some lines.

Oh, sure, Will. You gave us some common folk in the guards at the beginning. But this play is turning into an epic. We’ve been standing here for over three hours and there hasn’t been anybody like us after that first couple of scenes. Pretty soon we are going to have to pee. Before we do, we want to see a commoner up there on stage.

Will is always one to accommodate. He gave the groundlings the porter in the scene in Macbeth shortly after Duncan’s murder. Funny scene that one. Important because it relieved the tension. It was a groundling who sold Cleopatra the asp. A couple of Irish cops opened “Julius Caesar”. And need we forget how important Bottom was in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. He’s the one Puck disguised as a donkey. Very funny those scenes.

So you can imagine how restless the groundlings are getting. They like to see themselves on stage. Maybe not in every scene. At least in a few. That’s all they ask. The Bard being the Bard accommodates. Will-ingly.

He throws in the Gravedigger scene. The play could have gone on without this scene. It would have made the play shorter, and that would have been a good thing. However, with death coming down on everybody’s head, some comic relief was just what the doctor order. So we are introduced to the guys who actually do some real work:

The Gravedigger and his friend, Other, are conversing. The Gravedigger was played by Billy Crystal in Kenneth Branagh’s “Hamlet” and Stanley Holloway was in Olivier’s version. Great comic actor, Stanley Holloway. He played Eliza Doolittle’s father in “My Fair Lady” and sang, “Get me to the church on time”. Stole the show. Robert Armin or Will Kempe, both great Elizabethan clowns, probably played the Gravedigger in Will’s production of the play. Gives you some idea how important Shakespeare thought this scene was.

To open Act 5 with a scene in the graveyard seems an act of genius. Death is everywhere. There is foreboding all over the place. So what does Shakespeare do? He uses that foreboding for some relief. It’s kind of like the jokes between the doctors and the nurses in the Emergency Room. It allows those folks a way to relax so they can do their job.

The Gravedigger, Goodman Delver, is a realist, a reminder of how we all end up.

“Are they going to give her a Christian burial when she seeks her own salvation?” he asks as he digs. Reminding the audience that everybody thought Ophelia was a sucide.

“I tell thee she is,” Other answers. “Therefore make her grave straight. The crowner hath sat on her and finds it Christian burial.” How about that? Make her grave straight. As if Goodman could make it crooked. He probably could if he tried. He is that good of a gravedigger. But why would he?

I find the picture of the coroner sitting on Ophelia’s body funny. But that was the way folks talked back then.

“If she wasn’t a noble woman, there’d be none of that Christian burial-ing.” Even in those days, bribery worked. Somebody greased the palm of the coroner to get the results they wanted. That is what our Gravedigger friend is saying.

“Is that how the law sees it?”

“Ay, marry is it. Crowner’s quest law.”

“If you’re a commoner, that is.”

“There’s one law for the likes of they,” Gravedigger Goodman comments. “And one for the likes of we Christians.” Then he speaks to his shovel. “Come, my spade. There is no ancient gentleman but gardeners, ditchers, and gravemakers. They hold up Adam’s profession.”

“Was Adam a gentleman?” Other asked.

“Don’t you understand the Scriptures? The Scripture says Adam digged. I’ll put another question to you.”

“Go ahead.”

“Who is he that builds stronger than a mason, the shipwright or a carpenter?

“The gallows-maker, of course, Other answers, sure of himself. “That frame outlives a thousand tenants.”

“The gallows only does well to those who do ill.”

“Who then?”

“The gravedigger, that’s who,” Goodman says proudly. “The houses he makes last till doomsday. Now go fetch me a stoup of liquor.”

Now you might frown on the gravedigging business. You say that you would not want your kids going into the trade. Here’s something to think about. Gravediggers always have business. As long as folks die, there is no recession in the gravedigging enterprise. And it pays top dollar. ‘Cause there’s a lot of folks who won’t do it.

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Hamlet and Interlude 5: Civil War(s)

There are more things in heaven and earth. Hamlet Act 1 Scene 5.

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

Elsinore is beginning to smell of death. First Hamlet’s father. Then Polonius. Now Ophelia. And who knows who will be next. As I said, Elsinore is beginning to smell of death.

It is beginning to look like Civil War. Laertes and Claudius against Hamlet. Is this any way to run a kingdom?

Folks are beginning to doubt Claudius. He had a good run at king-ing. Now, not so much. Even the queen has started grumbling. A “I’m not in the mood” kind of grumbling.

Shakespeare’s England had been through this before. The War of the Roses between the Red Rose of the Lancaster family and the White Rose of the York family in the 1400s. The Elizabethans knew what this led to. Chaos.

It had taken a Tudor to bring order to England. He did that in 1485 at Bosworth Field.

So seeing “Hamlet” on stage was a reminder of what could happen. And they didn’t like it. They didn’t like or want another Civil War.

With the chaos of a Civil War came a country that couldn’t prosper. No one got rich, only poorer. A lot of folks didn’t get to die in bed. It meant brother against brother, father against son. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

The Elizabethans didn’t think it was fun. This is one of the reasons many Elizabethans remained Protestant. They weren’t happy about the persecution of the Catholics. But the Pope and the Jesuits couldn’t leave well enough alone. They had to go and stir the pot and persist in overthrowing Queen Elizabeth Numero Uno. The Elizabethans remembered Bloody Mary, and they were not ready to go back to that. Above all, the English wanted order. Elizabeth gave the English something the Roses and Bloody Mary did not give them. Order.

The Danes under Claudius were seeing order break down. At the beginning of Claudius’ reign, Denmark prospered. Now crops started to fail. Parts of the country suffered from drought. Seemed like somebody had an Oedipus Complex. They weren’t sure who. But one thing was sure. Either Claudius and Laertes buried the hatchet with Hamlet or all hell might just break loose. The Danes knew how that turned out, and they were not happy that there’d be a mess to clean up in the end.

Hamlet: This Week We Mourn

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

Act 4 Scene 7 (continued). A sadness has fallen upon Elsinore, sadder than the day King Hamlet died. A sadness has fallen upon Elsinore. Ophelia is dead. The coroner’s report says she drowned. But we know the True Cause. She died of a Broken Heart.

Gertrude tells us how with these sad lines:

There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;
There with fantastic garlands did she come
Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
But our cold maids do dead men’s fingers call them:
There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds
Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke;
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide;
And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up:
Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes;
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element: but long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pull’d the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.

Could it be that with these lines Shakespeare is mourning his son, Hamnet?

As “Much Ado About Nothing” illustrates, love always overcomes hatred. But where is the love in “Hamlet”. It is only Ophelia who loves and there is none who would love her. She has a pure heart. When thinking of Ophelia, for some reason I recall another play. “Antigone.” If Lear is Oedipus, Ophelia is Antigone.

Ophelia is not mad. She has no one. She is lonely. But it is not just lonely the way you and I get lonely. It is an existential loneliness that goes to the depth of who she is. It is a loneliness without the hope of love. It is a loneliness without God. So she dies. This little girl lost. Alone.

The priest says she committed suicide. Since when does falling from a tree and getting your clothes caught on a rock in the water add up to suicide. Ophelia is Catholic. And though she may have stepped out over the edge, I don’t think she commits suicide. No, she drowns and let’s leave it at that.

Alas, Ophelia is dead. Laertes is heartbroken, and he is mourning. Mourning for the sister he never paid much attention to. Mourning for the sister he did not know.

Hamlet: Claudius and the Plan

“High and mighty,
You shall know I am set naked on your kingdom. Tomorrow shall I beg leave to see your kingly eyes, when I shall, first asking your pardon thereunto, recount the occasion of my sudden and more strange return.
Hamlet.”  Hamlet Act 4 Scene 7.

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

Act 4 Scene 7. Claudius and Laertes in a huddle. Claudius was always a very persuasive dude. He’d lie, he’d cheat and he’d steal to get his way. And he’d even walk all over a dead body. He convinced Laertes’ friends he had nothing to do with the death of Polonius.

“See I told you I was innocent,” Claudius said. “You do believe I am innocent and your friend?” Claudius had pleading in his voice. He may have been a villain but he wanted to be liked too. Don’t we all?

“Why did you not prosecute the crime?”

“It was Hamlet,” Claudius said. “It was Hamlet. How could I? It would have killed his mother. I gotta tell you. I love that woman. And she would never have forgiven me. Plus the dude is more popular than Julius Caesar. You saw the play. You know how hard it was for Cassius to talk even Brutus into taking out the man. Hamlet is like that. If I didn’t use my wits and come up with a better, sneakier way, I would be dead meat. You’ve seen how the Danes get when they are angry. It takes them a while to get angry, but once they do. Man.”

“I’ve lost my dad and my sister has lost her dad. And now you see that once beautiful human being, you see how she is. I want my revenge.”

“Oh, you shall get it. You shall get it.”

Now we get our Kramer. (Link to writing rules.) Entered a messenger.

“There are letters from Prince Hamlet. One for you and one for the queen.” The messenger retires.

Claudius read his letter to himself. “Oh, you have to hear this,” He reads the letter to Laertes. Then said, “He’s coming back to Elsinore and going to tell his story. And in the nude too. Can you believe the gall of that guy? In the nude. And he called me ‘High and Mighty’. Does he know that I am his Magnanimousness. The nerve of that boy.”

“Naked or not,” Laertes said, I will stare at him teeth to teeth. And get my revenge.”

“You sure you’re up to it? You wouldn’t chicken out, would you?”

“How dare you even think a thing. He killed my dad.”

“Then I have a plan.” Claudius always had a plan. Even when he didn’t have a plan, he had a plan. “I have heard that you are an excellent fencer. Even the French say so. Why I ran into this guy from Normandy. He could do nothing but brag about your fencing skill.”

“Was it Lamond?”

“Yes, it was Lamond.”

“I knew it. What a fine fellow he is.”

“When Hamlet heard Lamond’s brag about your fencing skill, you can’t believe how angry he got. ‘I’m a prince. Why don’t people brag about my fencing skills?’ He was so jealous.”

“Jealous, eh?” Laertes said. I know. Laertes was not Canadian. But he could end his sentences with “eh” if he wanted to. “So, what’s your point?”

“You’re going to have a fencing match. And your sword will be untipped. Hamlet won’t notice. He’ll just be glad he’s back in the game and accepted at court and still has you for a friend.”

“I’ll friend that fiend. I’ll tip my sword with some very potent poison. A scratch will do the trick.”

As I said earlier, Claudius always have a backup. “Just in case your poison doesn’t work, or he doesn’t get scratched by your sword. I will give him a cup of wine with poison too. When he takes a break, he will drink it.”

Laertes agreed.

Claudius said, “Just remember that no one else is to know.

Laertes agreed some more.

Then Claudius said, “What’s that sound?”

“Sounds like wailing and gnashing of teeth.”

Hamlet and the Man Who Could Be Trusted

I would not wish
Any companion in the world but you.
(The Tempest 3.1

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

Act 4 Scene 6. Horatio found himself a corner to be alone with his thoughts. For an orphan, he had come a long way. First, adopted by King Hamlet to be his squire. Such an honor but he always wondered why him. “Because I can trust you,” the king said when Horatio asked.

It had been that trust that had earned Horatio a scholarship for Wittenberg University. “Go away and become a scholar. Then return and you will be my trusted adviser,” King Hamlet told Horatio. “And watch out for my son. I know I can trust you to do that.”

That same trust earned Horatio a friendship with the prince. It was that same trust that Gertrude found so appealing. And Claudius too.

If someone had asked Horatio why he could be trusted, Horatio would simply have told them the story of a man who could not be trusted. Judas Iscariot. The orphan once heard a priest tell the story of Iscariot. Horatio knew he did not want to be a Judas. So he made sure that he said nothing that would reveal the confidence others had in him. He knew secrets and he kept them.

One minute he was alone, the next a servant stood before him. “Sir, two sailors want to speak to you. They have a letter.”

Horatio gave a deep sigh. It was back to work for him. “I’ll see them.”

The servant left.

Horatio asked himself, “Who would want to send me a letter. Certainly not that girl I fell in love with at Wittenberg. She dumped me for a senior, and a football player at that. Then again, maybe she needs me.”

Before Horatio stood two sailors. Each wore sailor’s boots and sailor’s pants and a sailor’s shirt and a sailor’s hat. The tall one had a white beard that once was red. The short one wore an earring. Yep, they were sailors alright.

“We have a letter for your eyes only,” the tall one said. “But first you must pay the postage due of two gold ducats.”

In those days, there was no Pony Express. There was no carrier pigeons. There was no United States Postal Service. There was no email and there was no text. The only way you could get a letter out of your part of the world was to catch someone on the way to the letter’s destination. Or hire someone to carry your message.

“Who would be sending me a letter?”

“My lord, Hamlet.”

Horatio pulled out two gold ducats from his pocket and handed them to the sailor. The sailor handed him his letter.

Horatio read:
“Horatio, 
When thou shalt have overlooked this, give these fellows some means to the king. They have letters for him. Ere we were two days old at sea, a pirate of very warlike appointment gave us chase. Finding ourselves too slow of sail, we put on a compelled valor, and in the grapple I boarded them. On the instant, they got clear of our ship, so I alone became their prisoner. They have dealt with me like thieves of mercy, but they knew what they did; I am to do a good turn for them. 
Let the king have the letters I have sent, and repair thou to me with as much speed as thou wouldst fly death. I have words to speak in thine ear will make thee dumb, yet are they much too light for the bore of the matter. These good fellows will bring thee where I am. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern hold their course for England. Of them I have much to tell thee. Fare-well. 
He that thou knowest thine, 
Hamlet.” 

There was something about the letter that made Horatio think this wasn’t Hamlet, and yet it was Hamlet. It wasn’t the doubting Hamlet, but a confident Hamlet. The prince had changed. He had gained what had for some time seemed lost. The writer of this letter seemed lighter than air. It was the Hamlet he had once known.

“Wow,” Horatio said. “That is some story.”

“And all true, sir. Never have we witnessed a braver man.”

“Well, follow me. I will take you to the king to deliver his letters. Then you can take me to the man who sent you.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And remember, not a word to the king about this other matter. Understood?”

“We understand.”

So, dear Reader, aren’t you surprised? Bet you thought Hamlet was in England, doing the pubs and catching the Bard’s latest play. Looks like he isn’t. Very interesting. Bet Claudius will be surprised too.