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 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.

Hamlet: No More Mr. Nice Guy

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

Act 3 Scene 2 (continued).

From the moment Ophelia said, “The king rises.”

From the moment the Queen said, “How fares my lord?”

From the moment Polonius said, “Stop the play.”

From the moment Claudius said, “Give me some light, away.”

Hamlet knew, and he knew big time. The white face on Claudius was not embarrassment. It wasn’t a clown’s face. It was the face of a murderer’s guilt.

Yep, Claudius did it. There was no doubt about it.

“Well, there you have it. There it is,” The Hamster said to his good bud, Horatio. “Claudius done it. There’s no doubt about It.” The Hamster looked for agreement. Even now, he was not about to go out on this limb alone.

Horatio was a man of few words and those words usually backed up anything The Hamster said. Horatio had watched Claudius during the performance of “The Murder of Gonzago”. Claudius’ face left nothing to guesswork. He was guilty alright. So Horatio gave his unqualified yep with a clear conscience.

‘Course, whatever Horatio did or said, he said or did with a clear conscience. It wasn’t necessarily that it was right. He just did it with a clear conscience. That was the kind of guy he was. Also it was a great survival technique. And one thing was sure. Horatio was good at surviving.

So there it was. Claudius guilty as charged. Right. What to do about it? Before that could be discussed, guess who showed? Mr. Dumb and Mr. Dumber. Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Rusancrantz and Guildenstern, of course.

R or G said, “My lord, can I have a word with you?’

“I don’t know. Can you?” Hamlet throws off.

“The king. He’s off in his chamber and he’s extremely bummed, man.”

“Got the blues, eh?”

“He’s angry,” R or G said.

“That’s what he gets for drinking that bad hootch.” Hamlet smiled. He was having way too good a time.

“It’s not that.”

“Maybe you should get him a doctor. I hear his doctor the doctor, Doctor Doctor, is very good at healing a pain in the butt. Can’t heal mine but maybe he can take Polonius’ head out of his rear.”

“But your mom…”

“I thought we were talking the king here. You’re always confusing me. Not only can I not tell who R is and who G is, now you’ve got me confused about who the king is and who the queen is. He’s not wearing a dress again, is he?”

In the Middle Ages, lords wore robes. They may have looked like dresses but they were not. They were robes. Popes and cardinals got to wear dresses, I mean robes too. It was what distinguished a higher-up from a lower-down. Serfs wore pants.

“Huh?”

“It’s getting hard to know who’s wearing the pants around here. Oh, me. I’m wearing the pants.” Hamlet asided, “See, you were wrong. I do have fashion-sense. I’m so New School I might as well be in kindergarten.”

Pants were the new thing. All the young turks were wearing them back at Wittenburg U. Even the ladies had gotten on the pants bandwagon. They were after that workingclass look. Only Elsinore was behind the times fashionwise. It would take a hundred years or a Fortinbras to bring pants–and bras–into style.

“It’s not the king who sent us. It’s your mom.”

“Well, it’s lovely to see you too,” Hamlet said.

“She is upset at your behavior.”

“Now that’s not true,” Hamlet said. “And you know it’s not true. You take that back.”

R or G wasn’t sure what to do. Hamlet seemed to be getting nutsier and nutsier. They decided. “We take it back.”

Polonius announced, “My lord, the queen wants to speak with you.”

“Well, I’d better go then. Tell the queen I’ll be there by the by.”

Hamlet was through playing. He was through pussy footin’. He might not be on a mission from God, but now he was on a mission. He knew what he must do. It was time to get on with the show. Just to show it, he said these words:

‘Tis now the very witching time of night,
When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out
Contagion to this world. Now could I drink hot blood
And do such bitter business as the bitter day
Would quake to look on. Soft, now to my mother.—
O heart, lose not thy nature, let not ever
The soul of Nero enter this firm bosom.
Let me be cruel, not unnatural.
I will speak daggers to her but use none.
My tongue and soul in this be hypocrites.
How in my words somever she be shent,
To give them seals never, my soul, consent!

Scary stuff. And I’m talking deep fried, Stephen King, Anne Rice kind of scary. The witching hour indeed.

“Hamlet” and the Thing Part Deux

It harrows me with fear and wonder. Hamlet Act 1 Scene 1.

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

Act 1. Scene 1 (Continued). The night had become darker than dark. In other words, it was exceedingly dark. Enough to get Barnardo to say, “It sure is dark out here.” There was no doubt about it. Horatio, Marcellus and Barnardo could not see diddly-squat.

Except for the gray ghost of The Thing rising out of the sea. If eyeballs could have popped out, they would have popped out of the three men’s eye sockets. Without knowing it, the three fell face down onto the stone floor. And I am not talking Moe, Larry and Curly here. Horatio, Marcellus and Barnardo didn’t feel the pain of the floor because they were not just scared. They were frightened. You would have been frightened too.

Above them was The Thing, hovering, filling the sky with its grayish white.

You remember Marley in “The Christmas Carol”. It took him something like seven years to screw up his ghostly courage before he got enough gumption to visit Ebenezer Scrooge. Even then, he had to huff and puff to build himself into enough apparition to get Scrooge’s goose to gandering.

When I tell you that This Thing was no Marley, take my word for it. I wasn’t there but I have it on good authority. Horatio came by my place the other night and assured me that This Thing was one whopper of a spectre. I mean, It was a Spectre. And I am not talking the James Bond kind of SPECTRE either. And This Thing was neither shaken nor stirred.

If I had been there that night, I would have been out of there faster than Road Runner outrunning Wiley Cayote. Talk about walking on the water. I would have run across that water and been in Sweden, taking in a spa before you could shake your fist at The Thing and say, “Out, damned spot.”

The Thing, hovering above Horatio, Marcellus and Barnardo, was not large. It was not huge. It was humungus and then some. And the damned Thing moaned. It was not your run-of-the-moan either.

Believe it or not. They say that Lisa moaned when Leonardo asked if he could paint her. “With this nose,” she moaned. Originally Leo called the portrait “Moaning Lisa”. Then it was shortened to “Moan á Lisa”. Once the Louvre got a hold of the painting they weren’t about to have any of this “moaning business”. So they made the name change to “Mona Lisa” so that “Moaning Lisa” has been “Mona Lisa” ever since.

This was not that kind of moan. This was the moaningest moan ever. When folks talk about really bad moaning, this is the moan they are talking about. It was so bad it could make a banshee scream. So you know that was some moaning.

Such was The Thing’s Presence that It could have put the Fear of the Lord into an atheist. Talk about foxhole conversions, this would have been one of them.

For days, the three-bees, Horatio, Marcellus and Barnardo, walked around, white as a sheep. Their buddies snickered, “You been in Ophelia talcum powder, guys?” It was so bad that they wanted to just slap someone. Anyone. Then they remembered The Thing and thought better of it. The Thing might come back and slap them around. Believe you me, when you’ve been slapped by a Thing you’ve been slapped.

So there This Thing hovered above the three men. Shaking in his booties, Horatio took a little peepsy. Well, how ’bout that? he thunk. The bell struck two and the Thing was gone. At least for the time being.

“Hamlet” and The Thing

Now is the winter of our discontent. Richard III Act 1. Scene 1.

Act 1. Scene 1 (Continued). What would you do if you met a ghost? Oh, you don’t believe in ghosts. Neither did Horatio. After all, he had taken enough philosophy to know that he was a materialist. If it didn’t exist in the material world, it didn’t exist. Then he found himself stumbling into the first scene of “Hamlet” and all hell broke loose.

Act One Scene One opens and everybody is identifying themselves. You know the guard post is darker than dark ’cause everybody keeps asking who everybody is.

The guard, Francisco, tells Barnardo, his relief, to unfold himself. Ain’t no way that Barnardo is going to unfold himself. He’ll freeze. Don’t know why Barnardo didn’t say back, “Unfold your own self.” Then give Frenchie the finger.

But he didn’t. He did a long-live-the-king, then everything is A-Okay with Francisco. Just about the time Frenchie leaves, up shows Marcellus, another one of the guards. He’s dragged Horatio, Hamlet’s good bud, out of bed.

Once Barnardo identifies Marcellus and Marcellus identifies Horatio, Barnardo calls Marcellus “good”. How does Barnardo know that Marcellus is good? We are only in the first scene and here Shakespeare is telling us that Marcellus is good. Whatever happened to that writerly dictum, “Show don’t tell.”

If Shakespeare is not careful, Jonathan Franzen will be copying him and that will never do. Oh, that’s right. Franzen already does “tell, don’t show” better than a lot of other writers. After all, he is the twenty-first century’s answer to the question of who is the latest version of the great American novelist.

Why doesn’t Barnardo think Horatio is good? Could it be because Horatio is from out of town, so he’s looked down on by all the Elsinoreans? An Elsinorean, of course, is someone who lives in Elsinore. But you already knew that.

Horatio is poor. He is going to school on the G I Bill. He served with Hamlet’s dad when Dad was the King of Denmark and did a slamdunk on Norway. Horatio was the dead king’s squire and Hamlet’s roommate at Wittenberg University, Marty Luther’s alma mater. Go Lions. Horatio and Hamlet are besties. If he were asked, Horatio would say that he is at Elsinore for the old king’s funeral and the new king’s coronation and wedding.

In this story, Horatio is to the hero, Hamlet, what Nick Carroway was to Gatsby. He knows all the missing parts and he still loves the Ham. He is the one who can tell his friend’s side of things long after he is gone.

Rubbing sleep from his eyes, Horatio wanders why Marcellus dragged him out on a knight like this. And for guard duty, at that. He’d been there done that till he didn’t want to done that no more.

“We saw a thing last night,” Marcellus says.

“A thing?” Horatio asks.

“Yes, a thing,” Barnardo says.

“What kind of thing?” Horatio wants to know.

“You know,” Barnardo says, “a thing.”

“Horatio thinks we’re making this up,” Marcellus says. “But I convinced him it would appear as it has two times before.”

“I don’t know what you guys have been drinking,” Horatio says. “Or smoking, but we’re not going to see a thing tonight.” Horatio has a case of the Missouris. He has to be shown. And shown he shall be.

Then they hear the waves, splashing below, making a ruckus. Out of the darkness of the sea below…