Hamlet: A Time to Plan, A Time to Plot

When beggars die, there are no comets seen;
The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes. (Julius Caesar Act 2 Scene 2)

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

Act 3 Scene 1. It’s late. One might even say that it’s the dead of the night. A time to plan. A time to plot. A time to conspire.

Cassius says to Brutus, “Caesar is getting too big for his britches.”

Brutus: What can we do?’

Casca presents him a dagger. “It’s for his own good.”

It’s late. One might even say that it’s the dead of the night. A time to plan. A time to plot. A time for conspirators to come out to play.

John Wilkes Booth, “Lincoln has gotten too big for britches.”

Spangler asked, “What can we do?’

Booth produced a gun. “It’s for his own good.”

It’s late. One might even say that it’s the dead of the night. A time to plan. A time to plot. A time for a conspiracy to catch fire.

Robespierre to Danton, “Louis is a problem.”

Danton: “What can we do?”

Robespierre pulls back the curtains. Through the window is a guillotine. “It’s for his own good.”

It’s late. One might even say that it’s the dead of the night. A time to plan. A time to plot. A time for conspirators to change their world.

Stalin to Lenin: “The tsar is a problem.”

Lenin: “What can we do?”

Stalin hands Lenin a death warrant and a pen. “It’s for his own good.”

It’s late. One might even say that it’s the dead of the night. A time to plan. A time to plot. A time for conspiracies to fail.

Babington to Mary, Queen of Scots: “Your Majesty, we have a problem. The bastard queen must be removed.”

Mary, Queen of Scots: “What can we do?”

Babington: “Sign this and your subjects will rise.”

Mary signs, then hands the confession back to Babington.

Enter Walsingham with an axe. “Your majesty, we need your head. It’s for your own good.”

It’s late. One might even say that it’s the dead of the night. A time to plan. A time to plot. A time to—

Deep in the heart of Castle Elsinore, Claudius and Gertrude.

R & G have nothing to report to Claudius and Gertrude.

“So?” Claudius asks.

R&G: “My lord Hamlet is a regular guy. Quite nice actually. A little bit odd. But he was always a little bit odd. Admits he has been under the weather.”

Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother: “Does he say why?”

R&G: “He did not. It could be he is having flashbacks.”

Claudius: “I had those back in my college days. Man, you know what they say?”

R&G: “No, Your Magnanimousness.”

Gertie: “What do they say, Dear?” Gertrude, the queen and Hamlet’s mom, just revealed a bit about her attitude toward Claudius and her marriage. She called him “Dear”, not “Darling” or “Sweet’ums”. She called him “Dear”. When a wife calls a husband “Dear” with Gertrude’s tone of voice, there is a good chance something is going on that is not obvious to Claudius.

Just after the they-lived-happily-ever-afters in all the fairy tales, the “dear” starts coming up. “Dear, will you take out the garbage.” “Dear, I need a new pair of shoes to go with my new gown. I only got the last pair fifteen minutes ago. That’s like forever.” “Dear, Lancelot is such a nice knight. Can we keep him?” Prince Charming is always the last to know. Gertie asks again: “What do they say, Dear?”

Claudius: “If you remember the 1540s, you weren’t there.”

Gertrude: “Did my sweet boy use drugs?”

R&G: “Worse. He became a Protestant.”

Claudius: “No.”

Gertrude: “He didn’t.

R&G: “He did.”

Polonius: “May the saints preserve us.”

Claudius: “What are we going to do?” (He already has an answer but he has to get permission. Either that or proof.)

Polonius: “We could call in the Inquisition.”

Gertrude: “We’ll have none of that while I’m around.”

Polonius (thinking): “Well, we can arrange that you are not around. Then Ophelia would be queen. After all, she is the only eligible girl in the castle. Actually she is the only girl in the castle.”

Instead Polonius says: “I was just kidding, Your Majesty. Of course, we won’t bring in the Inquisition. We couldn’t have them sticking their nose in every little thing. Pretty soon they would want a burning every Friday night.”

Claudius: “We will not have that. Friday night is Game Night at the Castle.”

Gertrude: “Yes, you owe me a rematch of Monopoly. You keep winning. I think you’re cheating.”

Claudius: “I am king. It’s my job to cheat.”

Gertrude: “So what do we do about Sonny?”

R&G: “There was one other thing. An acting troupe has arrived. That did seem to cheer him up.”

Claudius: “Oh, goody. A play. A play. I love plays.”

Gertrude (knowingly): “I know.”

Claudius (to R&G): “Gentlemen, thank you kindly for your good work. Go down to the tavern and have yourself a feast on us.”

They leave, a big grin on their face.

Polonius hurries out of the chambers, then momentarily returns with his daughter. She is a lovely lady. Blonde hair, blue eyes and a rubenesque figure that Rubens would admire. Her smile puts Mona Lisa to shame. She curtsies before the king and the queen.

Claudius: “Ophelia, fair Ophelia.” There is a big grin on his face.

Gertrude (punches him in the side): “Don’t you go getting ideas, Dear.” There’s that “Dear” again. Only this time it is saying, “You had better watch yourself.”

Claudius (serious): “We have a favor to ask of you.”

Ophelia (looks up at the king with those baby blues of hers): “Whatever Your Majesties request, I will do it if it be possible.” (She’s thinking, “Just how did Anne Boleyn get to be queen?”)

Claudius: “We would like you to have a little talk with our son. Would that be okay?”

Ophelia (looking over at Polonius): But, Father, you said—“

Polonius: “It’s for Hamlet’s own good.”

Ophelia: Yes, Father.”

Hamlet: As the Plot Turns, Or oh goody, a play

The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king. (Hamlet Act 2 Scene 2)

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

Act 2 Scene 2. In Syd Field’s language, it’s time for Plot Point One. A plot point is a story event that directs the action in a new, unexpected direction.

Hamlet knows what he knows, and he knows it deeply. To prove it, that is another thing. The universe has turned against him. It has dug a hole for Hamlet, and it is throwing dirt over him. He needs a shovel.

The guy comes home to the castle. His dad is dead. Last he saw Dad he was healthy as a horse. He was bit by a snake and it was bye bye Miss American pie. On top of that, Mom has remarried. To Uncle Claudius, of all people. So he doesn’t get to be King Hamlet. Even for a day.

It would have been nice if Uncle screwed up. He didn’t. Uncle Claudius has this king thing down to a tee. He looks like a king, smells like a king, sounds like a king. He acts like a king, and he is damned good at it.

Then there is the ghost, and he’s dumping the dirt on Hamlet too. Could be his father. But maybe it is a demon or the devil. He dumps a revenge onto Hamlet’s noggin. How will that get dear old Dad out of a purgatory Hamlet did not believe in? This purgatory is a Catholic thing. Hamlet is a Protestant.

Hamlet deep down wants to be king. More than anything. So he is ready to do just about anything. But murder. No way. There’s a little thing called the Ten Commandments and “Thou shalt not kill”. It doesn’t say “except if he’s an s.o.b.”

Maybe Hamlet doesn’t want to be king after all. Even if he did want it, he can’t do the cold blood thing. He needs proof. Not only for others. For himself as well. So how is he going to do that? He hasn’t a clue.

First Polonius shows his face, then R & G with whom he used to play touch football. With whom he no longer has anything in common.

More words, words, words, and none the right ones. Tit for tatting with his old chums, now working for the Dark Lord. Hamlet says, “I have of late…lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises, and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition.” In other words, I am so down-and-out these days, I’ve let my LA Fitness membership slide, I am not dating much, and I haven’t smiled in days. No, make that weeks. Hamlet is really, and truly, bummed.

R/G says to the Hamster,” A troupe of actor’s a-coming this way. You know them?”

“I do?”

“Yes, they were the same troupe you knew at school.”

“Oh, that troupe.

Then Shakespeare steps in to speak through the mouths of his actors. He complains how child actors have given his theatrical troupe competition. They’ve been very successful at it of late. He complains that they are biting into the Globe’s revenues. Ticket sales are down.

Hamlet welcomes the troupe. Sees if they’ve still got their chops, for Hamlet knows a bit about acting. More than a bit. Seems he could join the troupe himself if he were not a prince and he was looking for a job. Now comes the Plot Point One. Hamlet has come upon a design which will reveal if Claudius is guilty of his father’s murder or not. He will set a trap.

To the lead player, he requests the troupe do “The Murder of Gonzago”. He shall write a speech for them to insert into the play. It will be such a speech that once and for all proves, or disproves, Claudius’ guilt.

Hamlet now has his shovel. Now for Act 3 when all hell breaks loose.

“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…

Hamlet and the Knock-knock joke

This is the short and the long of it. The Merry Wives of Windsor Act 2, Scene 2.

You know Shakespeare invented the knock-knock joke. In  Act 1 Scene 1, “Hamlet” begins with “Who’s there?” Made me wonder if “Hamlet” was one long knock-knock joke without a punch line.

You know, in those days, there were not any knock-knock jokes going around. Until:

Barnardo: “Knock knock.”

Francisco: “Who’s there?”

Barnardo: “Eliza.”

Francisco: “Eliza Who?”

Barnardo: “Eliza Bet You Can’t Be Queen.

Francisco: “I may not be Queen but I sure can sing.”

Barnardo: “Sing?”

Francisco: “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?”

Okay, you didn’t get it. Shakespeare did, and so did Freddie Mercury.

This “Who’s there?” asked by Francisco, the guard on the turret, sets the whole mood and theme of the play. The play is about who is who and what is what and getting it all sorted out.

Do you have a favorite knock-knock joke?