Donald Freed
International Playwright
and Master Teacher

Hamlet (In Rehearsal)

HAMLET

BY

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

(in rehearsal)

 

by

 

donald freed

 

 

 

© November, 2007 by Donald Freed. Literary Representation:

PATRICIA RAE, email: PATTYRAEF1@AOL.COM

 

This Hamlet project is dedicated to the inspiring and inspired Artistic Director of York Theatre Royal, Damian Cruden. And to the entire Company at York, beginning with Carol Morrill, who made my Playwright-in-Residency in their great theatre such an adventure and joy.

And to Nick Rusling, Professor Mary Luckhurst, Edward Pearce and Alistair Stead, scholars and friends for their rare generosity and enthusiasm.

 

Donald Freed

Harrogate, England

August 2007

DONALD FREED

 

*Donald Freed has been awarded the 2006 PEN DRAMA PRIZE for his Devil’s Advocate.

Donald Freed’s plays, prizes, books and films include: Inquest (directed by Alan Schneider); Secret Honor (directed by Robert Altman); Circe & Bravo (with Faye Dunaway, directed by Harold Pinter); The Quartered Man; Alfred and Victoria (A Life); Veterans Day (with Jack Lemmon and Michael Gambon); The White Crow; Eichmann in Jerusalem.

 

Three Rockefeller Awards; two Louis B. Mayer Awards; Unicorn Prize; Gold Medal Award; Berlin Critics Award; NEA Award for "Distinguished Writing", Hollywood Critics Award; Jonathan R. Reynolds Prize.

 

Agony in New Haven; Executive Action (novel and film with Dalton Trumbo and Mark Lane); The Glasshouse Tapes; The Spymaster (Book of the Month); In Search of Common Ground (with Erik Erikson, Kai Erikson, Huey P. Newton); The Existentialism of Alberto Moravia (with Joan Ross); Death in Washington: The Murder of Orlando Letelier.

 

New books, plays and films include: Is He Still Dead? (with Julie Harris as Nora Joyce); Love and Shadows (from the novel by Isabel Allende); Sokrates Must Die (with Edward Asner); The Einstein Plan (with James Cromwell); a novel, Every Third House.

 

Donald Freed is on leave from the University of Southern California; he is Playwright in Residence at York Theatre Royal, and Artist in Residence at the Workshop Theatre, University of Leeds, U.K..

 

Donald Freed is a writer of blazing imagination, courage, and insight. His work is a unique and fearless marriage of politics and art."

Harold Pinter

"Donald Freed is the most political and pertinent of all American playwrights."

Studs Terkel

 

MISE–EN–SCENE

 

 

The "in rehearsal" of this production is a concept aimed at deepening the interpretation and the experience of Shakespeare’s masterpiece. The concept is not meant as a conceit or a device nor yet another bright idea or substitute for, arguably, the greatest single work of art in the history of civilisation. This Rehearsal/Run-through is simply a record of a search – as are all serious rehearsals – for a way out of the Prison that is Denmark, and a comprehension of the ghosts and bad dreams that haunt the Prince’s all too human heart and tragic imagination.

The intention in this reconstruction of the timeless work is to reveal the congruence of the politics in the play and the politics of the play and thus, at one stroke, to pierce their double censorship.

An interval is indicated between Acts 2 and 3 of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

 

THE CAST

 

Multiple role playing by each actor, except for Hamlet, is in the spirit of the Rehearsal approach to the old Revenge saga that Shakespeare inherited.

This plan is flexible. One is suggested below.

Actor 1: Bernardo; Young Gravedigger; Laertes; Guildenstern; Actor

 

Actor 2: Francisco; Reynaldo; Rosencrantz; Actor; Asst. Stage Manager

 

Actor 3: The Director; King Claudius; the Ghost; the Old Actor or

First Player

 

Actor 4: The Stage Manager; Queen Gertrude; Ophelia

 

Actor 5: Polonius; Old Gravedigger

 

Actor 6: Horatio; Actor; Courtier

 

Actor 7: Hamlet

 

 

III

 

 

THE STAGE

 

The entire stage is black: floor; platforms and steps; curtains; masking flats and returns.

 

The Director’s/Stage Management table is Down Stage, out of the action. Also in the Down Stage areas are the tea table and chairs for actors to use when they are not rehearsing or waiting to enter.

 

There is no furniture as such, only rectangular black "elements". These elements, singly or together, are used for seats, thrones, beds, graves, etc…

 

There should be at least three platforms of differing size and height.

 

Swords and daggers should be wooden staves or old rehearsal instruments. All props should be improvised or incomplete.

 

Costumes range from street clothes to rehearsal skirts for the women. There can be a scattering of "period" coats, hats, cloaks, etc. from the Wardrobe Department.

 

The Technical Booth or Space should be open during the rehearsal; sound and light adjustments take place "live" during the run-through.

 

 

IV

PROLOGUE

 

 

House lights are up. Stage empty; TECHNICIAN on a ladder, adjusting a lamp. Worklight on stage produces deep shadows. Somewhere a radio is broadcasting news on the hour, then an old Dixieland instrumental.

STAGE MANAGER enters and begins to make tea. ACTORS drift in from the wings and down the aisles, through the auditorium.

The DIRECTOR enters, confers with Stage Manager, greets actors, fixes cup of tea…. After an interval, the Director blows his whistle and assembles the Company to begin their physical and vocal warm-ups.

 

DIRECTOR

…stretch, stretch – 5, 6, 7, 8 … Head and neck … And shoulders up, high, and down slowly, and leave your chest high, and again; chest stationary, and again … And, bend from the waist, knees loose, and 5, 6, 7, 8, and again …

 

The Director moves among the Company to find and eliminate tensions in the Actors.

 

…Alright. Breathe. Yawn: and Ha - Ya, Ya, Ya … suppressed yawn – Ya - Ya – jaw down and forward. Ya – Ya – Ya (loud yawns).

 

Director and Company move through the Voice and Diction drills.

DIRECTOR

The tongue, the teeth, the lips – the tongue, the teeth, the lips – tongue low and relaxed, and vibrate the tongue and lips … good.

… Drum – Bell – Tin – Nine – Gong:

Don’t strain, Drummmm – and pull from the belt – pull, pull, and one final pull from the diaphragm, and release, and push out, and, again … And

"A drum, a drum, Macbeth doth commmm – " (laughter ) Sorry, wrong play – Now, Belllll, "And shallll I couplllle Hellll?" …

Now, nine – nine – nine – nine – "It is I, Hamlet the Dannnne?"

Don’t strain – "Bloody, Bawdy Villain / treacherous, lecherous, kinnndless villainnn – O,Vengeannnnce!" … "V" and "Z": "Seemmzzz, madam, nay it ‘tizz, I know not seemmmzzz." And, "I did lovvvve you once." And, "The madness wherein now he ravvvzzzz"; again …

And pull from the diaphragm – and release – and push out, that’s it.

 

The Director monitors each Actor’s production. Hands on, smoothing tensions away. A mobile phone sounds. All freeze – until the culprit dashes to silence the villain.

DIRECTOR

… Consonants: F, T, P, K, D – quicker, slower – "speak the speech I pray you … trippingly on the tongue", and, "the time iz out ov joint , O cursed spite that ever I waz born to set it right." … "Now could I drink hot blood." Again. Again. DrinK hoT blooD! 100% today, my friends, every word and every syllable of every word. Thankyou!

They all applaud each other.

DIRECTOR

Good. Relax … the drill today is to stop and start wherever we’ve had problems at turning points and moments of truth. And tomorrow, of course, is a tech/dress rehearsal. We’ll have some lights and sound today, but what’s paramount is that you remember that "Denmark is a prison". The world of this play – outside and inside – is a prison. And every character in this world – our world – has one aim and one aim only and that is to "escape". But each of you can only escape in your own way. (pointing) Yours is drink; yours is power, of course; Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, denial and treachery; Ophelia, illusion, daydreams, madness; Horatio, loyalty – I’m not talking words, I’m talking "intention": obsession, compulsion, starvation – prisonmadhouse – torture chamber – actual prison…

The Director sits, and draws the Company around him.

DIRECTOR (cont..)

"Anagnorisis"…

STAGE MANAGER

He’s an old Greek. (they all smile)

DIRECTOR (cont..)

The Truth of this production, of this HAMLET, of this rehearsal – today, now: Hamlet wants to go back to Wittenberg. Wittenberg is the future. He needs to go. But Denmark forces him to stay. His Mother begs him, his Uncle, the King, forbids it, and, then, the god-damned Ghost comes clanking up in full armour from Hell, itself, to chain him to Elsinore – to Revenge, and to History… So the Prince has no "Future" except continual murder and vengeance. His future in Art and the Life of the Mind at Wittenberg is foreclosed. He is sentenced to life in prison here in this Castle. And, so, in total despair and nausea, he retreats into "madness".

The Director rubs his scalp

DIRECTOR (cont.)

Then, comes the miracle of the play: in his madness – feigned and real – the Prince re-discovers, remembers a sensation, a taste from long ago, from Yorick’s lips, of the only true escape – the taste of freedom. And that is "the Yorick Axis" of this production. In other words, what we have here is a new play!

Director toasts Company with a cup of tea.

DIRECTOR (cont..)

Hamlet’s drive for Freedom through his "antic disposition", his playwriting and acting, his defection to the Pirates, his loyalty and love for Horatio and the soldiers, his worship of the Actors and their art and, above all, his final reverence for the Old Gravedigger, before whom, at last, the Prince lays down his arms. That’s the key, the key scene, the clock that strikes 13, in the graveyard, casting doubt on everything that’s gone before … so hang onto your intentions, today, like a lifeline, a burning thread, for you to follow out of the Power Politics and the hell-hole of your Prison … There’s one way out. One way out of all prisons. You can dig your way out. The Old Gravedigger and his Apprentice – in this production, his son – they know the way. But no-one else in the play, in the prison, has the courage to follow these so-called "Clowns" down into that labyrinth of Freedom; no-one, that is, except the Prince, himself.

He puts his arm around the Actor playing Hamlet

DIRECTOR (cont.)

His body’s his prison. "Hamlet" and the "Prince of Denmark" are locked up in the same body. Doubleness. Claustrophobia… The others, all and each in their own way, commit suicide as their way out. Only Hamlet and his "people" – descended from Yorick, the god disguised as the King’s Jester – only Yorick’s tribe, the Soldiers, the Actors, the Pirates, the Gravediggers: Hamlet’s people, Yorick’s tribe – they, and only they, have the taste of Freedom in their mouths, and know, at least dimly, for what it is they hunger … Thankyou, and as Bob Altman used to say, "Have fun!" – and he meant it seriously.

The Director and Company mingle, touch, relate: a kind of family.

DIRECTOR (cont..)

…Alright, so have fun. We’ll go straight through the problems and the turning points, and even the "Moments of Truth" (laughter), as far as we can – there may be a few cuts.

STAGE MANAGER

Can we cut the rat? (general hilarity)

DIRECTOR

Very funny, very funny – you make me believe that "Denmark is a Prison" – and I’ll consider cutting the rat. (Company reaction) Alright? Let’s go.

STAGE MANAGER

Places, please. First Act beginners.

The Company leave the stage for their places. The Director speaks to the light/sound booth.

DIRECTOR

…Ladies and gentlemen, do your best, technically, just rough it in. We won’t stop, use worklights if you have to. (to the Stage Manager) I’ll be right back, take the house lights out and start the Chant on a one minute count.

The Director exits. The Stage Manager cues the GREGORIAN CHANTS tape, and fades the house lights.

Complete dark and the Chants for another 60 seconds. Then, a sliver of cold light from the frozen moon.

From out of the blackness comes the DIRECTOR’S voice:

 

ACT ONE

SHAKESPEARE’S ACT 1

 

SCENE 1

 

 

DIRECTOR (from darkness)

… Gentlemen – you have the pitch darkness … you have the cold … Tech. Booth, take the moon out, please – You have the Politics, the State of Emergency, now in its sixth week! … You have your long entrance through this windchill… You can hear, but you can’t see the others … Who is it, who’s there? The Ghost? One of the King’s spies, or assassins? Or a spy or agent of Fortinbras? … Norway smells Denmark’s weakness. Fortinbras is on the march. Revenge is on the march! So – come towards each other – actually ready to fight, to kill, or be killed … It’s freezing but you’re sweating – use your noses and your ears to find your way through this darkness … O.K. – go. Cue the church bells, and sneak the moonlight on a 20 count.

Bells toll midnight. Chant fades. Silence. Footsteps.

One SOLDIER enters from Up Stage, the other SOLDIER from the back of the auditorium and comes down the aisle. The moonbeam casts a huge ghost-like shadow.

ACTOR (BERNARDO)

Who’s there?

ACTOR (FRANCISCO)

Nay, answer me. Stand and unfold yourself.

BERNARDO

Long live the King!

FRANCISCO

Bernardo.

BERNARDO

He.

FRANCISCO

You come most carefully upon your hour.

BERNARDO

‘tis now struck twelve –

DIRECTOR (blows whistle)

Good. "Nay, answer me!" Just take it again from "Long live the King". We have to grasp that this "Long live the King" is meant for the ears of the King’s spies – out there in the dark. Tonight could be the night. The King could massacre the Prince, Hamlet, and all his loyalists, starting with you – or, Horatio and Hamlet could be on their way to give the word to go to ground, or to start the uprising – anything is possible – anything! – that’s why everybody is seeing ghosts – including the audience if you two fight to maintain control over your bowels and your vowels – they’ll believe in ghosts if you believe in them – and when the Ghost, of the murdered King, gives the word, then! -- then the uprising begins! – with Hamlet leading the troops – and you two right behind him! That’s their fantasy and that’s the story of the first scene… Take it from the top, please. And Gentlemen, you have to create the night, the terror, the blackness of darkness: close your eyes – go!

BERNARDO (low)

Who’s there?

FRANCISCO (low)

Nay, answer me. Stand and unfold yourself.

BERNARDO (loud)

Long live the King!

DIRECTOR

Now, open your eyes.

FRANCISCO (natural tone)

Bernardo.

BERNARDO

He.

FRANCISCO

You come most carefully upon your hour.

BERNARDO

‘tis now struck twelve … Get thee to bed, Francisco.

FRANCISCO

…’tis bitter cold, and I am sick at heart.

DIRECTOR

Good. Better. Exactly: "Bitter cold", "sick at heart": no Ghost, no sign, no signal – another midnight come and gone … Alright, let’s go on: Horatio comes in, the Ghost does appear; Horatio is convinced and they decide to tell Hamlet today! O.K., Scene 2, please. Cue the "flourish". Let’s try the red and green lights.

 

ACT ONE

 

SHAKESPEARE’S ACT 1

 

SCENE 2

 

Royal music for the KING, QUEEN AND COURT as they enter. The King is played by the Director.

The King and POLONIUS stand on the Centre Platform. Between them a

jester crouches holding the crown on a velvet pillow. But which of the two older men, on either side of the crown, is the King?

The Queen stands alone some distance from the Royal Platform. Next, HAMLET enters and stops at his mother’s side. The Queen secretly grasps her son’s hand for a moment. The ROYAL COURTIERS are played by all the other cast members.

The ensemble moves constantly in a choreography of gossip and treason, a hissing echo of the King’s first speech (the Power Party Line).

This echolalia is sadistically enunciated and orchestrated by the chorus:

CHORUS (the Court)

"… Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother’s death the memory be green…"

The red and green lights play over the moving clump of bodies as over a monster of the deep.

One of the two older men on the platform tries to speak, but to no avail.

The gestalt of gossiping thugs never leave any space for the King.

 

THE KING

….Though, ah …though yet of, ah….

Finally, the other older man, POLONIUS, clears his throat. At the sound of the power, of the old regime, the Court freezes.

Claudius, THE KING, steps off his platform as if into a troubled sea and walks a dangerous circuit among the living dead of the Court.

POLONIUS

Hm – mmm … (silence)

THE KING (coming down)

…Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother’s death the memory be green, and that it us befitted to bear our hearts in grief –

The Director steps out of the King’s character to address the company.

DIRECTOR

Look – don’t make it easy for the King. Make him break you. This is Denmark – kill or be killed. Today is the day – six weeks in – Claudius consolidates his power, or they overthrow him and eat him alive!

The Director resumes his role of King.

THE KING

… To bear our hearts in grief, and our whole Kingdom to be contracted in one brow of woe, yet so far hath discretion fought with nature that we with wisest sorrow think on him together with remembrance of ourselves.

On the word "ourselves" the King threatens the Court. They begin to shrink.

Therefore our sometimes sister, now our queen, th’ imperial jointress to this warlike state… have we taken to wife

The King has conquered. The Courtiers, like apes, laugh and clap. All except HAMLET.

The King takes the crown and Gertrude’s arm and leads his prize up on to the platform. This leaves Hamlet alone, in no man’s land.

Silence. The King’s eyes turn on Hamlet – so do all the Courtiers’.

THE KING

…But now, my cousin Hamlet and my son –

HAMLET

A little more than kin and less than kind.

THE KING

How is it that the clouds still hang on you?

HAMLET

Not so, my lord; I am too much in the sun.

THE QUEEN

Good Hamlet, cast thy nighted colour off …

Do not forever with thy veilèd lids

Seek for thy noble father in the dust.

Thou know’st ‘tis common; all that lives must die,

Passing through nature to eternity.

HAMLET

Ay, madam, it is common.

The Director blows softly on his whistle and leaves his platform.

DIRECTOR

Gertrude … take it again, remember – this is all about real-politic: "Wash your face – life is cheap, life is violent – have a drink, burn those black clothes – give your uncle a chance, he’s as good a man as your father. Better! Younger – ha – ha"….. Look, she’s half drunk, they all are – except Hamlet, and he’s intoxicated with nausea. – So, again.

THE QUEEN

Good Hamlet, cast thy nighted colour off …

DIRECTOR

That’s better. Think Bette Davis – think, ah, who? (laughter)

THE QUEEN (Actor)

Helen Mirren?

DIRECTOR

Think, "I need a drink. I need a nap. I, ah, need, you know, I need."

The Queen repeats the speech with a kind of brokenhearted gaiety.

DIRECTOR (blows whistle)

Yes – it’s coming … cut to the Court’s exit, and go right into the soliloquy … And everyone on the beat, a half line behind the King – and do not spare the gloating!

The Court exits echoing the King.

THE KING AND COURT

Why, ‘tis a loving and a fair reply,

Be as ourself in Denmark – Madam, come.

This gentle and unforced accord of Hamlet

Sits smiling to my heart, in grace whereof

No jocund health that Denmark drinks today

But the great canon to the clouds shall tell,

And the King’s rouse the heaven shall bruit it again,

Respeaking earthly thunder. Come away.

 

Flourish. All but Hamlet exit.

Hamlet, alone, studies/smells the silence… He steps to the edge of the King’s platform, but does not mount … He sits, then, on the corner of the riser. Hangs his head with a groaning/vomiting exhalation – then another and another as he slowly lies back flat on his back.

He moans softly, then tenses and listens. He sees or smells a rat, sits up, rises slowly, searching. The Prince spies the rat -- "Aggggh!" – and bolts away in the opposite direction.

He leaps through a drapery to escape, only to flush out a COURT OPERATIVE hidden there. The spy screams too, and scuttles away.

However, at this rehearsal the "rat" prop does not function.

DIRECTOR

Goddammit, where’s the g’damn rat!?

STAGE MANAGER

Where’s the rat?

ACTOR (off stage)

The string broke. (silence)

DIRECTOR

… Cut the rat. (silence)

HAMLET (Actor)

… So – what about the spy?

DIRECTOR (pause)

Try the, ah, moral equivalent of the rat. (pause) The spy. Smell him.

HAMLET (Actor)

You mean –

DIRECTOR

Smell him. See what happens. What would Hamlet do!? – Let’s go.

Again, Hamlet groans and lies flat. Again, he tenses and listens. This time he rises with a prehensile stealth. Controls his breathing and his limbs – stalks his prey: shocks the SPY with a shouting leap into the drapes.

The spy tears away. The Prince vents his outrage and plunges into his soliloquy.

In the dark, the Director: a soft, intense "Yeah!"

HAMLET

– Ahhhhh! – Hah! that this too too sullied flesh would melt

Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew,

Or that the Everlasting had not fixed

His canon ‘gainst self slaughter! O God, God,

How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable

Seem to me all the uses of this world!

 

Hamlet, almost unconsciously, begins a savage parody of the King and Queen; followed by a series of mood swings. He stops twice to guard against any spy or eavesdropper.

…Frailty, thy name is woman!

A little month, or ere those shoes were old

With which she followed my poor father’s body,

Like Niobe, all tears – why she, even she –

O , God, a beast that wants discourse of reason,

Would have mourned longer! – married with my uncle, (pause)

My father’s brother, but no more like my father

Than I to Hercules. Within a month – she married.

Hamlet is down again, on the platform, rolling in rage. In rage, and something else, something sensual….

O, most wicked speed, to post

With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!

Hamlet, now, does hear someone. He recovers and contains himself, tries to make his exit.

It is not nor it cannot come to good.

But break, my heart, for I must hold my tongue.

 

Enter Horatio and Bernardo.

HORATIO

Hail to your lordship.

HAMLET

I am glad to see you well. (stops) Horatio!

Or I do forget myself!

 

Hamlet and Horatio embrace. The Prince shakes and sobs for an instant. The Director blows his whistle.

DIRECTOR

Alright – they confirm the ghost to him. Hamlet doesn’t want to believe it because then he’d have to organise the counter-coup, right now – so he takes the piss out of his loyal pals, the soldiers –

HAMLET

Armed, say you?

ALL (overlapping)

Armed, my lord.

HAMLET

From top to toe?

 

ALL

My lord, from head to foot.

HAMLET (laughing)

Then saw you not his face!

DIRECTOR (from the dark)

Gotcha! Good – he can’t believe it -- but he does! O.K. – it works – go to the end, then right on to Scene 3.

All but Hamlet exit.

HAMLET (hides in curtain)

My father’s spirit – in arms! All is not well. I doubt some foul play. Would the night were come! Till then, sit still, my soul. Foul deeds will rise, though all the earth o’oerwhelm them, to men’s eyes.

 

Hamlet exits, looking for hidden agents; POLONIUS, LAERTES, OPHELIA enter.

 

ACT ONE

 

SHAKESPEARE’S ACT 1

 

SCENE 3

 

 

POLONIUS and his CHILDREN enter, the Father talking and his OFF-SPRING listening. He talks and walks them in a circle, finally bringing them into a pool of light and forcing them to their knees.

 

POLONIUS

… Aboard, Laertes, aboard, for shame!

The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail,

And you are stayed for … my blessings with thee.

And these few precepts in thy memory keep…

This above all, to thine own self be true –

DIRECTOR

Wait! Try this: Polonius, keep circling – make them dizzy – repeat "To thine own self" twice. Get into the pool of light and force them down – (to Tech. Booth). Bring the Gregorian Chants in under the repetition, then build over the dialogue so that we see Polonius’ lips moving but we can’t hear the poison he’s spewing, but we make our point: everybody – everybody from Attila the Hun to Adolph Hitler to George W. Bush is to his "own self true". – O.K. From the top, please.

Polonius, Laertes and Ophelia begin again. They circle. The Director follows; gestures for the Gregorian Chants, signals for the spotlight: orchestrates sound, light and actors.

Polonius talks, the children sink to their knees. The Director signals the Chants, then a light change to create a silhouette of the Family tableau.

The children are prostrate. The Father rants, unheard, as the Chants fill the world.

The icy wind of Scene 4 rises and merges with the Chants as Hamlet enters the open ramparts.

 

 

ACT ONE

 

SHAKESPEARE’S ACT 1

 

SCENE 4

 

Enter Hamlet, Horatio and Bernardo. Chants down, wind up and sounds of crashing waves.

 

HAMLET

The air bites shrewdly; it is very cold.

HORATIO

It is a nipping and an eager air.

HAMLET

What hour now?

They move with apprehension through the darkness, the freezing wind, the roaring sea.

From his table in the dark theatre, the Director calls out:

DIRECTOR

Not so fast. It’s freezing. They’re swimming through a nightmare, a sea of ice and terror. Tonight’s the night: if they see the sign the revolution begins! – so look for the sign of the Ghost, but pray that you don’t see it. (to the Stage Manager) More wind, and moonlight – And every line has a political double meaning.

HAMLET

… What hour now?

HORATIO

I think it lacks of twelve.

BERNARDO

No, it is struck.

Enter Ghost

HORATIO

Look, my lord, it comes.

 

They draw their rehearsal "swords", then turn them to use as protective crucifixes. The Director appears in the "Ghost’s-Special". That cold moonlight beam spills over onto Hamlet.

 

HAMLET

Angels and ministers of –

DIRECTOR (out of character)

Hold it. I’m sorry but it’s not good enough. The swords into crucifixes was very clever, once upon a time, but the –

HORATIO (Actor)

The problem –

DIRECTOR

– The problem is it’s a Catholic ghost in –

HAMLET (Actor)

– In a Lutheran country.

DIRECTOR (pause)

That’s not the problem.

HAMLET (Actor) (pause)

What is the problem?

DIRECTOR

To shriek or not to shriek. Garrick shrieked, according to Doctor Johnson, and scared the bejesus out of the Ghost. But that was then. (silence) I don’t know … (silence)

HAMLET (Actor)

… Can we try just the light.

DIRECTOR

Without the Ghost? (pause) Try it. What would the Prince do?

HAMLET

I don’t know.

DIRECTOR

What would he want to do?

HAMLET

Run away?

DIRECTOR

Bingo!

HAMLET

So –

DIRECTOR

So – Hamlet runs away – but the "Prince of Denmark", he can’t run away, he has to run toward the "Royal Dane"!

pause

HAMLET

… What hour now?

HORATIO

I think it lacks of twelve.

BERNARDO

No, it is struck.

Ghost light only, up.

HORATIO (a whisper)

Look, my lord, it comes …

 

Horatio and Bernardo are frozen. Hamlet, also, until he finally takes baby steps toward the Horror.

HAMLET

Angels and ministers of grace, defend us! …

Be thou a spirit of health or goblin damned…

DIRECTOR

Right. "Doubleness". Hamlet forces himself to become the Prince of Denmark. To be loyal to the Father/King against his whore Mother and the whole world! To be his father’s true son and faithful wife! … And cut to, "Say, why is this…?"

HAMLET

Say, why is this? Wherefore? What should we do?

 

HORATIO

It beckons you to go away with it –

BERNARDO

But do not go –

HORATIO

No, by no means.

HAMLET

It waves me still. – Go on, I’ll follow thee.

HORATIO

Be ruled. You shall not go.

HAMLET

My fate cries out

And makes each petty arture in this body

As hardy as the Nemean lion’s nerve.

Still am I called. Unhand me, gentlemen.

By heaven, I’ll make a ghost of him that lets me!

I say, away! – Go on. I’ll follow thee.

 

Ghost and Hamlet exit. Horatio and Bernardo talk of following but they are rooted in terror to the spot.

All dark, again; wind and waves sound overall.

 

HORATIO

… He waxes desperate with imagination.

BERNARDO

Let’s follow. (pause) ‘Tis not fit thus to obey him.

HORATIO

Have after. (pause) To what issue will this come?

BERNARDO (a whisper)

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

HORATIO (a whisper)

Heaven will direct it.

BERNARDO

Nay. (pause) let’s follow him.

 

The DIRECTOR returns.

DIRECTOR

Good. Bernardo’s smelling his own terror as much as he is the rottenness of Denmark. – So, go to black, before they move, so we don’t know whether or not they have the guts to follow Hamlet Senior and Junior on the long march to civil war, let alone a bloodbath with Fortinbras and his Berserkers.

(to Hamlet)

Good. Now, the Prince is going to try to kill his other self – Hamlet – his "youth", his "observation", his genius, his memory – and live and die for the Ghost, alone. For revenge and only Revenge! But, somehow, and this is Shakespeare’s genius, Hamlet escapes the King and the Prince by putting on an "antic disposition" – that he doesn’t know or remember is actually the Ghost of Yorick. So, it’s Hamlet against the Prince, and the Ghost of Yorick against the Ghost of the King: a fight to the finish! … O.K. – "Adieu, adieu, adieu. Remember me."

 

Ghost-light down and out. Dawn light slowly rising.

HAMLET

He writes in a book.

Ay, thou poor ghost, whiles memory holds a seat in this distracted "globe".

Remember thee? Yea, from the table of my memory I’ll wipe away all trivial, fond records, all saws of books, all forms, all pressures past, that youth and observation copied there,

He writes

And thy commandment all alone shall live within the book and volume of my brain, unmixed with baser matter. Yes, by heaven!

He writes

O most pernicious woman! O villain, villain, smiling damned villain!

That one may smile and smile and be a villain. At least I’m sure it may be so in Denmark.

He writes

So, Uncle, there you are. Now to my word. It is "adieu, adieu, remember me". I have sworn it.

 

Voices off

My lord – Lord Hamlet.

 

Hamlet almost jumps out of his skin as his friends run on. He overwhelms them with melodrama one moment and the wild comedic exchange with the Ghost the next.

Does Hamlet throw his voice like a ventriloquist, to place the "Ghost" under the stones? Truly, the Prince is split in two, caught between the King and the Jester.

Horatio and Bernardo, off, looking for Hamlet.

HORATIO

My lord, my lord!

BERNARDO

Lord Hamlet!.

HORATIO (off)

Heaven secure him!

HAMLET (to himself)

So be it.

BERNARDO (off)

Illo, ho, ho, my lord!

HAMLET

Hillo, ho, ho, boy? Come, bird, come!

Director calls out from the dark.

DIRECTOR

Again: "Hillo-ho" is the "Antic Disposition", the Ghost of Yorick, re-membering Hamlet. The good ghost, go with the good ghost – until the bad ghost tears you away – tremendous pace, now. Go!

HAMLET

Hillo, ho, ho, boy! Come, bird, come!

BERNARDO (entering)

How is’t, my noble lord?

HORATIO (entering)

What news, my lord?

HAMLET

O, wonderful!

HORATIO

Good my lord, tell it.

HAMLET

No, you will reveal it.

HORATIO

Not I, my lord, by heaven.

BERNARDO

Nor I, my lord.

HAMLET

How say you then? Would heart of man once think it? But you’ll be secret?

HORATIO / BERNARDO

Ay, by heaven, my lord.

HAMLET

There’s never a villain dwelling in all Denmark – but he’s an arrant knave.

HORATIO

There needs no ghost, my lord, come from the grave, to tell us this.

HAMLET (fighting exhaustion)

Why, right, you are in the right. And so, without more circumstance at all, I hold it fit that we shake hands and part, you, as your business and desire shall point you for every man hath business and desire, such as it is, and for my own poor part, I will go pray.

HORATIO

These are but wild and whirling words, my lord.

HAMLET

I am sorry they offend you heartily. Yes, faith, heartily.

HORATIO

There’s no offence, my lord.

HAMLET

Yes, by Saint Patrick, but there is, Horatio! And much offence, too…

And now, good friends, as you are friends, scholars and soldiers, give me one poor request.

HORATIO

What is’t, my lord? We will.

HAMLET

Never make known what you have seen tonight.

HORATIO / BERNARDO

My lord, we will not.

HAMLET

Nay, but swear ‘t.

HORATIO

In faith, my lord, not I.

BERNARDO

Nor I, my lord, in faith.

HAMLET

Upon my sword.

BERNARDO

We have sworn, my lord, already.

DIRECTOR (off)

– Play for time, throw your voice!

HAMLET

Indeed, upon my sword, indeed.

"GHOST’S VOICE" (from under the stage: Hamlet ventriloquating the voice)

Swear!

HAMLET (an hysterical laugh)

Ha, ha, boy, sayst thou so? Art thou there, truepenny? Come on, you hear this fellow in the cellarage. Consent to swear.

HORATIO

Propose the oath, my lord.

HAMLET

Never to speak of this that you have seen, swear by my sword.

"GHOST’S VOICE" (below)

Swear!

HAMLET

Hic et ubique? Then we’ll shift our ground: swear by my sword never to speak of this –

"GHOST’S VOICE" (below)

Swear by his sword.

HAMLET

Well said, old mole. Canst work i’ th’ earth so fast? Once more remove, good friends.

HORATIO

O day and night, but this is wondrous strange.

HAMLET

And therefore as a stranger give it welcome. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your ph-ilosophy. But come. Here, as before, never, so help you mercy, how strange or odd some’er I bear myself as I perchance hereafter shall think meet to put an antic disposition on

that you, at such times seeing me, never shall, with arms encumbered thus, or this head-shake, or by pronouncing of some doubtful phrase, as "Well, well, we know", or "We could an if we would", or "If we list to speak", or "There be an if they might", or such ambiguous giving-out, to note that you know aught of me – this do swear, so grace and mercy at your most need help you.

"GHOST’S VOICE" (below)

Swear …

HAMLET (exhaustion)

Rest, rest, perturbéd spirit. – So, gentlemen, with all my love I do commend me to you, and what so poor a man as Hamlet is may do t’ express his love and friending to you, God willing, shall not lack. Let us go in together, and still your fingers on your lips, I pray.

They start off. Pause. Hamlet looks back.

The time is out of joint. O curséd spite that ever I was born to set it right! Nay, come, let’s go together.

 

The three move Upstage into the dawn, their arms around each other. They pause for Hamlet to look back over his shoulder again, to where the Ghost had been. Then, they disappear. Silence …

The Director comes on stage.

 

DIRECTOR

Five minutes, folks.

The Company circulates, talks, drinks tea, etc.

The Director and Stage Manager position furniture ELEMENTS for ACT 2.

Hamlet and Laertes rehearse their fencing match under the tutelage of ACTOR 4.

 

DIRECTOR

May I see Reynaldo, Polonius and Ophelia, please. I want to set the Act 2 opening tableau … So – Polonius, you’re sitting on the element, here, on [platform] "One". Reynaldo, you are here, at the boss’s left knee – kneeling, of course – and Ophelia you are sitting on Daddy’s other knee, and he is, ah, combing your hair … Let me look at this … (to the Technical Booth) Can we have the Act 2 pre-set, please.

ACTOR 2 (Assistant Stage Manager)

Quiet, please. Act 2 Beginners, please.

DIRECTOR (to the Booth)

Good.

ASSISTANT STAGE MANAGER

House lights down and out … Places …

 

 

 

SHAKESPEARE’S ACT 2

 

SCENE 1

 

 

DIRECTOR

This is the choreography of "sexpionage", now: stroking his daughter’s hair with the comb, A; B, he’s pouring poison into his young spy’s ear; and, C, seducing both of them vocally. Polonius pours on the poison and the power; Ophelia looks out straight ahead into the past; the spy licks up and picks up the crumbs. (he nods to the Assistant Stage Manager)

ASSISTANT STAGE MANAGER

Curtain up.

POLONIUS

Give him this money and these notes, Reynaldo.

REYNALDO

I will, my lord.

DIRECTOR (off)

Good. Tickle him with the money, have fun – while you play with her hair at the same time. That’s it. Go on. It’s not sex, it’s pseudo-sex, it’s Power. Show them your power. Go on.

POLONIUS

… Ah, take you, as ‘twere some distant knowledge of him, as thus: "I know his father and his friends and, in part, him". Do you mark this, Reynaldo?

REYNALDO

Ay, very well, my lord.

 

POLONIUS

"And, in part, him, but", you may say, "not well. But if ‘t be he I mean, he’s very wild, addicted so and so." And there put on him what forgeries you please –

REYNALDO

As gaming, my lord.

POLONIUS

Ay, or drinking, fencing, swearing, quarrelling, drabbing – you may go so far.

The Father tickles the two young people, causing them all to laugh merrily.

… You have me, have you not?

REYNALDO (breathless)

My lord, I have.

POLONIUS

God be wi’ you. Fare you well.

REYNALDO (trying to rise)

Good my lord.

POLONIUS

Let him ply his music.

More tickling and laughter as Reynaldo dances out and away.

Ophelia’s laughter grows hysterical and breaks up into racking sobs.

POLONIUS (hugging her)

How now, Ophelia, what’s the matter?

OPHELIA

O, my lord, my lord, I have been so affrighted!

POLONIUS

With what, i’ th’ name of God?

 

As the daughter confesses, the Father strokes her hair, enters into her fantasy

as well as the actual scene she paints. Both stare straight out, seeing the memory.

The lights dim slowly to the end of the scene.

 

OPHELIA

My lord, as I was sewing in my closet,

Lord Hamlet, with his doublet all unbraced,

No hat upon his head, his stockings fouled,

Ungartered, and down-gyvèd to his ankle,

Pale as his shirt, his knees knocking each other,

And with a look so piteous in purport

As if he had been loosed out of hell

To speak of horrors – he comes before me.

(silence)

POLONIUS (softly)

Mad for thy love?

OPHELIA

(pause) My lord, I do not know. (she falls asleep)

 

Pause. Very slowly, Polonius stands with Ophelia in his arms, as if she were a sleeping child. Polonius stands staring out, he murmurs:

 

POLONIUS

This is the very ecstasy of love …

I will go seek the king.

 

The Father walks slowly away into darkness, carrying the Child.

As they disappear, bright lights come up on ACT 2, SCENE 2. Flourish sounds; enter King and Queen, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and Attendants.

Sound, off, of court dance music. The King and Queen march out a simple round of changing dance partners with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

 

 

 

SHAKESPEARE’S ACT 2

 

SCENE 2

 

King, Queen and Hamlet’s hapless "friends", Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, dance slowly as the royal couple seduce the young men. Music.

 

KING

Welcome, dear Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Moreover that we much did long to see you.

 

QUEEN (overlapping)

Good gentlemen, Hamlet hath much talked of you –

KING (overlapping)

– The need we have to use you did provoke our hasty sending –

QUEEN (overlapping)

– And sure I am two men there is not living to whom he more adheres –

GUILDENSTERN & ROSENCRANTZ

– We both obey and here give up ourselves in the full bent to lay our service freely at your feet, to be commanded.

KING

Thanks, Rosencrantz and gentle Guildenstern –

QUEEN

Thanks, Guildenstern and gentle Rosencrantz –

Polonius, alone, hurries in, interrupts the dance and whispers into the King’s ear. The King, then, whispers to the Queen.

QUEEN

Guildenstern and gentle Rosencrantz – I beseech you instantly to visit my too much changèd son – Go, some of you, and bring these gentleman where Hamlet is.

 

Courtiers dance off with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Music, off, continues softly throughout.

Polonius makes the King and Queen wait, testing his power.

POLONIUS

… Mmmm … I have – found the cause – of Hamlet’s lunacy.

KING

O, speak of that! That do I long to hear.

 

The Queen moves to Polonius’ side, magnetised by power.

 

POLONIUS

… Your noble son is – mad … I have a daughter (have while she is mine) who, in her duty and obedience, mark, hath given me this. Now gather and surmise.

 

Polonius’ sadistic teasing continues as he reads the SCROLL.

"…To the celestial, and my soul’s idol, the most beautified Ophelia – "

That’s an ill phrase, a vile phrase; "beautified" is a vile phrase. But you shall hear. Thus:

"In her excellent white bosom, these – "

QUEEN (overlapping)

– Came these from Hamlet to her?

POLONIUS

Good madam, stay awhile. I will be faithful.

"Doubt thou the stars are fire, doubt that the sun doth move, doubt truth to be a liar, but never doubt I love.

O dear Ophelia, I am ill at these numbers. I have not art to reckon my groans, but that I love thee, most best, believe it. Adieu.

Thine evermore, most dear lady, whilst this machine is to him, HAMLET."

This, in obedience, hath my daughter shown me, and more –

 

The King and Polonius now begin to struggle over control of the scroll, the Queen’s attention, the plan of action – everything.

 

KING

– But how hath she received his love?

POLONIUS

What do you think of me?

KING

As of a man –

POLONIUS

I would fain prove so! No, I went round to work, and my young mistress thus I did bespeak:

"Lord Hamlet is a prince, out of thy star. This must not be!" … And he, repelled (a short tale to make) fell into a sadness, then into a fast, thence to a watch, thence into a weakness, thence to a lightness, and, by this declension, into the madness wherein now he raves and all we mourn for.

 

Pause. The power struggle continues in silence. Finally, the King snatches the scroll away from Polonius, hits him over the head with it, and pulls Gertrude to him.

KING

Do you think ‘tis this?

QUEEN

… It may be, very like …

POLONIUS

Hath there been such a time, that I –

KING (overlapping)

– Not that I know –

POLONIUS (overlapping)

– I will find where truth is hid, though it –

KING (overlapping)

How may we try it further?

POLONIUS (milks the suspense)

… You know sometimes he walks four hours together… Here in the lobby.

QUEEN

So he does indeed.

POLONIUS (playing his last card to retain power)

At such time I’ll loose my daughter to him.

(to the King) Be you and I behind an arras then –

KING (overlapping)

We will try it.

HAMLET enters, from the back of the auditorium, reading a book.

 

QUEEN

But look where sadly the poor wretch comes reading.

POLONIUS

Away, I do beseech you both, away. I’ll board him presently.

O, give me leave.

He hurries the King and Queen off.

How does my good lord Hamlet?

HAMLET

Well, God-a-mercy.

POLONIUS (pause)

Do you know me, my lord?

HAMLET (sniffing the air)

Excellent well; you are a fishmonger.

POLONIUS

Not I, my lord.

HAMLET

Then I would you were so honest a man.

POLONIUS

Honest, my lord.

HAMLET

Ay, sir. To be honest as this world goes, is to be one man picked out of ten thousand.

 

Hamlet scans the shadows, looking for spies.

POLONIUS

That’s very true, my lord.

HAMLET (holds his nose)

For if the sun breed maggots in a dead dog, being a god kissing carrion – have you a daughter?

POLONIUS

I have, my lord.

HAMLET

Let her not walk i’ th’ sun. Conception is a blessing, but, not as your daughter may conceive, friend, look to ‘t.

Polonius mutters to the King, hidden in the dark. Hamlet takes note of course.

POLONIUS

… Still harping on my daughter. – What do you read, my lord?

HAMLET

Words, words, words.

POLONIUS

What is the matter, my lord?

HAMLET

Between who?

POLONIUS

I mean the matter that you read, my lord.

 

HAMLET

Slanders, sir; for the satirical rogue says here that old men have grey beards, that their faces are wrinkled, their eyes purging thick amber and plum-tree gum and that they have a plentiful lack of wit, together with most weak hams –

Hamlet roams into the shadows, speaking for the King’s benefit, or any of his surveillance.

– All of which, sir, though I most powerfully and potently believe, yet I hold it not honesty to have it thus set down; for yourself, sir, shall grow old as I am, if like a crab you could go backward.

POLONIUS (in shadows)

Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t. – Will you walk out of the air, my lord?

HAMLET

Into my grave?

POLONIUS (in shadows)

Indeed, that’s out of the air … I will leave him and suddenly contrive the means of meeting between him and my daughter. – My lord, I will take my leave of you.

HAMLET

You cannot, sir, take from me anything that I will more willingly part withal – except my life, except my life, except my life.

POLONIUS

Fare you well, my lord.

HAMLET (in shadows)

These tedious old fools.

Enter Guildenstern and Rosencrantz.

POLONIUS

You go to seek the Lord Hamlet … there he is.

Polonius pretends to exit, but hides and listens – and Hamlet observes this.

 

GUILDENSTERN

God save you, sir. (to Hamlet) My honoured lord.

ROSENCRANTZ

My most dear lord.

 

 

DIRECTOR (off)

Hamlet – make sure that they know that you know – and speak to all the spies, royal and otherwise, and make these "Day Boys" follow you in and out of the nooks and crannies of this asylum for the criminally insane.

 

Now, the Prince leads his "friends" on a tour of the deep shadows; even down into the aisles of the auditorium among the hidden and listening audience members.

 

HAMLET (escorting them)

My excellent good friends! How dost thou, Guildenstern? Ah, Rosencrantz! Good lads, how do you both?

GUILDENSTERN (laughing)

On Fortune’s cap, we are not the very button.

HAMLET (laughing and leading)

Then you live about her waist, or in the middle of her favours.

GUILDENSTERN (all laughing)

Faith, her privates we.

HAMLET

In the secret parts of Fortune? O, most true! She is a strumpet … What news?

They stop

ROSENCRANTZ

… None, my lord, but that the world’s grown honest.

 

Hamlet stares at the poor pawns. Then, he leads them apart, where they cannot be overheard if they speak in guarded tones.

 

HAMLET

… Then is doomsday near. But your news is not true…. What have you, my good friends, deserved at the hands of Fortune that she sends you to prison hither?

GUILDENSTERN

… Prison, my lord?

HAMLET

Shh – Denmark’s a prison.

ROSENCRANTZ (whispers)

Then is the world one.

DIRECTOR (off)

Find a safer place. Take pity on them. Try to save them. They’re dead and they don’t know it. – Again: (Rosencrantz repeats his speech)

HAMLET

…A goodly one, in which there are many confines, wards and dungeons, Denmark being one o’ th’ worst.

 

Hamlet walks and talks with the baffled BOYS. They find a secluded spot. Their tone is intimate. The friends try to hide their fear from Hamlet.

 

ROSENCRANTZ

We think not so, my lord.

HAMLET

Why, then, ‘tis none to you, for there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so. To me, it is a prison.

ROSENCRANTZ

Why, then, your ambition makes it one. ‘Tis too narrow for your mind.

HAMLET (overlapping)

O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.

Silence. The Boys have been shaken by Hamlet’s pain. Then:

DIRECTOR (off)

Yes. You’re moved by the Prince – and frightened … Which one of you sniffed, before?

GUILDENSTERN

Me.

DIRECTOR

Good. Keep it in and blow your nose.

GUILDENSTERN

Seriously?

DIRECTOR

Yes! … So – go back to "bad dreams", and cue the Gravediggers. You there?

TWO VOICES (off)

Ay!

DIRECTOR

Go.

HAMLET

O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.

 

Silence. Guildenstern blows his nose. Then, out of the silence, in the distance can be heard two voices singing.

The singers are an older and younger man. They are the two Gravediggers / "Clowns" that we will not see until near the end of the play.

We hear them, now, drawing closer, then further away.

 

GRAVEDIGGERS (off)

"… In youth when I did love, did love, methought it was very sweet

to contract – o – the time for – a – my behove,

O, methought there – a – was nothing – a – meet."

 

The voices fade. Silence again. Hamlet hums the tune he has just heard, in the distance. Then, dancing slowly….

 

HAMLET

… Shall we to th’ court? For, by my fay, I cannot reason.

Hamlet hops ahead, leading them back up onto the stage, onto a platform. As they return, several prying heads can be seen ducking out of sight.

The FRIENDS dog his heels until Hamlet turns on them. His voice drills low and deep. The Lads hang their heads in shame.

HAMLET

… In the beaten way of friendship – what make you at Elsinore?

ROSENCRANTZ

T-t-to visit you, my –

HAMLET

Were you not sent for? Is it your own inclining? – Is it a free visitation? Come, come, deal justly with me. Come, come – (Guildenstern gags) Nay, speak.

 

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are red and white with shame and nausea.

 

DIRECTOR (off)

More spies, please … thankyou.

More spying heads protrude from the curtains, etc.

 

GUILDENSTERN

My lord ,,,, (whisper) We were sent for.

 

Hamlet is moved deeply by his old friends’ plight. He puts his arms around their shoulders.

The Prince speaks up and out with great intensity, the two courtiers huddle under the protecting embrace.

 

HAMLET

I will tell you why; so shall my anticipation prevent your discovery, and your secrecy to the King and Queen moult no feather.

More listening heads appear. The Prince fights his despair in ringing tones.

… I have of late, but wherefore I know not, lost all my mirth, foregone all custom of exercises, and, indeed, it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy, the air, look you –

All the spying heads scan and look.

…This brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof, fretted with golden fire – why, it appeareth nothing to me but a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable; in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god: the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals – and yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me –

Hamlet spins around – the spy heads disappear – then turns back to the Boys.

– No, nor women neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so.

ROSENCRANTZ

No, my lord –

HAMLET

Why did you laugh then when I said, "Man delights not me"?

ROSENCRANTZ

To think, my lord, if you delight not in man, what lenten entertainment the players shall receive from you. (Hamlet jumps in the air) We coted them on the way –

Sound of approaching Actors, off, singing and laughing. Hamlet runs toward the sound.

 

HAMLET

He that plays the King – shall be welcome!

 

Players – the entire company – and Polonius enter. Hamlet plunges into their midst, hugging and kissing. There is an uproar of greetings and physical dancing and jigging.

The Old Actor – the First Player – is played by the Director.

 

HAMLET

You are welcome, masters; welcome all. – I am glad to see thee well. – Welcome, good friends. – O my old friend! (an almost convulsive embrace) Why thy face is valanced since I saw thee last. Com’st thou to beard me in Denmark? What, my "young lady" and mistress! (they embrace)

We’ll have a speech straight. Come, give us a taste of your quality. Come, a passionate speech.

OLD ACTOR (ringing tones)

What speech, my good lord?

 

Much merriment, until the Director steps out of character to work.

DIRECTOR

That’s it, that’s the tremendous release we need here – this act’s a killer! – we need Hamlet’s "family", he needs these people, these are Yorick’s people… -- Alright! – Go to the end of the Old Actor’s speech – we have to work on the "Rogue and peasant slave" soliloquy. (to Hamlet) Have some water. Don’t force your voice.

 

Hamlet drinks water; the Director relates to the "Players", then resumes his role as the Old Actor.

The Company take their places for the end of the scene.

The First Actor (Director) concludes his oration with an oceanic passion that leaves Hamlet bowled over.

 

OLD ACTOR

… But if the gods themselves did see Hecuba when she saw Pyrrhus make malicious sport in mincing with his sword her husband’s limbs, the instant burst of clamour that she made (unless things mortal move them not at all), would have made milch the burning eyes of heaven, and passion in the gods!

(silence)

POLONIUS

… Look whe’er he has not turned his colour and has tears in his eyes. Prithee, no more.

 

Hamlet breathes deeply in order to regain control of himself.

HAMLET

(to the Old Actor) ‘Tis well … (to Polonius) Good my lord, will you see the players well bestowed? Do you hear, let them be well used, for they are the abstract and brief chronicles of the time …

POLONIUS (pause)

My lord, I will use them according to their desert.

HAMLET

God’s bodykins, man, much better! Use every man after his desert and who shall ‘scape whipping? Use them after your own honour and dignity… Take them in.

POLONIUS

… Come, sirs.

HAMLET

Follow him, friends. We’ll hear a play tomorrow.

Hamlet detains the Old Actor and the others leave. Their tone is confidential.

HAMLET

Dost thou hear me, old friend? Can you play The Murder of Gonzago?

OLD ACTOR

Ay, my lord.

HAMLET

We’ll ha’t tomorrow night. You could, for a need, study a speech of some dozen or sixteen lines, which I would set down and insert in’t, could you not?

OLD ACTOR (pause)

…Ay, my lord.

HAMLET

… Very well. Follow that lord – and look you, (finger on lips) mock him not.

The Old Actor exits, leaving a costume and prop basket behind. Hamlet opens the treasure trove of old props and costume pieces.

The Director returns, no longer playing the Old Actor, and watches from Down Stage.. Then:

 

DIRECTOR

That’s it. Take your time. Lose yourself.

Hamlet is lost in the world of the magic basket. Like a happy child he begins to touch and hold the contents.

HAMLET (to himself)

… Now – I am alone …

He tries on a toy crown. Then laughs at a Fool’s cap, and puts it on. Smiles and sings to himself. Next, a painted sword and shield is brandished.

He stands and begins to imitate the delivery of the Old Actor’s speech.

"…. But if the gods themselves did see Hecuba when she saw Pyrrhus make malicious sport, in mincing, with his sword her husband’s limbs – "

He laughs and hugs himself with joy. With Hamlet’s uncanny imitation of the grand and passionate style of the Old Actor, he has moved himself deeply.

But then, slowly, he remembers where he is and what he is doing. Turns to look for eavesdroppers, gives out a groaning sob.

HAMLET (cont…)

– Ahhhh – hahh ….

Hamlet throws down his costume piece and props and begins to pace and curse:

…What a rogue and peasant slave am I!

Is it not monstrous that this player here,

But in a fiction, in a dream of passion,

Could force his soul so to his own conceit

That from her working all his visage wann’d,

Tears in his eyes, distraction in his aspect,

A broken voice, and his whole function suiting

With forms to his conceit? – and all for nothing!

For Hecuba!

DIRECTOR (off)

– Let the rhetoric take over – start "Acting" again – how would the Old Actor do it? Hamlet gets drunk again on "Acting", then, the Prince sobers up with guilt, again – the rollercoaster! Hamlet’s the Actor – The Prince is the critic! Go!

HAMLET

…What would he do,

Had he the motive and the cue for passion

That I have? He would drown the stage with tears

And cleave the general ear with horrid speech –

Hamlet begins, now, to stalk his gaolers and spies. He moves with stealth along the walls and among curtains.

 

HAMLET

(shouting at a moving curtain) Am I a coward?! (pause)

Who calls me "villain"? (listens to the echo) …(stalking a "rat") Who does me this? Ha!

Something scuttles away, Hamlet listens to the retreating steps. Silence. Then:

DIRECTOR (off)

Right! You’ve terrified them! Feel your power, now, go for the kill!

The curtains are moving, the rats are running, the King’s right there, behind that curtain! Kill him, kill him now! Where’s your dagger – where’s your sword?! You – have – no – weapon – you idiot! You fool, you fake, you – find a weapon! ACT!

Hamlet sobs, dives into the Players’ basket and comes out with a toy dagger. His voice builds to a ringing, shrieking invective.

HAMLET

– Bloody, bawdy villain!

Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain!

Ooooo vengeannnnnnce!

Hamlet’s prolonged scream on "O vengeance!" carries him to a curtain. He hurls himself, stabbing, into the darkness.

There is no-one there… The Prince sprawls on the floor in total frustration. Then rolls back into the light in a frenzy of humiliation.

DIRECTOR off

Now the Critic!

HAMLET

Why, what an ass am I! This is most brave,

That I, the son of a dear father murdered,

Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell,

Must, like a whore, unpack my heart with words

And fall a-cursing like a very drab,

A scullion! (he gags and retches)

Fie upon’t! Foh!

Hamlet lies flat, panting. Then, slowly, he changes back, again, into an Actor in a Play!

DIRECTOR off

Now the Actor!

HAMLET

About, my brains! – Hum, I have heard

That guilty creatures sitting at a play

Have, by the very cunning of the scene –

The Prince/Actor rises, now reborn as Actor – Director – Playwright.

… Been struck so to the soul that presently

They have proclaimed their malefactions.

For murder, though it have no tongue, will speak

With most miraculous organ.

The Prince is consumed by his scenario, transported and seized by his fantasy. So much so, that he is unaware of the spying heads once again, peeping and peering out of their holes.

…I’ll have these players

Play something like the murder of my father

Before mine uncle. I’ll observe his looks;

I’ll tent him to the quick – Ahh! – Ahh!

Again, Hamlet begins to stab and lunge in a kind of slow motion – acting and vocalising both Villain and Revenger… But, then, once more, he returns to his total isolation.

…If he do blench,

I know my course! … This spirit that I have seen

May be the devil, and the devil hath power

T’ assume a pleasing shape; yea, and

Perhaps out of my weakness and my melancholy,

He abuses me to damn me.

One last forlorn attempt to re-enter and hide in the fantasy of the play.

HAMLET

… I’ll have grounds more relative than this. (sotto voce) The play…

The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King!

Hamlet calls out his haunting, hollow challenge. He stands, immobile, like a statue of longing. Silence.

DIRECTOR (off)

… Hold it. And the spy heads pull back … Silence: Lights to black … And take a ten minute break, please… (house lights up)

END OF ACT ONE

ACT TWO

 

The DIRECTOR and STAGE MANAGER set up for Act 3 of Shakespeare’s HAMLET.

HAMLET and LAERTES rehearse their duel. Off, the two GRAVEDIGGERS practise their songs. At length, the Director blows his whistle.

 

ASSISTANT STAGE MANAGER

Act 3, please – stand by … Act 3 Beginners, please.

 

 

 

SHAKESPEARE’S ACT 3

 

SCENE 1

 

Hamlet enters, wearing one of the Actors’ ROBES. He stops to listen, hears voices; hides behind a curtain or wall-flat.

From his vantage point, unseen, the Prince watches as POLONIUS, OPHELIA, THE KING hurry on, talking.

 

POLONIUS

Ophelia, read on this Prayer Book. That show of such an exercise may colour your loneliness.

 

The THREE mount a platform. The King and Polonius work on Ophelia. Polonius positions his daughter and her Holy Book.

The King attends to the hang of her Gown, hair, drapery of her bosom and ensemble. Polonius, too, joins in – touching, adjusting – and he provides her with a bundle of love letters.

Hamlet, hidden, watches, appalled at this spectacle of abuse.

The Prince starts to stagger away, but is heard by the Two Men.

 

POLONIUS (cont.)

I hear him coming. Let’s withdraw, my lord.

 

Polonius and Claudius secrete themselves behind an opposite curtain. Again, Hamlet sees the entire action.

Ophelia holds her prayerful pose, but her prayerbook is upside down.

Silence. Hamlet is paralysed. Torn. He starts to leave. Stops. Finally, returns to Ophelia.

 

HAMLET

… Nymph, in thy orisons

Be all my sins remembered.

The Prince stands below Ophelia’s platform, looking up at her. She cannot meet his gaze; she looks down; adjusts her book, then holds out the bundle of love letters.

There is a palpable sadness between them: bound together yet forever parted.

 

OPHELIA

My lord, I have remembrances of yours,

That I have longèd long to re-deliver.

I pray you now receive them.

 

Hamlet takes the letters, glances through them. Heaves a deep sigh. Hands them back to her.

 

HAMLET

… No, not I. I never gave you aught.

OPHELIA (pause)

… My honoured lord, you know right well you did.

HAMLET

– Ha, ha, are you honest?

OPHELIA

My lord?

 

The Prince is drawn to her, he has to mount her platform. He touches her, she reacts. He touches her again. When he speaks there is a lump in his throat.

 

HAMLET

… Are you fair?

The two lovers are both breathless.

OPHELIA

What means your lordship?

He touches her again. He drops his voice so as not to be overheard.

HAMLET

… I did love you once.

Ophelia’s hand jerks out – out of her control – to touch the Prince.

Then, she moves into his arms.

OPHELIA

Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so.

He kisses her deeply. His voice is tender, despite his words.

HAMLET

You should not have believed me …

Their embrace becomes compulsive as they kiss hungrily.

The lovers are almost beyond control, when from the curtains two heads pop out: the King and Polonius.

Hamlet’s reaction is instant fury. He leaps from the platform, toward the spies, bellowing:

HAMLET (cont.)

I loved you not!

Ophelia sobs out a few words, but the Prince is beside himself: he lashes Ophelia with his voice and words, and the King and Polonius as well.

However, when Hamlet leaps into the curtains, screaming – again, there is no-one there. So, he rounds on Ophelia, again, and then runs back into the draperies cursing, still looking for the royal spies.

HAMLET

– Get thee to a nunnery. Why would’st thou be a breeder of sinners? I am myself indifferent honest, but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother (looking for the King) had not borne me –

Ophelia collapses to her knees. Hamlet turns back to attack her but, sobbing through his rage we can hear his utter despair.

HAMLET (cont..)

– What should such fellows as I do crawling between earth and heaven?

He whirls furiously toward the shadows:

We are arrant knaves, all; believe none of us. Go thy ways to a nunnery!

Ophelia loses consciousness. Silence. Hamlet, stunned, kneels over her. He lifts her in his arms. He is hoarse, almost spent.

HAMLET (cont.)

… Where’s your father?

Ophelia opens her eyes. She lies in his arms. His eyes plead with her – to be loyal, to love him.

Ophelia is on the rack. This is the choice of her lifetime. Whom should she betray? They have ripped her apart.

 

OPHELIA

… At home … my lord.

 

Her tortured lie is fatal to them both. They shake in each other’s arms.

Hamlet slowly separates himself and tries to stand. He trembles and pants like a wounded beast.

 

HAMLET

… Let the doors be shut upon him … that he may play the fool nowhere but in’s own house …

 

He makes to leave but stumbles to his knees. On all fours he tries to crawl away. Ophelia shrieks out in pain:

 

OPHELIA

O, help him, you sweet heavens!

 

She runs to help him; he fights her off; rises to his knees; croaks his curse into her body as he clings to her waist for balance.

 

HAMLET

I have heard of your paintings too, well enough. God hath given you one face, and you make yourself another … you jig and amble, and you lisp … Go to, I’ll no more on’t. It hath made me mad!

 

The Prince’s trembling is now a series of almost epileptic twitches and spasms. There can be no question but that he is near a complete breakdown.

Ophelia is terrified to the point of loss of control and continence. Her whimpers, cries and groans underscore Hamlet’s vomit-like curse.

HAMLET (cont.)

– I say we will have no more marriages. Those that are married already – all but one! – shall live. The rest shall keep as they are. (he starts to crawl away) To a nunnery, go! …

 

Ophelia watches, in horror, as the Prince crawls very slowly into the deep shadows.

Then a terrible sight: Ophelia, as if in a nightmare, sinks to her knees, and she, too, begins to crawl after her lover – some ten feet or so behind.

But Hamlet reaches the dark edge of the space and disappears, leaving Ophelia alone.

At this, her FATHER and the KING slink in. They pick up Ophelia. She cannot stand. They support her; walk her off slowly as they talk in hushed tones.

 

POLONIUS

How now, Ophelia? … You need not tell us what Lord Hamlet said. We heard it all. – My lord, if you hold it fit, after the play, let his Queen-Mother all alone entreat him to show his grief. Let her be round with him; and I’ll be placed, so please you, in the ear of all their conference.

The two men take turns almost dragging Ophelia off.

… If she find him not, to England send him, or confine him where your wisdom best shall think …

KING

… It shall be so. Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.

 

And they are gone. The stage is empty except for several heads watching from the darkness.

The Director returns from the wings.

DIRECTOR

Right – what’s the time?

He studies his watch, then says something privately to the Stage Manager.

… Can we have some lights. – thankyou …

Now – very strong. New dimensions. I’m starting to believe in this Soulbreaker of a Prison! So – what I want is to skip to the end of the Mousetrap Scene – after the play within the play – to the King’s prayer, and, then, the Closet Scene. Then, bits and pieces of Act 4, as far as "Do it England…" Then – we go to Act 5 and work the Graveyard Scene, and then – we go home … All clear?

A chorus of "no"; nervous complaints and jokes.

Then, tomorrow, we pick up all the missed scenes we’re skipping today … Trust me, alright? Thankyou, stand by … let’s see the Ghost Special, please.

 

The DIRECTOR buckles on a prop sword and swordbelt and prepares to play the King’s prayer scene.

The only light is the "Ghost Special".

 

 

SHAKESPEARE’S ACT 3

 

SCENE 3

 

 

DIRECTOR

… Can you, ah, take it down a point … And open the "barndoor" a little – that’s good, I think?

STAGE MANAGER

I think so.

DIRECTOR

Let’s try it … I want to take it from the entrance, then we’ll see. Can we have the furore of the Castle, please.

 

The Stage Manager cues and leads the COMPANY in a soundscape of off-stage reaction to the debacle of the scene just past, the play Within the Play, or "Mousetrap" scene.

 

STAGE MANAGER & COMPANY

Ready? Stage Right, Go! – "He poisons him in the garden for his estate / He poisons him – " Stage Left, Go! – "His name’s GONZAGO – " / "He poisons him" / "Poisons him" / "His name" / "His name" / "His name" / "Gonzago" / "Gonzago" / "Gonzago" …

 

Thus, the overlapping dialogue from the previous scene – combined with shrieks, curses, cries and whispers – create an aural environment for a castle in conflict.

As the King’s prayer scene progresses the sounds of political and personal turmoil fade out, replaced by a dead midnight silence that is broken only by the tolling church bells.

Now, the Director enters as the KING. He strides in and across the stage but is stopped in his tracks by the sudden presence of a distant beam of light: the "Ghost Special".

Claudius stops, stares – then appears to listen and see someone or something. As he speaks and plays the scene with the beam of light, we deduce that now he, too, sees and hears the Ghost!

The King’s voice and body make a savage mockery of the Ghost’s unheard accusations.

 

KING

(as if responding) Ohhhh – (as if repeating) My offence is rank, it smells to heaven; it hath the primal eldest curse upon’t. A brother’s murder? – Pray can I not! …

The King now launches into a fierce justification of his entire life – as the far superior but younger brother [!]

What if this cursèd hand were thicker than itself with brother’s blood? Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens to wash it white as snow?

The argument rages. He laughs and curses.

– "Forgive me my foul murder"?! (a savage laugh) That cannot be, since I am still "possessed" of those effects for which I did the murder:

A complete soul-bargaining confrontation with his Brother or God or both of them:

My crown! (puts crown on floor) – mine own ambition! (unbuckles sword and belt, puts aside on floor) – My Queen!

The King starts to take off his robe – then wraps it more closely than ever around himself; and squares off, ready to fight to the finish –

KING (Director)

Line?

STAGE MANAGER

"What then?"

DIRECTOR

Is this working?

STAGE MANAGER

Keep the focus on your brother – on the Ghost – then if he changes into "God", so be it, the audience‘ll get it.

DIRECTOR (King)

…What then?!

KING

– What then?! What rests?! Try what repentance can. What can it not?

Yet what can it, when one cannot repent?! (panting) Help, angels! Make assay … Bow, stubborn knees, and heart with strings of steel …

 

The King goes down like a bull in the slaughter. And his "prayer" is one prolonged and vicious curse. A mantra of envy, jealousy, rationalisation and unreconstructed revenge and resentment.

This muttered, spitting word-salad of revolt and rejection explains why the King does not hear Hamlet’s low vows when the Prince enters.

The only words from the text that Hamlet and the audience can make out, as the King "prays", are such as below, and all of them apply to the tyranny of his older brother, the Ghost:

 

KING (cont..)

… Wretched state! … Bosom black as death! … Corrupted currents of this world! … Offence’s gilded hand! … Like a man to double-business bound! …

Meanwhile, Hamlet crosses far Up Stage of the kneeling, seething regicide. He stops to hear.

KING (cont.)

…Shove by justice … (a low laugh) The wicked prize itself buys out the law! (laugh) No shuffling there (laughs) Ahh -- limèd soul …

 

The Prince hears parts of the above even as he, too, pours out his conflicted impulses. Slurring his words, his voice hoarse and resonant with extreme agitation and exhaustion.

 

HAMLET

… Now might I do it pat, now he is praying …

But, again, Hamlet has no weapon! Then, he spies the KING’S SWORD AND SWORD BELT, spread just behind the kneeling Claudius. Hamlet moves down, like a cat, to steal the weapon.

…And now I’ll do it. (he has the sword) … That would be scann’d…

The Prince pauses, shackled by ambivalence. He rocks from side to side, debating with himself – as is the King, as well: it is as if there are four distinct characters, now, trapped in this midnight scene.

 

KING HAMLET

… Compelled, even to the teeth …

My stronger guilt …

He took my father grossly, full of bread, with all his crimes broad blown, as flush as

May…

…I stand in pause … then I’ll look up,

(laughs) my fault is past!

Up sword, and know thou a more horrid hent – when he is drunk asleep, or in his rage –

Whereto serves mercy … this two-fold

force (spits in disgust) …

Or in the incestuous pleasure of his bed … my mother … stays … this physic but prolongs thy sickly days.

(exit with the sword)

 

Hamlet slips away. Claudius concludes as he began, enraged. He glares up at his "Brother" – the Ghost Special.

KING

– My words fly up, my thoughts remain below …

 

Still on his knees, he reaches behind him for his sword. Not there. Tries the other side. No!

Claudius arches in terror; stares up at the Ghost/God beam, then scrambles like a big bug, stabbing about for his missing weapon. Finally, he freezes. Stares back at the beam of light.

The Ghost Special fades slowly to black as the church bells toll midnight.

SHAKESPEARE’S ACT 3

 

SCENE 4

 

 

Church bells toll. Lights up on Queen’s Bedroom area. Elements for the bed and seats; draperies; a tall portable mirror. And a large tapestry that pictures the late King Hamlet in a famous battle scene on the ice! "The Victory Over Norway!"

Hamlet can be heard calling from a dark corridor somewhere in the castle.

 

HAMLET (off)

Mother!

The Queen’s Bedroom, however, is empty and there is no answer. Silence.

HAMLET (off, closer)

Mother?

 

A round of scurrying footsteps. Pause. Then, again. A spy materialises out of the darkness, slips into the Queen’s Bedroom, and, finding it empty, he slips away, back into the darkness.

Silence. Then more footsteps. Out of the darkness the Prince appears. He still carries the King’s sword. Yet, once again, his mood has shifted radically. He is, clearly, exhausted – almost dragging the weapon, as a boy would his father’s sword.

The tremendous highs and lows of the past twenty-four hours seem to have aged Hamlet, giving him the skeletal body image of an old man, or a crippled child. His voice, too, is almost gone now.

Like a spent runner he halts in the light spilling from his mother’s bedroom. He stands on the threshold, looking, waiting.

 

HAMLET

… Mother …

 

He waits. Silence. He sways, almost unconscious on his feet.

At length, he turns away, takes two steps. Stops. Turns back and, this time, enters the chamber.

DIRECTOR off

See yourself in the mirror. Who are you?

Inside, he stares into the mirror. His head sinks, then snaps up, sinks again – forcing him to move to stay awake.

He begins an unsteady tour of the room. Stops in front of the hanging war tableau of his father’s famous victory. Silence, then church bells toll the half-hour.

The Prince drops his mesmerised gaze from the vainglorious scene pictured on the large tapestry. He stumbles over to the BED and sinks down, murmuring –

 

HAMLET

… Mother …

And, at last, he sleeps. Muttering to himself: a word from the play, "Hecuba", but all the rest is choked and garbled. He thrashes, too, for a time, then the fever seems to pass, and he rests…. Silence as he sleeps, then a few bells, and silence again …

After a time, the "Victory Over Norway" tapestry shivers, and from behind the bloody scene, the Queen Mother steps out to behold her son. She stands there, breathing, gazing down at his spent figure.

 

HAMLET (in his sleep)

… Mmmm …

Slowly, she moves to the bed and sits down next to her sleeping offspring. She watches him. Then, strokes his hair, very lightly. And he seems to react slightly. When she brushes his forehead with her lips, the youth definitely leans toward her.

Still sitting, Gertrude circles her arm like a protective shield around her boy’s shoulder. They breathe together.

Are we watching a dream, Hamlet’s dream, or is this actually happening? The answer to that question is provided by POLONIUS.

The OLD SPY pokes his head out from another hanging curtain and glares at the Queen. And she, the mother, glares back like any animal protecting its own. She tightens her grip around the sleeping Prince’s shoulder.

Hamlet stirs, Polonius withdraws. Gertrude looks down, into Hamlet’s open eyes. Slowly, he wakes up to where he is. His voice is as soft as a child’s.

 

HAMLET

… Mother …

Gertrude seems about to speak. As she bends over Hamlet, Polonius, again, shows his head. His protruding eyes warn her. She stiffens. Hamlet – who cannot see the old spy’s head wagging out from the curtain behind him – reacts to his mother’s sudden change of breathing and posture.

 

HAMLET

… What’s the matter?

QUEEN

Hamlet …

 

The Son fixes on the Mother’s face. She seems about to blurt out a terrible truth. But the Prime Minister’s eyes pronounce the death sentence, should she forget herself at this moment of crisis.

Her head bows, at last, in submission. Hamlet, painfully awake now, turns to look behind him, but there is no-one there. Are the drapes moving slightly?

A jolt of fear and rage shocks the Prince to his feet. Sword in hand he moves like a tiger toward the black drapery.

 

QUEEN

Hamlet! Thou hast thy father much offended!

 

Gertrude is up – her voice a whip of warning. Hamlet stares back at her, his sword poised – to kill someone!

Then, like a bolt from the blue, Gertrude points – with her entire body – in warning, toward the curtains that hide the certain death that threatens them both.

Hamlet, sword raised, stands amazed … Then he walks out of the scene.

The ACTOR playing Hamlet walks out of the set and the scene.

Walks to the edge of the stage.

 

DIRECTOR (off)

What’s going on?

ACTOR (Hamlet)

That’s what I want to know.

 

The Director is on the stage, now, and [Actor] Polonius has come out into the light. The three men are all staring at [Actor] Gertrude.

ACTOR (Gertrude)

"This scene is our big problem" – that’s what you said Thursday.

DIRECTOR (pause)

That’s true.

ACTOR (Gertrude)

"What would Gertrude do?" – you said – "do what you would do if you were his mother", you said.

DIRECTOR (pause)

I did.

ACTOR (Gertrude)

"His mother", you said, not "Gertrude", not "the Queen". You said –

DIRECTOR

I said –

ACTOR (Gertrude)

You said "His mother", and that –

DIRECTOR

She’s the –

ACTOR (Gertrude)

Listen – if I were his "mother" and I was also the "Queen" – the "Queen Mother" – I would be torn apart because I would have to choose between betraying my son or my husband, and I –

DIRECTOR

But Gertrude chooses to –

ACTOR (Gertrude)

I mean, Polonius says,

"tis meet that some more audience than a mother, since nature – Actor/Polonius joins in – makes them partial, should all o’erhear,

The speech, of vantage".

DIRECTOR

I know but the Queen…..

ACTOR (Gertrude)

But his Mother chooses to save her son!

 

All stare at the Actor playing the Queen.

ACTOR (Polonius)

… Excuse me – but that would stop the scene.

ACTOR (Hamlet)

(pause) Stop the play.

DIRECTOR

Wait –

ACTOR (Gertrude)

And that is the truth. She stops – the Motherstops the farce, the lie: the play within the play within the play.

Silence. Other actors have now joined those in the Queen’s Bedroom.

ACTOR (Gertrude) (cont..)

She tries. That is what she tries to do.

DIRECTOR (pause)

And that stops the play.

ACTOR (Gertrude)

That stops the play … she tries. And she fails. And she has to play her role – "Queen Gertrude" – again. She betrays her son. And that starts the rest of the play, again.

Now, they all stare at the Director. He begins to walk slowly around the edge of the Bedroom Area. He circles, they watch.

 

DIRECTOR

… Hamlet says – in Act 4 – Hamlet tells the King, "Father and Mother are Man and Wife / Man and Wife are one flesh…"

ACTOR (Queen)

I know.

DIRECTOR

That’s the "Law".

ACTOR (Queen)

That’s the "Law" – but it’s not the truth.

The Director paces, again. Then:

DIRECTOR

Does this mean that she sees the Ghost, too?

ACTOR (Queen)

…I don’t know…

 

 

DIRECTOR

… This is huge … Repercussions … Ramifications … As they say – Wow!… Jesus! … Let’s sleep on it.

Silence. Then the Director whispers "I love you" in the Actor’s ear and she hugs him – and the Company comes back to life.

DIRECTOR (cont..)

Act 4, Scene 3; Polonius is dead, the King confronts Hamlet.

STAGE MANAGER (Queen)

Act 4, Scene 3, please: "Now, Hamlet, where’s Polonius?"

 

 

SHAKESPEARE’S ACT 4

 

SCENE 3

 

The Company/The Court surround the King as he faces off with Hamlet.

KING

Now, Hamlet, where’s Polonius?

HAMLET

At supper.

KING

At supper where?

HAMLET

Not where he eats, but where he is eaten. A certain convocation of politic worms are e’en at him.

Hamlet speaks not only to the King but also gets "up close and personal" with the members of the Court.

The Prince is beyond exhaustion. He has, in fact, a second wind of gallows wit and insight. He strikes the King and Court as, somehow, older, tougher, much more dangerous. More – King-like?!

HAMLET (cont..)

… Your worm is your only emperor for diet. We fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots. Your fat King (in the King’s face) and your lean beggar is but variable service – two dishes but to one table. That’s the end.

KING (controlling the Court)

Alas, alas!

HAMLET

A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm.

KING

What dost thou mean by this?

HAMLET

Nothing – but to show you how a king may go a progress through the guts of a beggar.

Silence. The Court is dumbfounded. Hamlet starts to leave. No-one moves to stop him. The King is forced to block his way.

KING

Where – is – Polonius?

HAMLET

In heaven … Send thither to see. If your messenger find him not there seek him i’ th’ other place yourself. But, indeed, if you find him not within the month, you shall nose him as you go up the stairs into the lobby.

KING (to Court)

Go, seek him there.

HAMLET (laughing)

He will stay till you come.

The King moves in to Hamlet. They are face to face.

KING

Hamlet – prepare thyself. The bark is ready, and everything is bent for England.

HAMLET (overlapping)

For England!

KING

Ay, Hamlet.

HAMLET

Good.

KING (walking away)

So is it, if thou knew’st our purposes.

HAMLET

I see a cherub that sees them. But, come, for England … Farewell, dear mother.

KING (turns)

Thy loving father, Hamlet.

The Prince stares out, while speaking to his mother.

HAMLET

My mother… Father and mother is man and wife. Man and wife is one flesh, and so, my mother. – Come, for England!

Hamlet races off laughing. The King grabs his testicles, gathers his powers; looks out and up into the old Ghost Special light, and barks out his glottal commands.

KING

… Do it, England! For like the hectic in my blood he rages, and thou must cure me! Till I know ‘tis done, howe’er my haps, my joys were ne’er begun.

Lights to black. Then general lighting as the King returns to his Directorial role.

 

DIRECTOR

Ah, members of the Court: look – remember: in that scene, for the first time, you see that Hamlet could be dangerous – if he goes to the "People". He’s wasted, he’s running on empty, but there are flashes of "Hamlet the Dane"! – Anyway, remember it’s four in the morning and your future depends on when and where and whom you decide to betray or not to betray. – Now, can I see the Act 5, Scene 1 people, please.

 

HAMLET, HORATIO, and the TWO GRAVEDIGGERS join the Director on stage. The Elements, or cubicles are adjusted to mark the open grave and/or trap D.L.

 

 

 

SHAKESPEARE’S ACT 5

SCENE 1

DIRECTOR (to the booth)

Can I see late afternoon, late April sunshine, and a lot of birdsong. (Lights and sound) … Good … Now – I would like to see you run this scene first, without a stop, and then we’ll work it and then we’ll go home. – O.K.?

He blows his whistle.

 

DIRECTOR (cont..)

Everybody – that’s it. Good work. – Tomorrow it’s all costumes and props for a 2 p.m. runthrough, no make-up. We’ll work the "Closet" scene at 10 a.m., then Ophelia mad scenes at 11.30 a.m. Bring your lunches, food and water, the lot. There will be food provided for supper. O.K., thankyou for a helluva day and for "stopping the play"… And Wednesday, full make-up.

STAGE MANAGER (Gertrude)

"Badgered up!"

Laughter as the Company departs. Alone, the Director talks to the Actors in the Graveyard Scene.

 

DIRECTOR (walking and talking)

You have it in mind? By Saturday we’ll have the King Hamlet tomb, "marblejaws" and statue here, Up Right; Polonius’ tomb will be here, Centre Right. And a scattering of lesser stones all the way Up Stage on an acute perspective, so, for once, the audience will actually see the markers … What I need from Hamlet and Horatio is the stinging pungency of the smell, the odour, the ambience of the open grave. Shakespeare uses smell directly and indirectly at least five times in this scene. I don’t know what more the man can do to signal the actors that he’s not kidding around about finitude and death, here. But the actors don’t play the stench, even the great ones. They say the words and the "ughs" and the "pahs" but they won’t play it. And that means the audience never gets it. They see a few shining skulls, and a nod to poor Yorick. But that’s it. The "Brodie Notes".

(He helps distribute skulls around the grave)

And then, just to make sure the meaning of the play gets buried they cut the apprentice gravedigger, the old man’s "son", and they cut out all the riddles – the riddles and puns that add up to nothing less than the meaning of the entire g’damn work of art.

Remember – every riddle hides a truth: and the truth is that they are burying Princess Di, here, today. Right here. And Hamlet, too, unless you can spring him from this trap. And Fortinbras and his army are waiting on the beach – watching… Norway is going to occupy Denmark. It’s over and everybody in little Elsinore knows it’s over… You’re an old man now. You came in with Hamlet and you’re going out with him. But, now, there’s your son: save your son, old man, and save Hamlet – they’re all your sons. And they will have to grow up, "literally", overnight. So let your boy, here, know that there will be no time for clowning, after today.

The Director climbs down into the grave

DIRECTOR (cont.)

So, will you, by God, smell it – it’s a very warm spring day and there are also some sweet scents, too, all the fresh flowers on the King’s grave, and the birdsong. But the aroma of death rises like a slow tide until the end of the scene. And in that medium Hamlet finds the answer to his question – and I don’t mean "To be or not to be?" – Let’s go: we want the audience, who think they know this play, to be absolutely astonished when the "ghost" of Yorick fills up the stage, and the theatre, and then the world.

Director climbs up and goes to Horatio.

You’re the key: you have to try to keep the Prince moving forward on the Revenge Plot conveyor belt. No detours, no side-shows, cut the Clowns and their jokes that aren’t funny anyway. It’s Ophelia’s grave, that’s all that matters. You don’t want to go there, and Hamlet might go nuts, and the Gravedigger’s an old drunk, and the Second Clown doesn’t exist, so do not let Hamlet’s curiosity lead him into this stinking, and I mean stinking, dead end. The dead end where the Narrative is buried, where Shakespeare’s play reaches its nadir and its apotheosis. Hold your nose, literally, use your lace handkerchief and get the Prince out of there as soon as you can. As far as you’re concerned you’re only there so that your hero can jump into the grave and take the piss out of Laertes. Everything else is clownshow and noise.

Lights and sound have now set the scene. The Director puts his arm around Horatio’s shoulder.

DIRECTOR (cont.)

Let it happen. Watch your friend, the Prince, and the old Digger, here. The old man also knows where the bodies are buried. The old joker who picks up a skull – without looking at it! – and announces "that this same skull, sir, was Yorick’s skull". And then it hits you – that this clown has known who you guys are, all along. That he’s been trying to tell you something behind all that horseplay. And, then, you see Hamlet bowled over by the return of Yorick. And then you know – and we know – that this is the end of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The old Revenge Plot goes on forever, but right here the home truth hits you between the eyes: it stops the play: under the mask of the "First Clown", was the wise and weathered phiz of the Old Gravedigger – and under that mask is Yorick – and behind him, at last, is Master William Shakespeare who, alone, knows who’s who in this charnel-house. He was there "the day Young Hamlet was born", and he’s here today – when the Prince must die: do the math! But what wipes you out is when you see that Hamlet sees all this, too, and a lot more – and that he’s happy! Joyful – like the Old Gravedigger. And you’re amazed and struck dumb. Because, of course, you don’t yet comprehend that Hamlet recognises the Old Clown as none other than – the Ghost of Yorick himself!

The Director embraces the rapt Horatio and, then, Hamlet. Then, he exits into the darkness.

Go. No stops.

 

The TWO GRAVEDIGGERS can be heard talking and laughing as they approach the graveyard: "Beggars and Kings and worms and beggars and – "

 

OLD GRAVEDIGGER (off)

… Ha – ha – Go to! Away, nay – answer me that?

THE OLD GRAVEDIGGER, the father, and THE YOUNG GRAVEDIGGER, the son, enter with spades and other tools of their trade. They stop to cool off, for a moment, before approaching the newly opened grave, Down Stage.

DIRECTOR (off)

Father – scan the horizon. You need to warn Hamlet before the funeral procession arrives. And you need to prepare your son, right now, before Fortinbras and his shock troops make their move on the Castle. Sorry, go on.

 

They move down to the grave to begin work. Their technique is an economical and complete craftsmanship. The Father spits into his hands, the Son imitates him. The Father hides a smile and picks up the schooling, the teaching, the protecting of the Youth. The Father scans the approaches to the graveyard, as if he might be expecting someone.

 

OLD GRAVEDIGGER

Mmm … Is she to be buried in Christian burial, when she wilfully seeks her own "salvation"?

YOUNG GRAVEDIGGER

I tell thee she is. The crowner hath sat on her and finds it Christian burial.

OLD GRAVEDIGGER

Mm – Hmmm – how can that be, unless she drowned herself in her own defence?

YOUNG GRAVEDIGGER

Why, ‘tis found so.

OLD GRAVEDIGGER

It must be se offendendo, it cannot be else. For here lies the point: if I drown myself willingly, it argues an act, and an act hath three branches – it is to act, to do, to perform. Argal, she drowned herself willingly.

YOUNG GRAVEDIGGER

Nay, but hear you –

DIRECTOR (off)

Right – the boy’s quick, he’s dancing, learning’s a game, and learning is loving for this father and child – the only healthy relationship in the entire play -- but you have to get through to the lad how to slip past Fortinbras’ thugs. Play the game, but warn him!

 

OLD GRAVEDIGGER

– Give me leave.. Here lies the water; good. Here stands the man; good. If the man go to this water and drown himself, it is – will he, nil he – he goes; mark you that. But if the water comes to him, he drowns not himself. Argal, he that is not guilty of his own death shortens not his own life.

Thus, the logic and law of Power, Church and State. The Son is stymied. The Father’s catechism is the chop-logic of privilege and, after a frustrated cogitation, the lad sees through the riddle and the rationalisation – as he was meant to.

YOUNG GRAVEDIGGER

… But is this the law?

OLD GRAVEDIGGER

Ay, marry, is’t – crowner’s quest law.

The Son’s disgust leads him to the answer that the Father was fishing to find.

YOUNG GRAVEDIGGER

Will you ha’ the truth on’t? If this had not been a gentlewoman, she would have been buried out of Christian burial!

DIRECTOR (off)

Warn him now!

OLD GRAVEDIGGER

Why, there thou sayst!

The Father laughs and dances a little jig with joy, and drives home the warning.

And the more pity that great folk should have count’nance in this world to hang themselves more than their even-Christian….

The Old Man scans the roads, again. Then:

… Come, my spade …There is no ancient gentleman but gard’ners, ditchers, and grave-makers. They hold up Adam’s profession.

YOUNG GRAVEDIGGER

Was he a gentleman?

OLD GRAVEDIGGER

He was the first that ever bore arms.

YOUNG GRAVEDIGGER

Why, he had none.

 

DIRECTOR (off)

You have to frighten him a bit, now. You have to remind him who he is – a gravedigger. And that the Fortinbras of this world come and go – but we endure.

OLD GRAVEDIGGER

What, art a heathen? The scripture says "Adam digged". Could he dig without arms?…I’ll put another question to thee. If thou answerest me not to the purpose, confess thyself –

DIRECTOR (off)

Good. Getting scared. We’re the First and the Last. This is deadly serious, now there’s a shit-storm coming.

YOUNG GRAVEDIGGER

Go to!

OLD GRAVEDIGGER (softly, seriously)

What is he that builds stronger than either the mason, the shipwright, or the carpenter?

The Boy looks up into his Father’s face, catching his tone and drift.

YOUNG GRAVEDIGGER

… Marry – now I can tell …

OLD GRAVEDIGGER (face to face)

To’t.

YOUNG GRAVEDIGGER (straining)

… Mass, I cannot tell.

Now, over the Youth’s shoulder, the Father sees Hamlet and Horatio in the distance.

The Father embraces the Son; plants the answer in his ear.

 

OLD GRAVEDIGGER

…Cudgel thy brains no more about it …and when you are asked this question next, say "A grave-maker". The houses he makes last till doomsday. (watching Hamlet’s approach) Go, get thee in, and fetch me a stoup of licquor.

 

The Son trots off, never seeing Hamlet and Horatio as they draw near.

The Old Man feigns ignorance of the Prince’s presence, by beginning to dig and singing a song.

Meanwhile, the Prince and Horatio have reached the grave area. Each holds a handkerchief to his nose. Horatio attempts to walk past as quickly as possible, but Hamlet stops.

 

OLD GRAVEDIGGER (sings)

In youth when I did love, did love,

Methought it was very sweet

To contract-o-the time for-a-my behove,

O, methought there-a-was nothing-a-meet.

HAMLET

Has this fellow no feeling of his business? He sings in grave-making.

HORATIO (pulling at Hamlet)

Custom hath made it in him a property of easiness.

Hamlet’s curiosity is growing. He resists Horatio’s attempt to walk on. He even takes a step closer to the grave, fighting the stink.

HAMLET

‘Tis e’en so. The hand of little employment hath the daintier sense.

Hamlet speaks from the royal point of view, yet he is moving ever closer to the grave; dragging the gagging Horatio deeper into the effluvia of the place.

The Gravedigger begins to heave up SKULLS from the pit. The Prince stiffens.

DIRECTOR (off)

Déja vu: have you been here before? Have you dreamed this before?

OLD GRAVEDIGGER (sings)

But age with his stealing steps

Hath clawed me in his clutch,

And hath shipped me into the land,

As if I had never been such.

 

He throws up another skull. Horatio turns away, sick. But Hamlet takes another step closer and removes the linen rag from his face. He breathes, strained at first, then almost naturally.

The sexton still pretends not to see Hamlet.

 

HAMLET

That skull had a tongue in it and could sing once. How the knave jowls it to the ground as if ‘twere Cain’s jawbone, that did the first murder (laughs)…This might be the pate of a politician which this ass now o’er-reaches, one that would circumvent God, might it not?

 

Horatio, recovering slightly, notes something strange and new in his Prince.

HORATIO

…It might, my lord.

HAMLET (moving closer)

Or of a courtier, which could say "Good morrow, sweet lord! How dost thou, sweet lord?" This might be my lord such-a-one that praised my lord such-a-one’s horse when he meant to beg it, might it not?

Something half wild, prophetic in the Prince rivets Horatio. Hamlet’s grip on his friend’s arm is like steel, now, drawing him ever closer to the pit.

HORATIO

Ay, my lord.

HAMLET (closer)

Why, e’en so. And now my Lady Worm’s, chapless and knocked about the mazzard with a sexton’s spade. – Here’s fine revolution, an we had the trick to see it… Did these bones cost no more the breeding but to play at loggats with them? Mine ache to think on’t.

DIRECTOR (off)

"Revolution"! Horatio’s jaw drops. What’s your friend, the Prince, doing here?

The Gravedigger continues to spade and throw skulls over his shoulder, singing all the while.

Hamlet draws closer and closer. The Clown sings louder and louder.

OLD GRAVEDIGGER

A pickaxe and a spade, a spade,

For and a shrouding sheet,

O, a pit of clay for to be made

For such a guest is meet.

HAMLET (dodging a skull)

– There’s another. (laughs) Why may not that be the skull of a lawyer?

DIRECTOR (off)

Yes! The Prince’s mimicry is deadly accurate, now, he’s become a consummate actor and his royal attitude is melting away in the heat and stench of the place. – And you, Old Man, turn on the Music Hall.

Now – watch him – more skulls – then watch him openly!

 

HAMLET (cont..)

– A lawyer – where be his quiddities now, his quillets, his cases, his tenures, and his tricks? Why does he suffer this mad knave now to knock him about the sconce with a dirty shovel and will not tell him of his action of battery? Ha!

Horatio is forced to chortle at Hamlet’s razor staccato, and the Sexton does a little jig. The show is on!

HAMLET (cont..)

– Hum, this fellow might be in’s time a great buyer of land, with his statutes, his recognisance, his fines, his double vouchers, his recoveries. Is this the fine of his fines and recovery of his recoveries, to have his fine pate full of fine dirt?

 

Hamlet is transformed: he ages, bows, trots, hangs on Horatio; dances a court dance with him; speaks in different accents – his voice an orchestra: he has become "the abstract and brief chronicle" of the death and life of the time of the graveyard.

All the while, Hamlet and the Clown mimic and complement each other, and even Horatio is liberated, so far as to pull faces as part of the canvas of characters.

Just then, the YOUNG GRAVEDIGGER returns with the stoup of licquor. Of course, the lad, at once, becomes the perfect audience to this inspired improvisation and TOTENDANZ.

HAMLET (cont..)

– Will his vouchers vouch him no more of his purchases, and double ones too, than the length and breadth of a pair of indentures? The very conveyances of his lands will scarcely lie in this box.

DIRECTOR (off)

Stop dead! Everyone freeze. Hamlet is "The Prince" again. His voice is an ice-pick, now.

HAMLET

…And must the inheritor himself have no more, ha?

Silence. Horatio takes Hamlet’s arm, preparing to rejoin the world of the old Revenge Plot. The Old Gravedigger uncorks the licquor and takes a swig. All eyes on the Prince.

HORATIO

Not a jot more, my lord.

HAMLET (pause)

…Is not parchment made of sheepskins?

HORATIO (very carefully)

Ay, my lord, and of calves’ skin too.

DIRECTOR (off)

Old Man – don’t let him get away – you and your boy need him to live. Life or death! Hamlet or Fortinbras. Hold the bottle up to him. Hold his eye.

HAMLET

They are sheep and calves which seek out assurance in that … I will speak to this fellow. – Whose grave’s this, sirrah?

OLD GRAVEDIGGER (pause, drinks)

Mine, sir.

The Old Sexton, still pretending not to know who the Prince is, passes the licquor to his Son for a nip, then they both begin to sing – watching Hamlet.

OLD & YOUNG GRAVEDIGGERS

O, a pit of clay for to be made

For such a guest is meet …

DIRECTOR (off)

The Old Man – that face – do you know him from some past life?

HAMLET

…I think it be thine indeed, for thou liest in’t.

The sun is setting. A red glow bathes the scene. The Old Clown squints up from the grave at the Prince.

OLD GRAVEDIGGER

You lie out on’t, sir, and therefore ‘tis not yours. For my part, I do not lie in’t, yet it is mine.

HAMLET (a soft laugh)

Thou does lie in’t, to be in’t and say it is thine. ‘Tis for the dead, not for the quick; therefore thou liest.

OLD GRAVEDIGGER (shades his eyes)

‘Tis a quick lie, sir; ‘twill away again from me to you.

DIRECTOR (off)

This Clown is too quick to be a "clown". Sink to one knee. Study that face.

HAMLET

… What man dost thou dig it for?

OLD GRAVEDIGGER

For no man, sir.

HAMLET (reacts)

What woman then?

OLD GRAVEDIGGER

For none, neither.

DIRECTOR (off)

Something’s hidden here, some riddle, some enigma; literally under the Prince’s nose. Concentrate your powers. Your genius.

HAMLET

Who is’t to be buried in’t?

OLD GRAVEDIGGER (nose to nose)

One that was a woman, sir, but, rest her soul, she’s dead.

If Hamlet had begun to half imagine that he was peering into his own grave, now Ophelia fills his being. He draws back, still on one knee, and looks to Horatio.

HAMLET

How absolute the knave is! We must speak by the card or …How long hast thou been a grave-maker?

OLD GRAVEDIGGER

Of all the days i’ th’ year, I came to’t that day our last King Hamlet overcame Norway.

HAMLET (taken aback, tests the Clown)

…How long is that since?

DIRECTOR (off)

Music Hall!

OLD GRAVEDIGGER

Cannot you tell that? Every fool can tell that. It was that very day that young Hamlet was born – he that is mad, and sent into England.

HAMLET (searching)

… Ay, marry … why was he sent into England?

OLD GRAVEDIGGER (great solemnity)

Why, because he was mad. He shall recover his wits there. Or if he do not, ‘tis no great matter there.

HAMLET (caught)

Why?

OLD GRAVEDIGGER

‘Twill not be seen in him there. There the men are as mad as he.

Nose to nose: "As mad as he (he-he-ha)". The laugh explodes in Hamlet’s face but he does not back up, he presses:

 

HAMLET

How came he mad?

OLD GRAVEDIGGER (solemn again)

Very strangely, they say.

HAMLET (grabbing)

How "strangely"?

OLD GRAVEDIGGER

Faith, e’en with losing his wits!

Another explosion: "his wits – s – s – s?" Horatio is becoming alarmed, Hamlet brushes him back. Rounds on the Sexton.

HAMLET

Upon what ground?

OLD GRAVEDIGGER

Why, here in Denmark (k – k – k – k!…) I have been Sexton here, man and boy, thirty years.

DIRECTOR (off)

The last rays of the sun. The Prince almost touches the Old Man’s face. You know it; you remember, but can’t remember. But you will. Close your eyes – "about my brain…" Do the math: "man and boy"; "the day Young Hamlet was born"; "thirty years"; … "was born" – his birthday, and today – his death day!

In the silence, the Sexton sips from the licquor and, then, passes the stoup to the Prince. Before Horatio can push the potent potion away, Hamlet has taken it and drunk …

 

DIRECTOR (off)

… The drink hits you. Good. They’re watching … Something deep coming – play the King’s – play your father’s tomb – Up Right, where the cross is… Touch it … Look …There’s your "Ghost" – in "compleat stich" … What’s that? A red ant moving across the marble? … And, look, there: it’s a, ah, a freckle of green moss, already, on the statue’s helmet. Should you pull it off? No – no, let it be … Summer’s coming… "Rest, rest, perturbèd spirit" … O.K.

ACTOR (Hamlet)

Wait …

The Director comes on stage, slowly to face the problem.

DIRECTOR

…Talk to me.

HAMLET (Actor)

Let me try it the – let me scrape off the moss and then –

DIRECTOR

Hamlet’s buried his –

HAMLET (Actor)

He’s not "Hamlet" yet, he’s still the –

DIRECTOR

He’s buried his father; he’s Hamlet at last.

HAMLET (Actor)

Not yet.

Pause. The Director acts out what he wants from the Actor.

DIRECTOR

Right! You have to give us that moment! … Look: you reach for the moss, to clean it off: "if I wanted to be free what would I do?" You touch the cold marble. You shiver with fear. You flinch your hand away. You feel sick again – like before – then rage – because you’re sick of being sick! And you turn and face all of them – the living and the dead – and you say the Magic Words:

"how long will my father lie in the earth before he rots?" And it’s over. The Ghost is laid. The King’s dead, the Prince dies! Hamlet lives! Full stop.

silence. They stare at each other.

HAMLET (Actor)

… I want to try it one beat later… He scrapes off the moss, he feels it on his fingers. And he’s trapped again – inside the Prince’s body.

DIRECTOR

So, he –

HAMLET (Actor)

He needs help. He needs an answer. And that’s why he turns to the old man to pose the hidden question: "if I kill the Prince of Denmark – will I have to die, too?"

silence. They stare. Other actors in wings watching. Finally:

DIRECTOR

… Try it.

The Director stays on stage to watch.

Hamlet resumes the action. Again, he sees the ant crawling, the moss growing. He stares at the growth on his father’s marble body.

He scrapes it off. Rubs the moss between his fingers, looks at the residue on his hands. Leans against the tomb, breathes, slumps – then pushes away, turning to the Old Gravedigger.

HAMLET

How long will a man lie i’th’ earth ere he rot?

pause. The Director speaks then retires to his table, in darkness.

DIRECTOR

… You’re right … I was – you’re right.

The Director returns to his table. Hamlet repeats the compleat moment.

HAMLET

How long will a man lie i’th’ earth ere he rot?

OLD GRAVEDIGGER

Faith … if he be not rotten before he die – as we have many pocky corses nowadays, that will scarce hold the laying in – he will last you some eight year or nine year. A tanner will last you nine year.

 

Hamlet listens, hears, feels, comprehends. The Gravediggers lean against the walls of the pit and watch the two young men. The sun is going down. The Prince is off balance. No other person in this Elsinore has ever outwitted him. Never. Until today.

 

HAMLET

…Why he more than another?

DIRECTOR (off, to the Gravedigger)

… Bring Hamlet back, now, he’s hooked, bring him in. Wait for the penny to drop.

OLD GRAVEDIGGER

Why, sir, his hide is so tanned with his trade that he will keep out water a great while; and your water is a sore decayer of your whoreson dead body…

The Gravedigger digs deep – gives a laugh – turns up an old caked skull.

OLD GRAVEDIGGER (cont.)

…Here’s a skull now hath lien you i’ th’ earth three-and-twenty years.

The Sexton picks up the skull with studied ease, his eyes never leaving the Prince’s face. Slowly, like a conjuror, he uses the deathshead to lure Hamlet back down to the open grave.

The deathshead, of course, is covered with clay, plant life, and worms. Thus, Hamlet jerks back when the Old Man holds the reeking thing close to the Prince’s face.

HAMLET

…Whose was it?

OLD GRAVEDIGGER (a laugh)

A whoreson mad fellow’s it was. (closer) Whose do you think it was? (closer)

HAMLET

… Nay, I know not.

OLD GRAVEDIGGER (watching Hamlet only)

A pestilence on him for a mad rogue! He poured a flagon of Rhenish on my head once. (closer) This same skull, sir, was, sir – Yorick’s skull! – the King’s jester.

HAMLET

…This?

OLD GRAVEDIGGER

…E’en that….

Hamlet is breathless. Yorick! Of course! From the moment he saw and heard this old Clown, he had had an uncanny infection or eruption of an old memory – long forgotten yet, somehow, the ineluctable quintessence of his very being. And the Old Gravedigger had been riddling with him all along.

Hamlet, now, leans closer and closer to the skull; looks from the Old Gravedigger’s face to the Jester’s skull. Back and forth.

The Sexton moves the skull slowly around the Prince’s face.

 

HAMLET (panting)

Let me see it …

 

The Sexton moves the skull closer, then, suddenly slips the ghastly bones into the Prince’s hand.

Hamlet is frozen with atavistic terror. Horatio, as well. The two Clowns lean forward, flanking the Prince.

Hamlet slowly directs his head to swivel back to look at the Thing clutched in his claw. To look, to breathe, and to come to grips with the Thing – worms, moss and all. The Prince looks, pants, then breathes …

DIRECTOR (off)

… You were right. This is where it appears. The nausea passes. The skull reeks but something else is rising in him. He is re-membering. His entire body is breaking out in memory… Something rising… Look at the Old Clown, then back to Yorick, then back – and, then, suddenly, he knows what’s possessing him: love. Old love… So, you were right.

HAMLET

Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio – a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy.

Hamlet slowly cleans the skull of the dirt, moss, worms. He uses his handkerchief and his fingers.

The Gravediggers smile and nod. Horatio gapes. Hamlet’s eyes are locked on the Old Gravedigger’s face.

HAMLET (cont..)

…He hath borne me on his back a thousand times … and now how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it … Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft … Where be your gibes now? Your gambols? Your songs?

Hamlet hums a remembered tune: "Imperious Caesar"

Your flashes of merriment that were wont to set the table on a roar? Not one now to mock your own grinning? Quite chapfallen? … Now get you to my lady’s chamber, and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must come. Make her laugh at that.

Hamlet studies the "clean" skull, before slowly handing it back to the Sexton. The Old Man gives it a final wipe and sets it on the lip of the grave.

The Sexton, then, heaves himself up and sits next to the Prince, graveside; and the Young Sexton, his son, joins them. They pass the licquor. Birdsong. Hamlet insists that Horatio take a sip of the brew. Horatio, at last, wipes the mouth of the container and tastes the mixture. They all laugh at his grimace, and he sits down, too.

HAMLET

… Prithee, Horatio, tell me one thing.

HORATIO

What’s that, my lord?

 

HAMLET

Dost thou think Alexander looked o’ this fashion i’ th’ earth?

HORATIO

…E’en so.

HAMLET

And smelt so? Pah!

HORATIO

E’en so, my lord.

The Son Gravedigger is now asleep on his Father’s shoulder. The faces of the Four are lit by the last rays of the sun.

HAMLET

…To what base uses we may return, Horatio! Why may not imagination trace the noble dust of "Alexander" till he find it stopping a bunghole?

The Old Sexton winks and nods at Hamlet. His son snores. Horatio gasps.

HORATIO

‘Twere to consider too curiously to consider so.

Horatio may not have the "trick" to see the "fine revolution" in Hamlet’s words, but the Old Clown not only sees it, he says it – to himself – just as if he had written the Prince’s part.

HAMLET

No, faith, not a jot: but to follow him thither, with modesty enough and likelihood to lead it – as thus: Alexander died, Alexander was buried, Alexander returneth to dust; the dust is earth, of earth we make loam; and why of that loam whereto he was converted might they not stop – a beer barrel?

And the Prince picks up the skull and tosses it to the Old Clown. That Ancient Gentleman looks at it, spits on it – in order to give the thing a final polish with his sleeve, -- plants a farewell kiss on the cranium, and tosses it back to Hamlet.

The Prince and Gravedigger chuckle to each other as if to say, "Whose skull was this, really – and what difference does it make?"

Then Hamlet kisses it goodbye and lofts it back into the grave. He lifts the stoup of licquor in a toast to the departed; the Sexton offers his toast, too. And it is over: Hamlet has buried his father. Hamlet is quietly joyful, for the first time.

The Young Clown snores on his Father’s shoulder. And Horatio? He sleeps softly on Hamlet’s. The Prince and the Clown look down into the grave. The grave – of Yorick, and Alexander, and Julius Caesar, let alone Hamlet Senior and his infernal Ghost – of all the interchangeable Heroes and Fools in the long weary increment since Genesis.

The Play is at an end, at last. All that remains is for the Prince and the Old Jester to sing one last song. So that Alexander and Julius Caesar; and the "perturbed spirits" of the two fathers – the false King Hamlet, and the true fool, Yorick – can rest in peace until the end of this day; when the Old Clown will bury Young Hamlet with all the others that he had loved and lost.

HAMLET & OLD GRAVEDIGGER (sing)

Imperious Caesar, dead and turned to clay,

Might stop a hole to keep the wind away.

O, that that earth which kept the world in awe

Should patch a wall t’expel the winter’s flaw!

The Prince and the Clown sing "Yorick’s Song". The other two sleep. The sun’s last rays are fading. The song ends. Silence. The ACTORS wait.

From the dark theatre, the DIRECTOR’S voice, as he and the STAGE MANAGER, arm in arm, walk on stage.

DIRECTOR

…Yeah … Stop a "Bunghole" – patch a "beer barrel". Yeah … Well… Shall we sing "Yorick’s Song" one more time? And then go home. Annnnd thennnn – tomorrow – we’ll pick up with Ophelia’s funeral procession to the cemetery – annnnd the g’damn Revenge Plot! (to the Hamlet Actor)… You were spot on: he’s free at last – and forever…

And the six of them – joined by the others – sing "Yorick’s Song", again.

 

ALL

Imperious Caesar, dead and turned to clay,

Might stop a hole to keep the wind away.

O, that that earth which kept the world in awe

Should patch a wall t’expel the winter’s flaw!

At the Curtain Call the entire cast come on singing "Yorick’s Song".

The tempo is syncopated and the Actors dance a jig as they sing – endeavouring to inspire the Audience to join them in "Yorick’s Song".

 

 

—THE END –