Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, his most popular and studied work, confirms his belief in the supernatural. The play begins with the midnight appearance of the ghost of Hamlet’s father to Horatio and watchman who warn Hamlet. Later, the ghost asks Hamlet to revenge his death by his brother Claudius, “Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.” Depressed and not trusting the ghost, Hamlet feigns madness to scrutinize members of the court. Only when he studies King Claudius’ reaction to a play he scripted to mimic his father’s murder is he convinced of the truth. Hamlet’s self-doubt mirrors our own when destiny demands we take on responsibilities difficult to
fulfill. While ignoring Polonius’ advice who obeys King Claudius, Hamlet faces his dilemma with the loss of guidance from both his father and old teacher, Yorick. Life seems to force the greatest challenges on us when we are the most vulnerable. Shakespeare implies that we should believe our initial encounter with spirit’s message and act swiftly with confidence. However, then there would be no tragedy and therefore no play.
“Thus conscience doth make cowards of us all.” (“Hamlet”).
For many actors, playing Hamlet is an achievement at the pinnacle of their careers when they still look youthful but are mature enough to capture depth of character. Some of the greatest performances were by Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton, Ian McKellen, Mel Gibson and Mark Rylance. In my play “Shakespeare on the Rocks” Alex Don Baron, an aging Shakespearean actor fighting alcoholism, has entered his London flat after his flight from New York to escape hurricane Sandy that flooded in West Village brownstone. When he finds his scrapbook he reminisces on his life and career. In this scene he makes fun of some famous lines from Hamlet.
(Hungry, Alex paces a bit then walks to the fridge and takes a dish and a glass from the shelf.)
The plates the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King.
(Shakespeare - “Hamlet” )
Oh, there’s something rotten in the vegetable bin.
How weary stale flat and unprofitable seem to me all the contents of the fridge.
Tis an unweeded garden that grows to seed
Things rank and gross possess it merely
That it should come to this – nothing to eat
(He takes ice out of the freezer and puts it into a tumbler. He pours water in then drinks. He examines himself in an oval standing mirror near the garment rack.)
Oh that this too too solid flesh would melt
Thaw and resolve itself into a dew
To eat – to sleep,
Perchance to dream
Ah – there’s the rub
For in this sleep – where’s the pub?
Tubby or not chubby:
Whether 'tis nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fat
Or go on a crash diet and by opposing lose it
Or to eat, drink and sleep
And end the heartache that fasting brings.
I never played Hamlet but used his monologues for auditions. I loved his contemplative demeanor - his melancholy in the drafty castle at Elsinore. It was easy to stand full frontal and look pensive without emoting all those words. But, - was Hamlet gay? That is the question. That cat was afraid of his father - abused his girlfriend and killed her father and brother – was obsessed with his mother and a narcissist.
(He takes an old melon out of the refrigerator and examines it like a skull. He smells it carefully.)
When I kissed the skull of Yorick my teacher at the Actors Studio told me to smell it. Sniff the old moldy soil and go from there. I thought dirty thoughts.
Thus spake Hamlet ……
“Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, a fellow of infinite jest
He bore me on his back a thousand times;
Here hung those lips
That I have kissed, I know not how oft.
Where are your abs now?
What did Hamlet mean by well-hung lips?
What did Hamlet kiss? His bare bottom?
Where are your gambols?
Your songs - your hot flashes
Quite a chap fallen
(Shakespeare - “Hamlet”)
“So, oft it chances in particular men
That for some vicious mole of nature in them
Or by some habit their virtues be they are pure as grace
Shall in general censure
Take corruption for that particular fault – to scandal”
(Shakespeare - Hamlet )
Ah, There is nothing either good or bad, but drinking makes it so.
(At the end of scene one as the stage darkens, ALEX lies on his couch with a flashlight that makes orbs on the ceiling.)
My father –
“Be thou a spirit of health or goblin damn'd,
Bring with thee airs from heaven or blasts from hell,
Be thy intents wicked or charitable,
Thou comest in such a questionable shape
That I will speak to thee: I'll call thee
King, father, royal Dane: O, answer me!”
(Shakespeare “Hamlet” - Hamlet)
Doubt that the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love.”
(Shakespeare “Hamlet” - Hamlet)