David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s HAMLET: A Retelling in Prose — Act 1, Scene 2

— 1.2 —

In a room of state in the castle were King Claudius, Queen Gertrude, Hamlet, Polonius, Laertes (Polonius’ son), Voltemand, and Cornelius. Also present were other lords and some servants. Hamlet was dressed in black, the color of mourning.

Using the royal plural, King Claudius said, “Although the memory of the death of King Hamlet, our dear brother, is still green and fresh, and although it was fitting for us to bear our hearts in grief and for our whole Kingdom to be knit together in one brow of woe, yet discretion has so far fought with nature that we with wisest sorrow think about the late King Hamlet and at the same time remember our own position in the living world. Therefore, our former sister-in-law have we, as if with a defeated joy — with one eye smiling and the other eye dripping tears of sadness, with mirth at a funeral and with dirge at a marriage, with delight and dole weighing equally — married and taken as our wife, and no one has objected to our marriage. Our former sister-in-law is now our Queen, the imperial female sharer of the crown of this nation preparing for war. We have not gone against your very mature wisdom, which has freely approved this marriage all along. To all of you, we give our thanks.

“Now we must talk about young Fortinbras, who holds our worth in little regard, or who thinks that because of the death of our dear brother, the late King Hamlet, our nation is disturbed and is in disorder. These mistaken thoughts of his are allied with his dream of gaining personal advantages by threatening Denmark. Young Fortinbras has not failed to pester us with messages that demand the surrender of those lands that were lost by his father, in accordance with the law, to our most valiant brother. So much for what he is demanding: All this you know.

“Now for new information concerning what we ourself have decided — that is the main purpose and business of this meeting. We have here written a letter to the King of Norway, who is the uncle of young Fortinbras. His uncle became King of Norway after his father, the elder Fortinbras, died. Powerless and bedridden, the current King of Norway scarcely hears about his nephew’s intentions and actions — I have written him to ask that he stop young Fortinbras from proceeding further in this business. The King of Norway has the power to do that because the levies of soldiers — everyone who has joined young Fortinbras — are citizens of Norway and therefore subject to his rule. We now send you, good Cornelius, and you, Voltemand, as bearers of this greeting and as ambassadors to the aged King of Norway; we give to you no further personal power to do business with the King of Norway. You can do no more than the scope that these detailed documents allow. Farewell, and show your duty to me in your speed in accomplishing this task. We need not hear a long and flowery address of etiquette.”

“In delivering these documents and in all other things, we will show our duty,” Cornelius and Voltemand said together.

“We do not doubt it,” King Claudius said. “Heartily we say farewell to you.”

Cornelius and Voltemand departed.

King Claudius continued, “And now, Laertes, what’s the news with you? You told us that you had some request to make of us; what is it, Laertes? You cannot speak of anything reasonable to the King of Denmark, and waste your words. What can you reasonably request, Laertes, that shall not be my gift rather than your request? The head is not more closely related to the heart, the hand is not more instrumental to the mouth, than is the throne of Denmark to your father. We — the entire monarchy and ourself — value your father highly. What would you like to have, Laertes?”

“My dread lord,” Laertes said, “I request your leave and permission for me to return to France. From there willingly I came to Denmark to do my duty and be present at your coronation, yet now that this duty is done, I must confess that my thoughts and wishes bend again toward France and I hope that you will grant me permission to return there.”

“Have you your father’s permission?” King Claudius asked.

He then asked, “Polonius, what do you say about this?”

“He has, my lord, made laborious petitions to wring from me my slow permission for him to return to France. Finally, I gave him my consent. I stamped my seal of approval upon his request. I ask you, therefore, to allow him to go.”

“Take your fair hour, Laertes,” King Claudius said. “Let your time of youth be yours to spend as you will in accordance with your best qualities. You have our permission to return to France.”

He then said, “But now, my nephew Hamlet, who is also my son —”

Hamlet thought, A little more than kin, and less than kind. In other words: The nearer in kin, the less in kindness. And in yet other words: The closer the relationship, the greater the dislike. Am I your son? I say no. To call me your son is more than our actual relationship will allow. I do not accept you as my father. I also do not regard you as kind in the sense of being benevolent. The word “kind” also refers to the natural quality of family members; they should be united in a community of love toward each other. You and I do not have that. You married my mother, who is your brother’s widow; I do not consider such a marriage natural — it is incestuous.

“How is it that the clouds still hang on you?” King Claudius asked Hamlet.

“That is not true,” Hamlet replied. “I am too much in the Sun.”

He thought, And I do not like being called your son.

Queen Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, said, “Good Hamlet, take off and put away your night-colored clothing, and let your eye look like a friend on the King of Denmark. Do not forever with your downcast eyes seek for your noble father in the dust. You know that everything that lives must die, passing through nature to eternity.”

“Yes, that is a universal truth,” Hamlet said.

“If you know that, why does it seem that you are having such a hard time accepting your father’s death?”

“Madam, ‘seem’?” Hamlet replied. “I really am having such a hard time accepting my father’s death. The word ‘seem’ does not apply to me. It is not alone my inky-black cloak, good mother, nor the customary and conventional suits of solemn black, nor the windy sighs of forced breath, no, nor the fruitful river of tears flowing from the eyes, nor the dejected expression of the visage, together with all forms, moods, shapes of grief, that can denote me truly. All of these indeed seem; they can be appearances of something that is not truly felt. They are actions that a man might act out hypocritically, but I have that within myself that surpasses show and goes beyond appearances. These other things are only the trappings and the suits of woe.”

“It is sweet and commendable in your nature, Hamlet, to give these mourning duties to your father,” King Claudius said. “But, you must know that your father lost his father. That father also lost his father. With the loss of each father, the survivor is bound in filial obligation to do as the funeral services demand and to grieve for some time. However, to persevere in obstinate sorrow is a course of impious stubbornness; it is unmanly grief. It shows a will most incorrect and in opposition to Heaven, a heart unsupported by religious belief, a mind lacking the virtue of patience, an understanding ignorant and uneducated. When we know that something must occur and is in fact as common as the most ordinary thing that we can sense, why should we in our peevish opposition take it to heart and mourn it excessively? Ha! It is a transgression and sin against Heaven, a transgression and sin against the dead, a transgression and sin against nature, and a most absurd and sinful transgression against reason, whose common theme is the death of fathers. Everyone who has witnessed death in the first corpse to the corpse of the person who died today has cried, ‘This must be so.’”

The first corpse was a murder victim. Cain killed Abel, his brother. This story is recounted in Genesis 4:8.

King Claudius continued, “We ask you to please throw to earth this unprevailing sorrow — it can gain nothing — and think of us as of a father. Let the world take note that you are the most immediate to our throne. Denmark is an elective monarchy, but we now use our voice to say that we want you to succeed us on the throne. I feel the love for you that a biological father bears his son.

“We know that you want to go back to school in Wittenberg, but that is in opposition to what we desire. And so we beseech you to change your mind and remain here, in the cheer and comfort of our eye. You are our most important courtier, our kinsman, and our son.”

Queen Gertrude said, “Please do what I want you to do, Hamlet. Please stay here and do not return to Wittenberg.”

“I shall to the best of my ability obey you, madam,” Hamlet replied.

“Why, that is a loving and a fair reply,” King Claudius said. “Be a member of the royal family and stay here in Denmark.”

He said to Queen Gertrude, “Madam, come. This gentle and unforced accord of Hamlet to our wishes sits smiling in my heart. To celebrate this, each time that we, the King of Denmark, will take a drink today, the great cannon will fire into the clouds, and the Heavens will all bruit and spread the King’s toast again, re-speaking it with Earthly thunder. Come, let’s go now.”

Everyone except Hamlet left the room.

Hamlet said to himself, “Oh, I wish that this too, too solid flesh would melt, thaw, and resolve itself into a dew! Would that my body would waste away on its own! Or I wish that the Everlasting had not fixed His canon — his eternal law — against self-slaughter! Exodus 20:13 states, ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ and that includes a prohibition against killing oneself. Oh, God! God! How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable seems to me the entire business of this world! Ha! This world is an unweeded garden, which goes to seed; things rank and gross in nature entirely possess it. That it should come to this!

“My father is only two months dead — no, not so much, not even two months. My father was so excellent a King; he was, compared to this King Claudius, Hyperion the god of the Sun compared to a lustful half-man, half-goat satyr. My father was so loving to my mother that he would not allow the winds of Heaven to blow against her face too roughly. Heaven and Earth, must I remember! Why, my mother would hang on my father, as if increase of affection had grown by what it fed on: and yet, within a month — let me not think about it! Frailty, your name is woman! She wore new shoes when she followed my father’s body as it went to the tomb. She cried like Niobe, who wept after all of her sons and all of her daughters died in a single day. A little, short month later, before those shoes were old, she married my uncle — oh, God, even a beast that lacks the ability to reason would have mourned longer!

“My mother married my uncle. He is my father’s brother, but he is no more like my father than I am like the super-strong Hercules. She married my uncle within a month of my father’s death. Even before the salt of very unrighteous tears had left the red flush of her bitter eyes, she married him. Oh, most wicked speed, to hasten with such dexterity and jump into incestuous sheets! It is not good, and it cannot come to be good. But break, my heart, because I must hold my tongue.”

Horatio, Marcellus, and Barnardo walked over to Hamlet.

Horatio greeted Hamlet: “Hail to your lordship!”

“I am glad to see you well,” Hamlet said. “You are Horatio, if I am not mistaken.”

“I am Horatio, my lord, and I am your poor servant ever.”

“Sir, my good friend, I’ll change that name with you,” Hamlet said.

He meant that he would change the name “servant” to the name “friend.” John 15:15 states, “Henceforth call I you not servants: for the servant knoweth not what his master doeth: but I have called you friends: for all things that I have heard of my Father, have I made known to you.”

Or, possibly, he meant that he would exchange names with Horatio — he would be Horatio’s servant.

Either way, Hamlet and Horatio were friends.

Hamlet added, “And what brings you here from Wittenberg, Horatio?”

He then noticed Marcellus and greeted him, “Marcellus!”

Marcellus replied, “My good lord.”

Hamlet said, “I am very glad to see you. Good day, sir.”

He then again asked Horatio, “What brings you here from Wittenberg?”

“A truant disposition, my good lord,” Horatio replied.

“I would not hear your enemy say that about you,” Hamlet said, “and I will not allow you to do my ear the violence that would make it trust your own report against yourself. I know that you are no truant. But what is your business here in Elsinore? We’ll teach you to drink deep before you depart. Danes are famous for their deep drinking.”

“My lord, I came to see your father’s funeral,” Horatio replied.

“Please, do not mock me, fellow student,” Hamlet said. “I think your purpose in coming here was to see my mother’s wedding.”

“Indeed, my lord, the marriage quickly followed the funeral.”

“Thrift, thrift, Horatio!” Hamlet said. “The hot baked meat pies for the funeral feast were set down cold on the tables for the marriage feast. I would prefer to have seen my worst enemy in Heaven before I had seen that day, Horatio! My father! I think I see my father!”

Startled, and thinking of the ghost, Horatio said, “Where, my lord?”

“In my mind’s eye, Horatio.”

“I saw him some time ago,” Horatio said. “He was a good-looking King.”

“He was a man — the ideal of man; he was perfect in every way,” Hamlet said. “I shall not look upon his like again.”

“My lord, I think I saw him last night,” Horatio said.

“Saw? Whom?”

“My lord, I think I saw the King your father.”

“The King my father!”

“Control your wonderment for a while,” Horatio said. “Listen with attentive ears until I can tell you what a marvelous thing I have seen with these gentlemen as witnesses.”

“For God’s love, let me hear,” Hamlet said.

“These gentlemen, Marcellus and Barnardo, had twice on their watch, in the dead vast and middle of the night, encountered something strange. A figure like your father, armed exactly like him from top to toe, appeared before them, and with solemn march stalked slowly and stately by them. Three times he walked by their troubled and fear-surprised eyes, as close as the length of his truncheon. They, melted almost to jelly because of their fear, stood silently and did not dare to speak to him. This they fearfully and secretly told me, and I kept the watch with them the third night. Exactly as they had said, at the time they had stated and dressed the way that they had described, the apparition appeared. Each word they had spoken proved to be true and good. I was acquainted with your father. My hands are not more similar than was the apparition to your father.”

“But where did this happen?” Hamlet asked.

“My lord, this happened upon the platform — the platform where the guns of the fort are mounted. That is where we kept our watch,” Marcellus replied.

“Didn’t you speak to the ghost?” Hamlet asked.

“My lord, I did,” Horatio replied, “but it did not answer me. Once I thought that it lifted its head up and looked as if it were about to speak, but just then the cock crew loudly to announce the morning, and at the sound of the cock it shrunk hastily away and vanished from our sight.”

“It is very strange.”

“As I live, my honored lord, it is true, and we thought that it was our duty to let you know about it,” Horatio said.

“Indeed, indeed, sirs, but this troubles me,” Hamlet replied.

He asked Marcellus and Barnardo, “Do you have the watch tonight?”

“We do, my lord,” they replied.

“Was the ghost armed?” Hamlet asked.

“It was armed, my lord,” they replied. “It was wearing armor.”

“From top to toe?”

“My lord, from head to foot,” they replied.

“Then you did not see his face?”

“My lord, we did see the ghost’s face,” Horatio said. “The face guard of its helmet was up.”

“How did he look?” Hamlet asked. “Did he frown and look fierce, like a warrior?”

“His countenance was more sorrowful than angry,” Horatio replied.

“Was his face pale or a healthy red?”

“Very pale.”

“And he fixed his eyes upon you?” Hamlet asked.

“Most constantly,” Horatio said.

“I wish I had been there.”

“It would have much amazed you.”

“Very likely, very likely,” Hamlet said. “Did it stay long?”

“As long as someone with moderate haste might count to a hundred,” Horatio replied.

“Longer, longer,” Marcellus and Barnardo objected.

“Not when I saw it,” Horatio said.

“His beard was grizzled, wasn’t it?” Hamlet asked.

“It was, as I have seen it in his life,” Horatio said, “a sable silvered. His beard was black but streaked with white.”

“I will watch with you tonight,” Hamlet said. “Perhaps it will walk again.”

“I predict it will,” Horatio said.

“If it assumes my noble father’s person, I’ll speak to it, even if Hell itself should gape and order me to be silent,” Hamlet said. “Please, if you have not already told someone what you saw, continue to keep what you saw secret. Whatever you see happen tonight, look at it closely but do not talk about it. I will reward your friendship. And so, farewell. Upon the guard platform, between eleven and twelve tonight, I’ll visit you.”

“We will do our duty to your honor,” they replied.

“Give me your friendship, as I give you mine,” Hamlet said. “Farewell.”

Everyone except Hamlet departed.

Hamlet said to himself, “My father’s spirit dressed in armor! All is not well; I suspect some foul play that the ghost wishes to inform me about. I wish that it were night! Until then, my soul, sit still. Foul deeds will rise, although all the Earth overwhelm them, to men’s eyes. No matter how people try to hide foul deeds, they will become unhidden.”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

David Bruce: Death Anecdotes

A few months before the father of comedian Lizz Winstead died, he knew that he was going to die, and so he sent each of his children a card that they were not supposed to open until after he had died. Lizz opened it immediately. Her card showed a photograph of the skyline of Manhattan. On the card, her father had written, “I love you. You are my favorite. Please don’t tell all the others.” This card made Lizz feel elated. After Lizz’ father died, all of her siblings and her mother were talking about him and the cards he had sent to each of his children, and it became clear that each of his children had opened his or her card and read it. Lizz’ mother said, “Dad wanted you to open those cards after he died, and since you all went against his wishes and already have, I would love to hear what he wrote to each of you.” Then she asked Lizz to tell everyone what her father had written to her. Lizz tried to get out of revealing the contents of her card, but her mother was insistent. Lizz thought about lying, but she could not lie immediately after her father had died. Finally, Lizz said, “The card said, ‘I love you. You are my favorite. Please don’t — ’” and all of her siblings said along with her, “tell the others.” And everybody laughed. In Lizz Free or Die, Ms. Winstead’s book of autobiographical essays, she writes about her father, “He knew we all would open that card the second we got it. And he knew how we would all believe what he wrote. And relish it and find some smug superiority in it. But more than anything else, he knew how hard we would laugh when we found out, having to laugh at our own ridiculousness and remembering that he made us laugh, even after his death. He knew that this moment would be more precious than ever feeling like the favorite.” Lizz’ mother also really loved her (and Lizz’ siblings). While attending Minneapolis Southwest High School in Minnesota, Lizz played Marian in the high school’s production of The Music Man. To get the part, she outperformed another girl — a girl who wrote a review of the production and severely criticized Lizz, whose feelings were hurt. Lizz cried as she read the review to her mother, who hugged her and told her that she had worked hard and that the review was garbage. Then, without Lizz knowing it, her mother talked to the high school principal and told him that allowing a girl who had tried out for a part in the play and not gotten it to write a review of the actress who had gotten the part was an obvious conflict of interest. In the high school newspaper, the principal apologized for the review. Lizz writes, “It did not mention that the girl who wrote it had lost the part to me, but it did include some crappity crap that the play was a smash and that all the performers were very talented. That crappity crap made me feel better.”

Early in his career, comedian Fred Allen was a juggler who was a friend to fellow juggler Harry LaToy, although later they sometimes had disagreements. Despite the disagreements, on occasion Mr. Allen provided financial help to his former friend. Mr. LaToy died in St. Louis, Missouri, where no one knew him, and a newspaperman telephoned Mr. Allen, who was in another city, on the off chance that he might know something about Mr. LaToy. Mr. Allen gave the newspaperman the information he needed and said that he would take care of the funeral. However, when Mr. Allen reached the proper authorities, he discovered that someone else had done the very good deed of arranging for a funeral for Mr. LaToy’s body. A mortician in a suburb of Saint Louis was a former vaudevillian. Realizing that another vaudevillian needed help, he stepped forward and provided that help.

Mothers, even while dying, care about their children and want what is best for them. When Dawn French was writing her second novel, Oh Dear Silvia, in which people talk about a woman in a coma, her mother died. As her mother lay dying, Dawn was sitting by her bed. Her mother, who knew she was writing a book, said, “Come on, this is your research. Why aren’t you writing?” Dawn replied, “But you are dying.” Her mother then said, “Please use this time properly. Don’t sit there watching me die.” Dawn took out her notebook and started writing. Dawn believes, “I think my heart and soul went into the book as a result.”

Freddie Moore was a bachelor, but when the plane taking him and Jack Crystal to a gig playing music hit an air pocket and then ran into a storm, he started praying for his wife, his children, his sons-in-law, his daughters-in-law, his father-in-law, his mother-in-law, and lots of other “relatives.” When the plane and passengers were out of danger, Mr. Crystal asked Mr. Moore, “What’s the matter with you? You’re a bachelor. Why were you praying for all those people?” Mr. Moore replied, “I know, but while I was at it, I wanted to cover all the possibilities.”

Raoul Walsh, director of the movies The Big Trail, High Sierra, and White Heat, once did a good deed for a favorite extra who was known as “Cheyenne Billy.” After Cheyenne Billy died, Mr. Walsh held a big, expensive Irish wake for him. He also sent the body back to Wyoming for burial. To everyone’s surprise, Mr. Walsh received in the mail a check for $1,000 and a Wanted poster for Cheyenne Billy: DEAD or ALIVE. Mr. Walsh cashed the check, put the money in his pocket, and said, “I guess that pays for the wake.”

When George Burns died at the age of 100 years and 49 days, he was encrypted in Forest Lawn with his longtime comedy partner and beloved wife, Gracie Allen. The inscription on the crypt said, “Gracie Allen and George Burns — Together Again.” When Gracie was alive, the act was always Burns and Allen, but in death she got top billing.

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

Edgar Lee Masters: Willard Fluke (Spoon River Anthology)

MY wife lost her health,
And dwindled until she weighed scarce ninety pounds.
Then that woman, whom the men
Styled Cleopatra, came along.
And we— we married ones
All broke our vows, myself among the rest.
Years passed and one by one
Death claimed them all in some hideous form
And I was borne along by dreams
Of God’s particular grace for me,
And I began to write, write, write, reams on reams
Of the second coming of Christ.
Then Christ came to me and said,
“Go into the church and stand before the congregation
And confess your sin.”
But just as I stood up and began to speak
I saw my little girl, who was sitting in the front seat—
My little girl who was born blind!
After that, all is blackness.

***

Lao-Tzu #57: The more weapons you possess, the greater the chaos in your country.

57

 

Govern your country with integrity,

Weapons of war can be used with great cunning,

but loyalty is only won by not-doing.

How do I know the way things are?

By these:

 

The more prohibitions you make,

the poorer people will be.

The more weapons you possess,

the greater the chaos in your country.

The more knowledge that is acquired,

the stranger the world will become.

The more laws that you make,

the greater the number of criminals.

 

Therefore the Master says:

I do nothing,

and people become good by themselves.

I seek peace,

and people take care of their own problems.

I do not meddle in their personal lives,

and the people become prosperous.

I let go of all my desires,

and the people return to the Uncarved Block.

***

Tao Te Ching

By Lao-Tzu

A translation for the public domain by j.h.mcdonald, 1996

www.wright-house.com/religions/taoism/tao-te-ching.html

Aesop: The Fox, the Cock, and the Dog

One moonlight night a Fox was prowling about a farmer’s hen-coop, and saw a Cock roosting high up beyond his reach. ‘Good news, good news!’ he cried.

‘Why, what is that?’ said the Cock.

‘King Lion has declared a universal truce. No beast may hurt a bird henceforth, but all shall dwell together in brotherly friendship.’

‘Why, that is good news,’ said the Cock; ‘and there I see some one coming, with whom we can share the good tidings.’ And so saying he craned his neck forward and looked afar off.

‘What is it you see?’ said the Fox.

‘It is only my master’s Dog that is coming towards us. What, going so soon?’ he continued, as the Fox began to turn away as soon as he had heard the news. ‘Will you not stop and congratulate the Dog on the reign of universal peace?’

‘I would gladly do so,’ said the Fox, ‘but I fear he may not have heard of King Lion’s decree.’

Cunning often outwits itself.

***

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