Hamlet - Act 1, scene 2
Last updated: Tue, Jun 02, 2020
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Act 1, scene 2.
In an audience chamber in Elsinore, Claudius, the new king of Denmark, holds court. After thanking his courtiers for their recent support, he dispatches ambassadors to Norway to halt a threatened attack from Fortinbras. He gives Laertes permission to return to France but denies Hamlet’s request to return to the university in Wittenberg. Hamlet, mourning for his father’s death, is left alone to vent his despair at what he regards as his mother’s all too hasty marriage to his uncle, Claudius. The audience learns that the marriage took place “within a month” of the former king’s death.
Horatio, Barnardo, and Marcellus arrive and tell Hamlet about the Ghost. Hamlet makes plans to join them that night.
Find out what’s on, read our latest stories, and learn how you can get involved.
Act 1, Scene 5 Summary & Analysis
Enter GHOST and HAMLET
Where wilt thou lead me? speak; I'll go no further.
My hour is almost come, When I to sulphurous and tormenting flames Must render up myself.
Alas, poor ghost!
Pity me not, but lend thy serious hearing To what I shall unfold.
Speak; I am bound to hear.
So art thou to revenge, when thou shalt hear.
I am thy father's spirit, Doom'd for a certain term to walk the night, And for the day confined to fast in fires, Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature Are burnt and purged away. But that I am forbid To tell the secrets of my prison-house, I could a tale unfold whose lightest word Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood, Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres, Thy knotted and combined locks to part And each particular hair to stand on end, Like quills upon the fretful porpentine: But this eternal blazon must not be To ears of flesh and blood. List, list, O, list! If thou didst ever thy dear father love--
Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.
Murder most foul, as in the best it is; But this most foul, strange and unnatural.
Haste me to know't, that I, with wings as swift As meditation or the thoughts of love, May sweep to my revenge.
I find thee apt; And duller shouldst thou be than the fat weed That roots itself in ease on Lethe wharf, Wouldst thou not stir in this. Now, Hamlet, hear: 'Tis given out that, sleeping in my orchard, A serpent stung me; so the whole ear of Denmark Is by a forged process of my death Rankly abused: but know, thou noble youth, The serpent that did sting thy father's life Now wears his crown.
O my prophetic soul! My uncle!
Ay, that incestuous, that adulterate beast, With witchcraft of his wit, with traitorous gifts,-- O wicked wit and gifts, that have the power So to seduce!--won to his shameful lust The will of my most seeming-virtuous queen: O Hamlet, what a falling-off was there! From me, whose love was of that dignity That it went hand in hand even with the vow I made to her in marriage, and to decline Upon a wretch whose natural gifts were poor To those of mine! But virtue, as it never will be moved, Though lewdness court it in a shape of heaven, So lust, though to a radiant angel link'd, Will sate itself in a celestial bed, And prey on garbage. But, soft! methinks I scent the morning air; Brief let me be. Sleeping within my orchard, My custom always of the afternoon, Upon my secure hour thy uncle stole, With juice of cursed hebenon in a vial, And in the porches of my ears did pour The leperous distilment; whose effect Holds such an enmity with blood of man That swift as quicksilver it courses through The natural gates and alleys of the body, And with a sudden vigour doth posset And curd, like eager droppings into milk, The thin and wholesome blood: so did it mine; And a most instant tetter bark'd about, Most lazar-like, with vile and loathsome crust, All my smooth body. Thus was I, sleeping, by a brother's hand Of life, of crown, of queen, at once dispatch'd: Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin, Unhousel'd, disappointed, unanel'd, No reckoning made, but sent to my account With all my imperfections on my head: O, horrible! O, horrible! most horrible! If thou hast nature in thee, bear it not; Let not the royal bed of Denmark be A couch for luxury and damned incest. But, howsoever thou pursuest this act, Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive Against thy mother aught: leave her to heaven And to those thorns that in her bosom lodge, To prick and sting her. Fare thee well at once! The glow-worm shows the matin to be near, And 'gins to pale his uneffectual fire: Adieu, adieu! Hamlet, remember me. Exit
O all you host of heaven! O earth! what else? And shall I couple hell? O, fie! Hold, hold, my heart; And you, my sinews, grow not instant old, But bear me stiffly up. Remember thee! Ay, thou poor ghost, while 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; And thy commandment all alone shall live Within the book and volume of my brain, Unmix'd with baser matter: yes, by heaven! O most pernicious woman! O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain! My tables,--meet it is I set it down, That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain; At least I'm sure it may be so in Denmark: Writing So, uncle, there you are. Now to my word; It is 'Adieu, adieu! remember me.' I have sworn 't.
[Within] My lord, my lord,--
[Within] Lord Hamlet,--
[Within] Heaven secure him!
[Within] Hillo, ho, ho, my lord!
Hillo, ho, ho, boy! come, bird, come. Enter HORATIO and MARCELLUS
How is't, my noble lord?
What news, my lord?
Good my lord, tell it.
No; you'll reveal it.
Not I, my lord, by heaven.
Nor I, my lord.
How say you, then; would heart of man once think it? But you'll be secret?
Ay, by heaven, my lord.
There's ne'er a villain dwelling in all Denmark But he's an arrant knave.
There needs no ghost, my lord, come from the grave To tell us this.
Why, right; you are i' 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 has business and desire, Such as it is; and for mine own poor part, Look you, I'll go pray.
These are but wild and whirling words, my lord.
I'm sorry they offend you, heartily; Yes, 'faith heartily.
There's no offence, my lord.
Yes, by Saint Patrick, but there is, Horatio, And much offence too. Touching this vision here, It is an honest ghost, that let me tell you: For your desire to know what is between us, O'ermaster 't as you may. And now, good friends, As you are friends, scholars and soldiers, Give me one poor request.
What is't, my lord? we will.
Never make known what you have seen to-night.
My lord, we will not.
Nay, but swear't.
In faith, My lord, not I.
Nor I, my lord, in faith.
Upon my sword.
We have sworn, my lord, already.
Indeed, upon my sword, indeed.
Ah, ha, boy! say'st thou so? art thou there, truepenny? Come on--you hear this fellow in the cellarage-- Consent to swear.
Propose the oath, my lord.
Never to speak of this that you have seen, Swear by my sword.
Hic et ubique? then we'll shift our ground. Come hither, gentlemen, And lay your hands again upon my sword: Never to speak of this that you have heard, Swear by my sword.
Well said, old mole! canst work i' the earth so fast? A worthy pioner! Once more remove, good friends.
O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!
And therefore as a stranger give it welcome. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. But come; Here, as before, never, so help you mercy, How strange or odd soe'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 encumber'd thus, or this headshake, 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 not to do, So grace and mercy at your most need help you, Swear.
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The ghost tells Hamlet that he is, in fact, the ghost of his dead father. And there’s more: the ghost claims that Claudius killed him, taking his throne and his wife in the process. He wants Hamlet to kill Claudius in revenge. Shocked, Hamlet agrees and vows to avenge his father’s death. When Horatio and Marcellus reenter, having followed Hamlet to the scene of his chat with the ghost, they promise to keep quiet about what the ghost told Hamlet. Hamlet also tells them that he might start acting a little crazy because he’ll be using insanity as a cover while he investigates what’s really going on.
Where are you taking me? Speak. I'll go no further.
Listen to me.
My time is almost up. Soon, I’ll have to return to those terrible fires.
Oh, poor ghost!
Don’t pity me, but listen seriously to what I have to tell you.
Speak. I’m eager to hear what you have to say.
You’ll be just as eager to take revenge when you’ve heard my story.
I am the ghost of your father, condemned for a certain period of time to roam the nights, while during the day I burn in flames until the sins that I committed during my lifetime have been purged from my soul. I am forbidden to tell you the secrets of the afterlife; otherwise I would tell you a story, the tiniest bit of which would freeze your young blood, make your eyes pop out of their sockets like stars out of their orbits, and cause your stylish hair to stand straight up like the quills on a porcupine. But the living are not allowed to hear a description of the afterlife. Listen to me! If you ever loved your dear father...
You must avenge this horrible and unnatural murder!
A horrible murder (as all murders are), but this one was horrible, strange, and unnatural.
Hurry up and tell me so that my act of revenge can be as quick as my thoughts.
You’ll know what you’ll need to do. You would have to be as stupid as the bloated weeds that grow on the banks of the river of oblivion if my story did not stir you to act. Now listen, Hamlet. The public version of the story is that I was bit by a snake while I was taking a nap in my orchard. All of Denmark has been lied to and taken advantage of, by this false account of my death. But you should know, my noble son, that the snake that took your father’s life now wears his crown.
Oh, I knew it! My uncle, a murderer!
Yes, that monster committed incest and adultery, using the magic of his evil wit and traitorous charm (he has such wicked skills in seducing women). That’s how he won over the sexual desires of my queen, who had always seemed so virtuous. Oh, Hamlet, what a terrible decline for Gertrude. To go from me, whose love was so dignified that it upheld every vow I made to her at our wedding, and then to take up with this miserable creature whose best features can’t even begin to compare to mine.
But Virtue can’t be tempted, even by lewdness disguised as an angel. So Lust, even though it has a heavenly lover, will satisfy itself in that divine bed and then move on to sleep with trash.
I think I sense the morning coming. I’ll be brief. While I was sleeping in my orchard (as I always do in the afternoon), your uncle sneaked up and poured into my ears an evil potion made from the hebona plant. This poison is so lethal that it instantly rushes into every part of the body and makes the blood thicken and curdle like milk to which vinegar has been added.
That’s exactly what it did to my blood. Instantly, scabs like the bark of a tree (or like the disgusting skin of someone with leprosy) appeared all over my smooth body. That’s how, while I was sleeping, my brother stole my life, my crown, and my queen. I died without having performed any religious sacraments to absolve myself of my sins. Instead, I was sent to my judgement with my earthly sins still weighing against me.
So horrible! Oh, horrible! Most horrible! If you’re human, you will not tolerate this. Don't let Denmark's royal bed be a place of corruption and incest. But, however you proceed in this, don’t hold anything against your mother, or take any actions against her. Leave her to be judged by God, and to suffer the stings of her own conscience. Goodbye, I must go! The fireflies show that morning is coming soon; their lights are growing pale. Goodbye. Remember me.
Oh, spirits of heaven. Oh, spirits of earth. Should I add hell? Damn. Stay strong, my heart. And you, my muscles, don’t grow weak now, but hold me up. Remember you? Yes, you poor ghost, I’ll remember as long as memory remains in this confused head of mine. Remember you? Yes, I’ll erase all trivial sweet memories, all quotes from books, all formulas, all childhood impressions and observations from the pages of my memory. Your command alone will be engraved in my mind, uncluttered with unimportant matters. Yes, by God, I’ll remember you.
Oh, you evil woman! Oh, Claudius, you villain, damned smiling villain! Where’s my notebook? [Hamlet writes.] I should write this down, “One can smile and smile, and yet still be a villain.” At least that’s true here in Denmark. So, uncle, there you are. Now to keep my word. “Goodbye, remember me”, you said. I swear I will.
My Lord, my lord!
Heaven help him!
Helloooo, my lord!
Helloooo, come here!
How are you, my lord?
What news, my lord?
Oh, wonderful news!
My lord, tell us.
No, you'll tell other people.
Not I, my lord, I swear.
Nor I, my lord.
But will you still keep this a secret when you’re dying to tell what you know?
Yes, I swear, my lord.
Every villain in this country is a complete scoundrel.
It doesn’t take a ghost coming back from the grave to tell us that, my lord.
You’re absolutely right. Well, let’s not waste time; I think we should say goodbye and go about our business. Everyone has matters to attend to, right? As for me, I’m going to the church to pray.
What you say sounds very strange, my lord.
I'm sorry I offend you – yes, very sorry.
No offense taken, my lord.
Yes, by God, there is an offense, and it’s very offensive. As for this vision we’ve seen – let me tell you, it’s a real ghost. But you have to restrain your desire to know what transpired between us. As you are my friends, fellow students, and soldiers of Denmark, grant me one small request.
What is it, my lord? We will.
Don’t tell anyone what you have seen tonight.
My Lord, we won’t.
Swear to it.
By my faith, I swear I won’t say anything.
Nor I, my lord, in faith.
Swear upon my sword.
We have already sworn, my lord.
Yes, you have sworn it; but now swear on my sword [because the handle resembles the cross of Christ] .
[To the Ghost] Ha ha, my buddy, is that you? Are you there, old pal? [To the Others] Come on, you heard this fellow in the basement. Agree to swear.
Propose the oath, my lord.
Here’s the oath: never tell anybody what you’ve seen. Swear on my sword.
[To the Ghost] So you can be here and there at the same time? [To the others] Then we'll just move to a different spot. Come here, gentlemen, and place your hands again upon my sword. Swear: “I’ll never tell anybody what I’ve heard.” Swear on my sword.
[To the Ghost] Well said, old mole. Can you tunnel through the ground that fast? What a good miner you are! [To his friends] Once again, move over here, good friends.
Oh, man, this is really strange.
Right, and since it’s polite to accept strangers for who they are, I want you to accept this strange thing for what it is, and don’t ask any questions. But trust me, Horatio, there are more things in this universe than what they taught us in school. Once again, swear to God that, no matter how oddly I behave, you won’t stand there with your arms crossed, shaking your heads, and muttering something like, “We know,” or “If we could only talk.” Don’t let on that you know anything about me. Now, swear.
[To the Ghost] Now you can rest, you agitated spirit. [To the others] Gentlemen, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Even if I can’t repay you today, God willing, I’ll do it some day. Let’s go back inside the castle, but please keep quiet. Things are not right, and I'm the only one who can fix them! Okay, let’s go.
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Here is a more detailed look at what happens in each scene of Hamlet, to help you look at the structure of the play and interrogate it.
As you look at each act we’ve included some things to notice. These are important character developments, or key questions that an acting company might ask when they first go through the play together at the start of rehearsal. If you work through these as you go, they will help you to make sense of the play. It’s a good idea to have a copy of the text nearby.
Act 1 scene 1
What do we learn.
- The ghost of the dead King of Denmark has been seen stalking the castle at night.
- Horatio does not believe the ghost exists until he sees it himself.
- The ghost of the king is dressed in the armour he wore when he conquered Fortinbras and seized land from Norway.
Act 1 scene 2
Play Act 1 Scene 2
WHAT DO WE LEARN?
- Hamlet’s father has died and his mother, Gertrude, has married his uncle, Claudius.
- Claudius is now king and is trying to stop a possible war with Norway.
- Hamlet is suffering from grief after his father’s death and is revolted by his mother marrying his uncle 'within a month' of his father's death.
Act 1 scene 3
- Laertes doesn't trust Hamlet's feelings for his sister, Ophelia.
- Laertes has gone to France and left his father and sister behind.
- Ophelia listens to her father who asks her not to speak to Hamlet.
Act 1 scene 4
- Hamlet sees the ghost of his father but he does not trust it straight away.
Act 1 scene 5
- The ghost of Old Hamlet says that he was murdered by Claudius.
- Hamlet promises to avenge his father.
- Everyone who witnessed the ghost’s appearance has sworn not to talk about it.
Things to notice in Act 1
Notice how Shakespeare has chosen to open the play, with the ghost's first appearance rather than with the title character, Hamlet. What tone does this set for the play?
Take note of Gertrude’s character and her actions. We learn from Hamlet that she lost her husband and then married his brother very quickly. How does Hamlet feel about this? Why do you think Gertrude might have done this?
Notice how Claudius, the new king, is presented in Act 1. Does he display any suspicious behaviour? How does he respond to Hamlet’s grief and is this the reaction you would expect?
Act 1 sets up the circumstances around Old Hamlet’s death and Hamlet’s need for revenge – showing us how Hamlet feels about his mother’s new marriage and the promises he makes to the ghost of his father, to avenge his murder. How does Hamlet come across in this act? Do you think his behaviour is understandable or extreme?
Act 2 scene 1
- Polonius sends someone to spy on his son.
- Ophelia says Hamlet treated her in a rough manner and seemed mentally unstable.
Act 2 scene 2
- Claudius and Gertrude ask Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to spy on Hamlet.
- Polonius believes Hamlet’s odd behaviour is caused by his love for Ophelia.
- A group of travelling actors accept Hamlet’s request to perform 'The murder of Gonzago', the plot of which is very similar to what happened to Hamlet’s father.
Things to notice in Act 2
Look at the way the older generation behave in Act 2, all employing spies to investigate their children’s behaviour. What does this tell us about the relationships between the generations? What kind of relationship does Polonius have with Claudius and Gertrude? What do you think his position is within the castle and how might this affect the way Polonius feels about a potential relationship between his daughter Ophelia and Hamlet?
Take note of Hamlet’s letter to Ophelia and his conversation with Polonius. What do the letter and the conversation show you about Hamlet? He later suggests to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that he might not be mad and that he’s been putting on an act like one of the travelling players might - do you believe him? Is his conversation with Polonius a performance? Do you think he knows he is being watched?
In Act 2 we see Hamlet’s actions change and the people around him start to observe different behaviour. How many examples of Hamlet’s changing behaviour can you find in these two scenes? Do you think that these changes are part of Hamlet’s plan or has he really changed?
Act 3 scene 1
Play Act 3 Scene 1
- Hamlet is questioning his own existence and whether there is any point to his life.
- Hamlet tells Ophelia he never loved her and confuses her.
- Claudius doesn't think love is the cause of Hamlet’s recent change in temperament but he also doesn’t think Hamlet is mad.
Act 3 scene 2
Play Act 3 Scene 2
- Hamlet uses the play to find out if Claudius is guilty and if the ghost was telling the truth.
- Claudius is angered by the scene in the play that depicts a sick king being poisoned and his murderer seducing the queen.
- Hamlet and Horatio are now certain Claudius murdered the former king of Denmark and Hamlet wants revenge.
Act 3 scene 3
Play Act 3 Scene 3 and discussion
- Claudius intends to send Hamlet to England with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
- Claudius confesses to murdering his brother while praying.
- Hamlet chooses not to kill Claudius while he is praying in case his uncle goes to Heaven.
Act 3 scene 4
- Hamlet is aggressive towards Gertrude and scares her.
- Hamlet has murdered Polonius, thinking he was Claudius, and has dragged his body away.
Things to notice in Act 3
Notice how Hamlet behaves towards Ophelia in Scenes 1 and 2. Why is Hamlet so cruel to her in this Act? Has he really stopped loving her? Why else might he treat her so badly?
Look closely at the choices Hamlet makes in this act, particularly when he decides not to kill Claudius and then, in the next scene, murders Polonius by accident. Why do you think Hamlet stops himself from killing Claudius whilst he’s alone and asking God for forgiveness? Do you think Hamlet believes in God? Are there any signs, before Polonius’ death, that Hamlet is capable of murder?
Take note of Hamlet’s behaviour in Act 3 Scene 4. Are you surprised by Hamlet’s behaviour in this scene? Why do you think he behaves this way? What do you notice about his reaction to Polonius’ death and does it surprise you? Has your view of Hamlet changed following this scene?
Act 3 is important because it confirms Claudius’ guilt – from his reaction to the play, Hamlet learns that his uncle was responsible for killing his father. How does Hamlet react to this?
Act 4 scene 1
- Hamlet confronts Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
- Hamlet has taken away the body of Polonius and will not tell Rosencrantz and Guildenstern where it is hidden.
Act 4 scene 2
- Claudius sends Hamlet to England with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
- Claudius has planted sealed letters requesting that the English authorities kill Hamlet.
Act 4 scene 3
- Fortinbras’ army is passing through Denmark on its way to claim land from Poland.
Act 4 scene 4
- Ophelia’s mental state is growing worse.
- Laertes has returned and the people have called for him to be king.
- Laertes declares that he wants revenge on Hamlet for his father and his sister.
Act 4 scene 5
- Hamlet wants Horatio to meet him.
- Hamlet’s letter claims Rosencrantz and Guildenstern continued to England without him.
Act 4 scene 6
- Hamlet is back in Denmark.
- Claudius and Laertes plan to poison Hamlet, either with a sword or a drink.
- Ophelia has drowned.
Things to notice in Act 4
Notice how each of the characters reacts to Polonius’ murder. How do Gertrude and Claudius each feel and how do they act in the scenes that follow? Why do you think Hamlet takes the body of Polonius away with him after Act 3 and hides it? Do you think others characters would have reacted differently if he had left the body?
Look closely at the structure of this act. Act 4 has six scenes; what effect does this have on the drama? How might this affect the pace of the story and why would Shakespeare want to create that pace?
Take note of Ophelia’s behaviour when she talks to Gertrude and Claudius. What do her songs reveal? Do you think this is grief or madness? Would Ophelia have killed herself if Polonius had been killed by someone other than Hamlet? How responsible is Hamlet for Ophelia’s death?
Act 4 is important because we see the responses to Hamlet’s actions in Act 3 – Gertrude and Claudius react very differently, Ophelia commits suicide and Laertes returns and plans his revenge with the king. What does their plan tell you about Claudius and Laertes? Who is the driving force behind their plot and why would they chose this method of murder?
Act 5 scene 1
- Ophelia is going to be buried in a churchyard even though she ended her own life.
- Hamlet claims he loved Ophelia and argues with Laertes over who loved her most.
Act 5 scene 2
- Hamlet has forged a letter to order Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s deaths.
- Hamlet feels guilty about Laertes’ grief .
- Gertrude, Hamlet, Laertes and Claudius are all poisoned.
- Hamlet tells Horatio to tell others his story.
- Fortinbras becomes the new king of Denmark.
Things to notice in Act 5
Look at how the gravediggers speak to each other and to Hamlet in Scene 1. These characters are often called ‘clowns' and the way they speak is very light-hearted, with jokes and songs. Why do you think Shakespeare included humour in the final act of this tragedy? Particularly in a scene where Hamlet talks about death and then sees Ophelia’s funeral?
Take note of the number of deaths in the final scene. How many deaths do you think Claudius is responsible for, directly or indirectly?
Notice the way Hamlet behaves in the final scenes, accepting Laertes’ challenge, avenging his mother’s death and reconciling with Laertes. Why do you think some people consider Hamlet a ‘hero’? Would you agree that he is a heroic figure?
In Act 5 we see the tragic conclusion of the play – Hamlet accepts Laertes’ challenge and is poisoned during the fight. Laertes, Claudius and Gertrude also all die. The only central character left alive at the end of the play is Horatio and Hamlet asks him, as he dies, to ‘tell my story’. Why do you think Shakespeare leaves Horatio alive? Why do you think the final lines of the play are delivered by Fortinbras? Are there any parallels you can draw between Fortinbras and Hamlet?
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Everything you need for every book you read., the ghost quotes in hamlet.
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
The Ghost Character Timeline in Hamlet
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This Above All: My Undying Obsession With ‘Hamlet’
For one critic, every encounter with this Shakespeare play deepens her understanding of its insights into grief, family and gender.
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By Maya Phillips
A few weeks ago two friends and I were talking about our obsessions. One had been sleepless all week, playing the new Zelda video game with few breaks. The other revealed that she was deep into Taylor Swift. I said I had so many fandoms that I didn’t know if I could name a favorite.
My Swiftie friend quickly set me straight. “We already know your main fandom,” she said. “Hamlet.”
It’s true. If you look at my bookshelves, the art on my walls, even the art on my skin, you’ll find anime references and mythological figures, lines from Eliot and Chekhov and illustrations from Borges and Gorey stories. But none of these interests enjoys a prominence as great as the one afforded “Hamlet” in my home — and on my body, where the majority of my tattoos, by far, are inspired by the play.
My friends know well that I’ve seen numerous productions of the work, recite Hamlet’s monologues to myself, even put Kenneth Branagh or Laurence Olivier’s “Hamlet” on in the background as I clean my apartment. For me, the text’s themes — about death, duality, gender, family — deepen each time I read, see or hear “Hamlet,” and as I grow older, new insights are revealed about the characters and the language.
I first read “Hamlet” in high school, as an artsy poetry-writing teenager who found death a fascinating, albeit abstract, concept. I imagined the young prince — witty, privileged yet tortured, and forever trapped in his own head — as kin. He was less a lofty figure of English literature than the emo kid I crushed on, abandoning his math homework to read Dante’s “Inferno” as angsty pop punk played in the background.
When I watched Michael Almereyda’s 2000 “Hamlet” film soon after, it did little to disabuse me of this notion. Taking place in New York City, with Ethan Hawke playing a hipster film student who’s heir to the “Denmark Corporation,” this “Hamlet” was contemporary, rife with irony. Watching Hamlet offer the great existential query of “to be or not to be” while strolling the “action movie” aisles of a Blockbuster store, I learned that even tragedy can contain a hearty dose of comedy.
When I reread the play for a class on Shakespeare’s tragedies a few years later, I became fixated on one line in particular: “The rest is silence.” With these four words, Hamlet’s last ones in the play, the prince is acknowledging his final breath, but also perhaps breaking the fourth wall, announcing the end of the play like Prospero at the end of “The Tempest.” Or maybe Hamlet is offering us the line in consolation: After five acts of musing on death, he can assure us that death is simple, and it’s quiet. This line is now tattooed on my right arm.
In Branagh’s 1996 “Hamlet” film , an unabridged adaptation that paired inspired direction with refined performances and respect for the text, Branagh wheezes out the words, his eyes glassy and staring into the distance. “Silence” lands after a pause, as though he’s listening to the deafening silence of all of humanity that’s preceded him.
From Olivier’s fervent philosophizing Dane in the 1948 film to David Tennant’s lithe, boyish interpretation in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2008 production, there’s a reason that Prince Hamlet remains one of the most coveted roles an actor, especially a young man of a certain age and celebrity, can take on. “Hamlet” is, after all, a man’s play.
In Hawke’s “Hamlet” and Mel Gibson’s visceral, sensually charged 1990 “Hamlet” I first realized how often directors use the female characters as stand-ins for fatalistic, taboo love. (Which is why I also savor gender-crossed Hamlets, whether in the form of the theater pioneer Sarah Bernhardt in 1899 or Ruth Negga in 2020 .) Queen Gertrude is either stupid, selfish or promiscuous, blinded by her untamed lust. Many productions opt for a physical staging of Act III, Scene 4, when Hamlet accosts his mother in her bedchamber. Hawke’s Hamlet grabs his mother in a black robe, then presses her against a set of closet doors. Gibson’s deranged Hamlet also fights and clutches at Gertrude, as did Andrew Scott’s in the 2017 London production by Robert Icke. Thomas Ostermeier’s wild “Hamlet” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music last year emphasized Gertrude’s sexuality to an extreme, having her slink and shimmy as though overwhelmed with sexual energy. The text implies that a woman too free with her affections digs her own grave.
That includes, of course, Hamlet’s eternally damned love interest, Ophelia (memorialized on my right forearm with a skull and pansy). I used to dismiss her as a frail female stereotype, and have craved a production or adaptation that could give this character agency — any kind of agency — within the space of her grieving, her madness and her death.
Kenny Leon’s otherwise underwhelming “Hamlet” at the Delacorte this summer did just that. Solea Pfeiffer played an Ophelia who matched Hamlet in wit and sass, who spoke with a knowingness and rage that lifted the character from her 17th-century home into the present.
This duality in Ophelia — between sincerity and performance, raving madness and clear, articulated rage — is welcome. It’s a duality that many directors literalize in their productions overall, some using mirrors as nods to Hamlet’s constant reflections at the expense of action, others turning to hint at the divide between presentation and truth.
But as much as “Hamlet” can serve as a character study, for me the story extends far beyond a production’s conceptualization of a lost prince with a splintered ego. This is a story that begins and ends with grief.
I have a tattoo for Hamlet and his dear, departed father — a jeweled sword piercing a cracked skull in a crown. Having lost my dad almost a decade ago, I’m familiar with the feeling of being haunted by a father who may not be a literal king but perhaps just a patriarch taking the same cheap shots from the afterlife, like Pap in James Ijames’s “Fat Ham. ” In the play, a Black, queer take on “Hamlet” in conversation with Shakespeare’s original text, Hamlet is not just tied to his father through a sense of filial obligation but also through guilt, regret, shame. In Pap I saw my own father’s flaws — the spite, the prejudice, the toxic masculinity. It made me wonder how much of Hamlet’s grief is for his father, and how much for the stability his father symbolized.
Lately I’ve been listening with more regularity to Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” monologue, that great conference with death that feels as germane to the English language — our rhetoric, our poetry, our elocution, our linguistic imagination — as soil to the Earth. In the span of about a week this summer, I lost a grandmother, and a dear friend shared that his cancer had returned. Having buried both her parents in the past two years, my mother has been talking more about funeral arrangements and where our family would like to spend our post-mortem days. I, on the other hand, take less stock in the expensive ceremonies and planning around death. I don’t plan to make a show of my finale; like Hamlet, I wonder what it will even mean — in that everlasting sleep, who knows what dreams will come?
I didn’t fall in love with “Hamlet” because of its action and intrigue; I love the play because it lets me reconnect with the spaces where death has brushed my life. “Hamlet” helps me sit with my own existential fears, all packaged in words of wit and elegance. Because I’m convinced now that if you let Shakespeare in, his voice becomes the one bellowing from the backstage of your life.
Maya Phillips is an arts and culture critic for The Times. More about Maya Phillips
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A modern Shakespearean actor must travel back in time to confront enigmatic forces from the past and future. A modern Shakespearean actor must travel back in time to confront enigmatic forces from the past and future. A modern Shakespearean actor must travel back in time to confront enigmatic forces from the past and future.
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Princess Diana to appear as a GHOST in The Crown
Princess Diana's ghost will appear in the new season of 'The Crown'.
The sixth season of the regal drama will explore the aftermath of the princess' death in a Paris car accident in 1997, and scenes will be included when both Prince Charles, played by Dominic West, and Queen Elizabeth (Imelda Staunton) make their peace with the late royal when she comes to them in visions.
According to MailOnline, Diana - who is played by Elizabeth Debicki - tells a weeping Charles, after he is depicted sobbing over her body in the hospital morgue: "Thank you for how you were in the hospital. So raw, broken – and handsome. I'll take that with me.
"You know I loved you so much. So deeply, so painfully too. That's over now. It will be easier for everyone with me gone."
And as the queen discusses plans for a state funeral with Charles, Diana appears and they hold hands as the monarch tells her former daughter-in-law she has started a "revolution".
Diana responds: "I know it must be terrifying… As long as anyone can remember you've taught us what it means to be British. Maybe its time to show you're ready to learn too."
It is suggested the discussion prompts the queen to agree to address the nation in the wake of the tragedy.
The scenes have been branded "utterly tasteless" by royal fans.
Royal commentator Richard Fitzwilliams said: "The whole idea that Peter Morgan has scripted ghostly appearances by Diana is utterly tasteless.
"It is pitiful that someone with his skills has reduced what is undoubtedly a tragedy to something that he knows perfectly well will be controversial."
But Netflix insisted the scenes are "sensitive and thoughtful".
A spokesperson told RadioTimes.com: "After her death, Diana appears as part of an inner dialogue in separate scenes with Prince Charles and the Queen, who are both reflecting on their relationship with the late princess.
"These sensitive and thoughtful imagined conversations seek to bring to life the depth of emotion that was felt after such a seismic tragedy struck at the heart of the family."
Producer Suzanne Mackie previously expressed her hope that audiences will agree they have thoughtfully and respectfully portrayed Diana's death and the aftermath on the show.
She said at the Edinburgh TV festival in August: "The show might be big and noisy, but we're not. We're thoughtful people and we're sensitive people. There were very careful, long conversations about how we were going to do it.
"The audience will judge it, in the end. But I think it's been delicately, thoughtfully recreated.
"Elizabeth Debicki is an extraordinary actress and she was so thoughtful and considerate. She loved Diana. There's a huge amount of respect from us all. I hope that's evident."
Plymouth police: 1 injured in rollover crash, ghost gun found at scene
A crash on Highway 169 on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023. Credit: Plymouth Police Department
A crash during the overnight hours Wednesday morning has left one person injured, and police say there may be charges filed due to officers finding a ghost gun at the scene.
According to Plymouth police, officers were called to Highway 169 just past 26th Avenue around 12:40 a.m. for a report of a single vehicle crash.
When officers arrived, they found a vehicle had rolled over, and also found the driver, identified as a man. He was taken to North Memorial Medical Center for his injuries and isn’t currently in custody.
While at the scene, officers found the ghost gun, which is a firearm without serial numbers or identifying markings.
Plymouth police say they expect criminal charges to be filed, and alcohol is believed to have been a factor in the crash.
Tonight officers responded to a single vehicle rollover crash on Hwy 169. Upon arrival contact was made with a male driver who was highly intoxicated and had minor injuries. While on scene, officers located a ghost gun (gun with no serial number) near the vehicle. Male was… pic.twitter.com/49s6tTahz5 — Plymouth Police, MN (@PlymouthMNPD) October 11, 2023
Festersen argues for Omaha to ban ‘ghost guns’ amid changes to state firearm laws
OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The Omaha City Council President wants to put some teeth back into the city’s gun laws.
This comes after state lawmakers voted to allow anyone who could legally buy a handgun to concealed carry it without a government permit or safety class.
In August, ahead of the new law taking effect, Omaha was forced to repeal 22 sections of the city code related to firearms.
Many were second layers of deeper background checks — checks that are no longer there.
Now, Omaha City Council President Pete Festersen says he wants to address other concerns, something called including “ghost guns.”
Ghost guns are untraceable and unregistered firearms. They can be ordered online or even created using 3D printers, with parts privately assembled into a cheap and deadly weapon.
While some states have bans, Nebraska doesn’t.
“Anytime we can address public safety and illegal guns, it’s something we should be doing,” Festersen said.
Festersen is proposing an ordinance to ban making or possessing ghost guns.
“I know the police chief feels strongly about this,” Festersen said. “I’ve worked directly with him and the city attorney on all these measures. I think these are common sense approaches to address illegal guns in the community, increase public safety and prohibit firearms in public places, and just suggest reasonable safety courses and safe storage principles we know are effective.”
When LB 77 was being debated among Nebraska lawmakers, Festersen, along with Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer and Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert, opposed it.
They argue that public safety should be paramount and that the proposed law flew in the face of that.
This Spring, a 6 News investigation uncovered dozens of people who were not able to get a concealed carry permit because of domestic violence and drug arrests in the past.
Under the new law, they can buy a gun and conceal it.
Festersen is also asking his colleagues to support an ordinance prohibiting multi-burst triggers, like a bump stock, calling it “common sense gun reform.”
“The legal status of bump stocks is a bit murky federally,” Festersen said. “The Trump Administration sought to ban them, but that’s been tied up in the courts, so several states and communities have taken this step, including Lincoln.”
The public hearing on the proposed Omaha gun law changes will be on the afternoon of Tuesday, Oct. 31. The council plans to vote that same day.
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