I’m sure you all know Hamlet by William Shakespeare is one of the greatest plays ever written, besides mine. And if you didn’t know that, now you do, and you can go to bed knowing you learned one thing today. Woohoo!
You may be surprised to also learn I am not a fan of the play. Oh, I recognize the genius of it, and it has one of the most famous and moving soliloquies ever written (To be or not to be...) but frankly it doesn’t have a role for Dolly Parton, and I don’t like plays that preclude the chance of casting her.
If you’re unfamiliar with the story, it’s almost exactly not like Duck Dynasty. Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark, learns that his father, King Hamlet, has been murdered. He learns this from his father’s ghost who tells Hamlet that Claudius, Prince Hamlet’s uncle, killed him. Hamlet (Prince, not King) has doubts about this, particularly when Hamlet (King, not Prince) says Claudius murdered him (King Hamlet) by pouring poison in his ear. (Yes, ear. I’m not making this up.)
Prince Hamlet is confused by this. Uncle Claudius has already married Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, which makes Claudius his uncle-father. Hamlet is so dismayed that he doesn’t avenge his father for three more hours, thus angering the audience who want to go home. Hamlet decides he will pretend to be crazy—pretend? He’s seeing ghosts, mind you—AND, because things aren’t confusing enough, Hamlet will use a group of traveling actors to put on a play that will depict a man killing a king to gain a throne by pouring poison in his ear. I wonder where he got that idea.
Meanwhile, Claudius and Gertrude naturally think Hamlet is crazy so they have two spies, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, watch Hamlet. (Much later, Rosencrantz and Guilderstern would have a play written about them; it still ends badly for them.)
When Claudius sees the play within the play, he runs away, but comes back after his agent tells him that he can’t get out of his contract. His leaving, however, convinces Hamlet that Claudius did kill his father by pouring poison in his ear. Hamlet plots to kill Claudius, but not fast enough for the audience. Instead, Hamlet wanders around basically killing innocent people and acting like a loon.
First, he mistakenly stabs Polonius, the Lord Chamberlain, who is hiding behind a curtain in the queen’s bedroom to spy on Hamlet and Gertrude. (At least that was Polonius’s story, but I wonder.)
Claudius has Hamlet exiled to England and sends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern with him, along with a sealed letter telling the English to kill Hamlet upon arrival. Hamlet finds the letter, changes the name of the victim to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who are hung while Hamlet returns to Denmark. The play is loaded with laughs like that.
Polonius, by the way, was the father of Ophelia, whom everyone but Hamlet thought Hamlet was madly in love with. Ophelia, already unsettled by Hamlet’s odd behavior, drowns herself after hearing of her father’s death. Then Hamlet decides he really did love her. Her brother Laetres and Hamlet argue over her body at the funeral about who loved Ophelia more. Funny stuff, huh?
Claudius conspires with Laertes to kill Hamlet in a rigged sword fight. Hamlet kills him, but not before Laertes pokes Hamlet with a poisoned sword. Gertrude drinks poison from a cup meant for Hamlet. Hamlet kills Claudius by making his uncle drink poison and then cuts his uncle's throat, but at least Hamlet didn't pour poison in his ear. And finally, finally, finally Hamlet dies. Thus ends the tragedy of Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark, and not a moment too soon.
(Copyright 2014 by Stephen B. Bagley. Excerpted from A Little Floozy. All rights reserved. No copying without express prior permission from the author and publisher. Thank you for reading!)