Shakespeare Sunday: Methinks, the Play Goes On A Bit Too Long

Endings are important and who am I to be an editor to Shakespeare.  However, every time I taught the play Hamlet, I found I kept wishing he had ended it about one page earlier.  I mean, the swordplay, multiple poisonings, and Hamlet’s long-awaited vengeance on Claudius are all very satisfying.  But then he ends the play with Fortinbras surveying the scene and morosely reciting the ever-so-forgettable lines:

Take up the bodies: such a sight as this

Becomes the field, but here shows much amiss.

Go, bid the soldiers shoot.

C’mon, man!  “Go bid the soldiers shoot”?  That’s really the best you’ve got for maybe your very best tragedy.  I’m always disappointed. Of course at the time, he probably didn’t suspect the enduring nature of Hamlet.  Maybe he was having a bad day.  Maybe he just decided, “Ye gods, fuck it.  I’ve got to just end this sucker.”

He certainly nails it in other plays.  The Prince, in Romeo and Juliet, surveys the tragic scene and succinctly and beautifully captures the mood of the moment:

A glooming peace this morning with it brings;

The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head:

Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things;

Some shall be pardon’d, and some punished:

For never was a story of more woe

Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.

I once had the chance to play Romeo’s father in our high school’s production of Romeo and Juliet, which was perhaps the most epically awful production ever, and yet that scene and those six lines had the audience sobbing nightly.

In Hamlet, a mere 50 lines before, he’s got the death of Hamlet and Horatio’s magnificent tribute:

Now cracks a noble heart. Good night sweet prince:

And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!

Boom.  Done.

Except for maybe one loose end.  The critical character known as “First Ambassador” needs to come on stage to inform us that “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead.”  Without that line, Tom Stoppard might not have ever had the chance to write his wonderful, absurdist play of the same name some 464 years (more or less) later.  That would have been a loss.

Happy Sunday everyone!  Don’t hesitate to leave a comment if you are so moved!

 

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