At the Globe Theatre last Wednesday afternoon I had the good fortune to witness the rendering of devilish deeds in the Court of Elsinore. A Prince Hamlet thereto was most energetically acted by the esteemed member of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, Mr Richard Burbage. Forsooth Mr Burbage was the very Prince. But, methinks Prince Hamlet, in Mr Shakespeare’s rendering, a lily-livered un-prince-like prince. He doth protest too much with his to be upon this globe or to die speech, and wishing his too too too solid flesh to resolve itself into a mist. ( Your pun will not be punning if you take this play out of the Globe Theatre!) I thinkest well about the sweet delights of melancholy but the Prince herein doth wear his liver (an excess of bile!), pancreas and heart upon his sleeve. In short he is not a man; he is a snivelling brat; a slave of unkempt passion. In Mr Thomas Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy we see a real man; a hero who avenges his son. Revenge, as private revenge, is indeed a noble deed legitimised by our Holy Old Testament. Methinks Prince Hamlet is not a Christian. ( Are’t thou a Pagan?)
In this theatrical presentation there is a metaphysical comedic interlude whereupon two grave-diggers unearth a festering human skull. There was much laughter among the groundlings at the clownish antics of these gravediggers. Me-thought that it was a device of theatrical proportions that Prince Hamlet knew the once- living owner of this skull. (Much skullduggery afoot!) A piece of luck devoutly not to be wished. Mr Shakespeare here inserted some lines of verse to play on the feelings of his audience like a viol player upon his viol. “Alas poor friend – my Yorrick, I knew him.” (Alas that is not an iambic pentameter.) Moreover Hamlet talks of the dust from Alexander’s bones stopping up an ale-barrel. He talks of kissing lips that have perished; Mr Kyd would not elaborate such versified sentiment, methinks, without a beauteous display of rhymes.
The King Claudius in this performance is a manipulative self-seeking character. Most convincingly played by the rotund Mr William Slye. Look you readers upon his ‘Oh my offense is sour; it reeks to heavenly heights,” speech. It is a moving moment whereupon his guilt shivers upon the bare stage. Mr Nicholas Tooley plays the Queen Gertrude, another doomed character, uttering her last breath in the last scenes of this tableau of terror. I should, alas, also add that there is a most brassy bloodbath in this finale, not for the faint hearted.
The Prince doth act most ungallantly toward the poor Ophelia in this Revenge Tragedy, berating her virginal womanhood with false and distraught accusations. I am loath to understand the ratiocinations of his disordered soul. It is, forsooth, the very epitome of ecstasy, resolving this and acting not; deferring, deferring, procrastinating, rooted to the ground like a statue. Man is indeed distinguished from the animal by the powers of Reason not Unreason.
Mr Shakespeare: if I may be so bold to address you. I can furnish you with the address of my esteemed friend Mr Webster, who has among his effects a manuscript of Mr Kyd’s titled, The Householders Philosophie. I urge you to study this folio for your edification. I know you will not plagiarize but invite you to merely learn from the master.