They didn’t have birth certificates in Elizabethan England, so no one knows for sure the date of William Shakespeare’s birthday, something that I imagine created a lot of problems whenever Shakespeare tried to pick up a prescription at CVS. But we do know that Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616. So don’t forget to wish him a Happy Deathday on his Facebook profile.
In his honor, I thought I would re-read Hamlet and give a brief summary of the Bard’s greatest work featuring goblets and someone named Ophelia.
We are in Denmark, and Hamlet is the Prince of Denmark. His uncle, Claudius, is the King; his mother Gertrude, the Queen. Queen Gertrude used to be married to Hamlet’s father, when Hamlet’s father was king. But Hamlet’s father was murdered, and Gertrude found being married to a corpse unbearable, as she could never get it to mow the lawn. So she married her brother-in-law, and was spared the hassle of changing her last name on her driver’s license.
One evening Hamlet is approached by his father’s ghost, who tells Hamlet that Claudius murdered him by pouring poison in his ear while he slept. After that, the Danish kings appointed sleep testers. The sleep tester would fall asleep before the king would, and if no one poured poison in his ear, the King knew it was a safe place to nap.
Hamlet’s father, the ghost, wants revenge on his brother Claudius for murdering him, seizing the throne, marrying his wife, and eating the last piece of Halloween candy. Hamlet knows he has to avenge his father’s murder by murdering Claudius, perhaps with nose poison, but Hamlet is not in any great hurry. Hamlet instead walks around the castle philosophizing and making poetry and not working. This explains why Hamlet is 30 years old and still living at home.
In a later scene, Hamlet stabs what he thinks is his uncle behind a curtain, but is in fact his uncle’s counselor, Polonius, pretending to be the Wizard of Oz. Hamlet now must flee, having just killed a human being and all. King Claudius sends him to England, where a Dane will surely blend in when he’s not driving on the wrong side of the road.
Claudius also has Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two of Hamlet’s friends, accompany him to England. Hamlet never really liked them ever since Hamlet’s father made Hamlet invite these two wet blankets to Hamlet’s tenth birthday party. Hamlet was forced to say, “Thank you for coming to birthday. I hope you have a good time,” through clenched teeth, and even had to write Rosencrantz and Guildenstern a thank-you note for the colorful shirt they gave him.
In England, however, Hamlet convinces the English King that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have to be executed for always wanting to go back to the hotel instead of sight-seeing.
Hamlet returns to Denmark. He’s hanging out with his friend Horatio, walking through a graveyard because it’s the cool thing to do, and sees two clowns digging a grave. Hamlet speaks to one of the clowns, who tosses up a human skull. Then another ten clowns come out of the grave. Hamlet learns that the grave is for Ophelia, this girl he used to date before things got weird. Hamlet talks to the skull, and pretends it is talking back to him by moving the jawbone with his hands and speaking in a high voice. Horatio is starting to feel a little uncomfortable, but doesn’t say anything because people at odds with this Hamlet seem to have short life spans.
In the last scene of the play, Hamlet has a duel with Laertes, Polonius’s son, who is avenging his father’s death. We don’t know if Polonius appeared to Laertes as a ghost. Maybe he did and then Hamlet’s father the ghost got angry for having his idea stolen, and challenged the dead Polonius to a duel of ghosts. Or maybe Hamlet’s father the ghost did not care that the ghost idea was being stolen, until his father, Hamlet’s grandfather, appeared as a ghost and told Hamlet’s father the ghost that the ghost-infringement by Polonius the ghost had to be avenged.
Hamlet and Laertes duel in front of Claudius and Gertrude, who sit at a table with goblets and food like they are at Medieval Times. Gertrude has ordered another drink but the waitress is taking so long she decides to drink from Claudius’s goblet. Unfortunately for her this goblet has poison instead of Diet Pepsi, and Gertrude falls dead. As it turns out, Laertes has been fighting with a poisoned sword, and stabs Hamlet with it. Hamlet, however, does not die right away, but is able to go on for a while, saying witty things and deciding what he wants to TiVo that night.
Hamlet, even while poisoned, somehow wrestles the poisoned sword from Laertes and stabs him with it, and, at last, stabs Claudius. Now everyone is dead, except Horatio, who tries to stab himself but is stopped because without him there will no one left on stage to start the slow clap. The play ends with the bodies being cleared away by the same people who clean up Times Square after New Year’s Eve, and the Norwegians enter to sell their celebrated skin care formula.