Biblitz delivers advise

ASK Biblitz about Hamlet.

'six Barbary horses against six French swords, their assigns, and three liberal-conceited carriages; that's the French bet against the Danish.'

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I've just been given the lead role in another bloody Shakespeare play, Hamlet of all stupid things, and I can't get out of it. Any advice?


See also Macbeth and Poetry - what it is, what it isn't and how to approach the miserable stuff as a student.

Biblitz replies:

Screw your courage to the sticking place, as Shakespeare's darkest heroine famously put it, and summon a youthful angst.

The Summer of a Dormouse

A Year of Growing Old Disgracefully

By John Mortimer

My father could still see when he took us - I was then about twelve - to see Hamlet. We sat in the front row of the stalls in stiff evening clothes. ... As the curtain went up, I dug into the box of chocolates which was the equivalent, in the West End theatre of the thirties, of popcorn in the multi-screen cinema. And then I was in the black and brown, the autumnal Elsinore, lit by the glint on helmets and swords and the crown of Denmark.

The prince was thin, tall, nervous, handsome and ironic. I enjoyed watching him tease Polonius, telling him that old men's faces are wrinkled, their eyes purging thick amber and plum-tree gum and that they have most weak hams, a condition I never expected to attain. He may not have been a great physical actor (a critic once said that 'below the waist Mr Gielgud means absolutely nothing'), but his voice gave the poetry unforgettable music and meaning and, as he said himself, although he played other parts, he was Hamlet. As usual, my father, sitting next to me, joined audibly in all the soliloquies, giving the star some little-needed help.

Gielgud quoting Brutus in Julius Caesar, Act 4, Scene 3.

... As I grew up the theatre was dominated by two stars. Olivier, of the clipped, icily clear diction, was the great physical actor, dropping from a great height like an avenging angel to kill Claudius, or hanging suspended by his ankles as Coriolanus dead. The other was Gielgud, the master of poetry whose voice could move an audience to tears. His own tears came easily, without effort, as a result of being a member of an old theatrical family, the Terrys, who had, he told me, 'excessive lachrymal glands'; his mother was 'constantly crying like a wet April'.(From Chapter 19, pgs. 173-179)
Biblitz agrees, if anyone cares, with Sir John Falstaff Mortimer's assessment. The Gielgud recording provides yet the finest delivery of Shakespeare's Hamlet. Ralph Fiennes, though, was reportedly just the ticket on the Great White Way. The contest, as always, continues. Any thoughts? Blast me, won't you?

British babe magnet Derek Jacobi, who set hearts and Broadway aflame as Cyrano de Bergerac in the '70s:

... and Jacobi's protegee, Kenneth Branagh

A lighthearted look at the play featuring comedy's usual suspects, now the best of the BBC miniseries:

Hamlet, Biblitz and Horatio at the Graveyard, not at all unlike the 1835 masterwork by Eugene Delacroix.

'Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow / of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath / borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how / abhorred in my imagination it is! my gorge rims at / it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know / not how oft. Where be your gibes now? your / gambols? your songs? your flashes of merriment, / that were wont to set the table on a roar? Not one now, to mock your own grinning? ...' (From Hamlet, Act 5, Scene 1).

Hello, Ken? Are you there, old boy?

Hamlet's final mortal gamble:


The Complete Works

Published by Castle, a Div. of Book Sales, Inc.

Osric: The king, sir, hath wager'd with him six Barbary horses: against the which he has imponed, as I take it, six French rapiers and poniards, with their assigns, as girdle, hangers, and so: three of the carriages, in faith, are very dear to fancy, very responsive to the hilts, most delicate carriages and of very liberal conceit.

Hamlet: What call you carriages?

Horatio (aside to Hamlet): I knew you must be edified by the margent ere you had done.

Osric: The carriages, sir, are the hangers.

Hamlet: The phrase would be more germane to the matter, if we could carry cannon by our sides: I would it might be hangers till then. But, on: six Barbary horses against six French swords, their assigns, and three liberal-conceited carriages; that's the French bet against the Danish. Why is this 'imponed,' as you call it?

Osric: The king, sir, hath laid, that in a dozen passes between yourself and him, he shall not exceed you three hits: he hath laid on twelve for nine; and it would come to immediate trial, if your lordship would vouchsafe the answer.

Hamlet: How if I answer no?

Osric: I mean, my lord, the opposition of your person in trial.

Hamlet: Sir, I will walk here in the hall: if it please his majesty, 'tis the breathing time of day with me; let the foils be brought, the gentleman willing, and the king hold his purpose, I will win for him an I can; if not, I will gain nothing but my shame and the odd hits. (Hamlet, Act V, Scene ii, p. 353)

The ULTIMATE student guide to the play and indeed acting Shakespeare:

Jacobi directs protegee Branagh in the title role with a stellar cast of outrageously talented youngsters for a production launched at an unsuspecting Midlands festival audience. The result is as you might imagine: res ipsa loquitur! A mighty precursor to Branagh's epic film, which unusually features the play in its entirety.

Variations on Hamlet:

Gertrude and Claudius

By John Updike

Her heart felt deflected. Something held back her love for this fragile, high-strung, quick-tongued child. She had become a mother too soon, perhaps; a stage in life's journey had been skipped, without which she could not move from loving a parent to loving a child. Or perhaps the fault was in the child: as water will stand up in globules on a fresh-waxed table or on newly oiled leather, so her love, as she felt it, spilled down upon Amleth and remained on his surface, gleaming like beads of mercury, unabsorbed. He was of his father's blood - temperate, abstracted, a Jutish gloom coated over with the affected manners and luxurious skills of a nobleman. Not merely noble: he was a prince, as Gerutha had been a princess.

She wondered if her own motherlessness was discovered by gaps of motherly feeling within her. She allowed nursemaids, tutors, riding masters, fencing instructors to intervene between herself and the growing boy. His games seemed designed to repel and exclude her - inscrutable, clattering games, with sticks and paddles, bows and arrows, dice and counters, noisy imitations of war in which he commanded, with his high-pitched voice and tense white face, the buffoon Yorik and some unwashed sons of the castle garrison's doxies. The quiet hoops and tops and dolls of Gerutha's girlhood had no place in this male world of projectile fantasy, of hits and thrusts and "getting even" - for a strict tally was kept in the midst of the shouts and wrestling, she observed, as in the bloodier accountings of adult warfare, much as Horwendil boasted of how King Fortinbras, in being slain, had forfeited not only the invaded terrain in Jutland but certain coastal lands north of Halland on the coast of Sweathland, between the sea and the great lake of Vanern, lands held not for their worth, which was little, but as a gall to the opposing power, a canker of dishonor. (PART ONE, pgs. 34-35)

Good Bones and Simple Murders

By Margaret Atwood

I always thought it was a mistake, calling you Hamlet. I mean, what kind of a name is that for a young boy? It was your father's idea. Nothing would do but that you had to be called after him. Selfish. The other kids at school used to tease the life out of you. The nicknames! And those terrible jokes about pork.

I wanted to call you George.

I am not wringing my hands. I'm drying my nails.

Darling, please stop fidgeting with my mirror. That'll be the third one you've broken.

Yes, I've seen those pictures, thank you very much.

I know your father was handsomer than Claudius. High brow, aquiline nose and so on, looked great in uniform. But handsome isn't everything, especially in a man, and far be it from me to speak ill of the dead, but I think it's about time I pointed out to you that your dad just wasn't a whole lot of fun. Noble, sure, I grant you. But Claudius, well, he likes a drink now and then. He appreciates a decent meal. He enjoys a laugh, know what I mean? You don't always have to be tiptoeing around because of some holier-than-thou principle or something.

By the way, darling, I wish you wouldn't call your stepdad the bloat king. He does have a slight weight problem, and it hurts his feelings. (From Gertrude Talks Back, pgs. 16-17)