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Monday, June 27, 2011

Alas, Poor Yorick

[Photo: Hamlet's Castle and lush grounds, Denmark]

Couple years ago a dear friend and great voice-over artist was cast as Yorick in an online Hamlet production. Among my Shakespeare folios is one that has a few lines for poor Yorick, which I copied out in anticipation of his performance. Parenthetical notes are the bard's:

{Hamlet squeaketh in strange voice and moveth Yorick's mandible}

Yea, 'tis I, a head of bone in earth whose
Flame, mirth, endeth not in conflagration,
Headstone or service, save imagination,
Must return unmarked: Yorick passed. Yorick,
Whose last caper calleth only, "Alas".

{Here Hamlet drinketh a glass of water whilst he ventriloquizeth}

Alas, Hamlet, thou didst know me indeed--
I, an orb of holes and hinges that clack and
Flute in eternal eddies was in sooth
The fool who had the king's ear, and thine,
None of mine, (uh) won't you be my Valentine?

{Hamlet delivereth closing couplet whilst he grinneth and lighteth a cigarette -- thus getteth big hand!}

We now know the entire play was based upon legal loopholes to the custom of tontine inheritance during highly competitive activities of the Hanseatic herring trade. The folio in my possession includes commentary on this subject that was meant to be included in the play. Hamlet was supposed to stick Yorick's skull over a chicken and let it run around the castle uttering incriminating one-liners about his uncle. However, ventriloquism was nowhere near sophisticated enough to make this feasible. Another example of how far Shakespeare was ahead of his time.

The theme was picked up some time later by Rimsky-Korsakov in Золотой Петушок, an opera in three acts based on Alexander Pushkin's 1834 poem The Tale of the Golden Cockerel, commonly performed in French under the title Le Coq d'Or, in which the evil king is killed by a chicken.

1 comment:

  1. "...highly competitive activities of the Hanseatic herring trade."

    Thank you! I needed that!


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