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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Alas, Poor Yorick!






There is an old enigma afoot. It has been a source of great concern among Shakespearean scholars that the Immortal Bard wrote no lines for Yorick, a role given to Roger Jolly, a consummate --and very thin-- 16th century actor and male model who was called away from dress rehearsal to pose for a maritime flag still known as The Jolly Roger.


He did not return.  Shakespeare tried to use a human skull and had Hamlet exclaim,"Mommy, mommy, look what I found in Uncle Dad's head!" But it was considered inconsistent with the mood of the play and caused a last-minute rewrite and rush to cast a ventriloquist in the lead --which I present here.  Among my Shakespeare folios is one that has a few lines for poor Yorick.  I copied them out for this post. Parenthetical notes are the bard's:

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

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 indeed know me--
I, an orb of holes and hinges that clack and
Flute in eternal eddies was in sooth
A fool who had the king's ear, and thine,
Though none of mine, 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 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 king is killed by a chicken.

20 comments:

  1. I've always found it extremely strange that I've never wanted to be an actor, yet I've always had a burning desire to portray Yorick in "Hamlet". I think the main attraction was not having the burden of learning lines (or wearing costumes).

    The idea of Hamlet drinking water whilst he ventriloquizeth (I love that word) is brilliant. It actually adds flesh to the bones.

    Even though I love opera, I've never seen a performance of Rimsky-Korsakov's "The Golden Cockerel". Perhaps it's just as well. I've never understood political satires. I've never liked operas that have been censored. And I can't understand why a Tsaritsa would want to run away with a cockerel.

    Only in Russia.........

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    1. Jon, I think opera-logic is only answerable to itself and not to any system that insists on making sense. That's why it's so fun.

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  2. Dude, if Shakespeare wereth ever so fortunate to haveth a co-writer, he would haveth been most fortunate to calleth his name Geo. (Um, that'd be you...)

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  3. Ah yes, I knew him well. Not original or even particularly witty, I know. But I had to do it.

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  4. Dear old Yorick, the most famous skull I know bar the Jolly Roger- and here I learn they are connected. I have been in writerly hibernation (or the polytunnel, wrestling tomatoes) making a series of children's stories based on Shakespeare's plays- Hamlet alas didn't make the cut, and I omitted the chickens. Am jolly glad for Yorick getting words, even if he remains a puppet :-)

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    1. Believe me, tomato wrestling will be the premiere sport of the next Olympics, second only to badminton and bean bag. Anent Hamlet, I do believe he could mope in a grove of sycamores as well as Romeo --in fact he could outmope Romeo! If you could just tweak the story so that Hamlet goes to school in Verona instead of Germany and woos Juliet, I think children would enjoy it --I sure would. Also, thanks for commenting. Was beginning to think my post offended much of the world.

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  5. I think history would have been so much more fun if it had happened the way you write it. Revisionism has its value.

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    1. And value is subject to revision! We encounter balance. Kind Tom, history is fun and fuels more fun.

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  6. Dear Geo., another variation of the theme I found in a very old cookbook, handwritten of course. If I decipher it right, it was first cooked up in 1602.
    It is called "Coq au Acquavit", created by a Danish cook who otherwise was famous for his use of ham - let that be enough... but here the cook drank so much Acquavit that the chicken could free itself, then jubilating an "Ode to Joy", which later became a famous movie trailer.

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    1. Dear Brigitta, what a delightful chain of recipes and events! Completely consistent with opera-logic.

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  7. You come up with the most creative and weirdest posts

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    1. Thanks, Sage. One oft-encounters the weird in pursuit of enigmas.

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  8. I loved Yorick in Psycho. He was a great choice for Norman's mother.

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    1. Yes, Yorick did well as Mother Bates to young Master...uh...Norman, and he got to wear a wig!

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    2. All kidding aside, I love the Yorick scene. He is one of the most interesting characters in the play and he's already dead by the time it starts.

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    3. True, and thanks to your posts on Star Trek (animated series), I think Bem would have made a great Yorick while the rest of him waited off-stage.

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  9. I humbly thank you; well, well, well. ;)

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    1. Dear Austan, your thanks is my reward.

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