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Literary Blog B, Hamlet At Wittenberg part 2

Literary Blog B, Hamlet At Wittenberg part 2

I open this one with an Added Note to the Rhymes Blog posted some days ago. In that, I referred to the Major General’s Song in Pirates of Penzance. Now the Antiques section of last Friday’s NYTimes announces that the Yale Center for British Art is opening a show of “Johan Zoffany, the 18th-century British painter” who was famous as a portraitist. This news can elicit only one response from Gilbert & Sullivan fans: we recall the great rhyme in another couplet of the Major General’s Song: (from memory)


“I can tell undoubted Raphaels from Gerald Dows and Zoffanys,

I know the “Croaking Chorus” from the Frogs of Aristophanes. . .”


I was aware before that Gerald Dow (or Dou) existed as a painter, but here encountered Zoffany for the first time. But of course Gilbert would never have made him up--that would have been cheating, and Gilbert never cheated. Pushed words around sometimes (rhyming “. . lot ‘o news” with “hypotenuse” in the same song) but didn’t cheat.


Now, back to my Hamlet/Faust parody, of which the first half was printed in the previous blog. Hamlet as a student returns to Wittenberg to learn that his favorite professor, Faustus, has been fired from the university for having sex with one of his students, whom he believes to be Helen of Troy. Hamlet summons him up to get the truth from him. Faustus has just left as this second half begins:


Faust. Adieu, adieu, adieu! Remember me.

(Lights out, then up; Faustus is gone.)


Ham. Oh all you host of heaven! Oh earth! What else?

To think that they have fired this worthy man

For making such a reasonable choice!

I'm now resolved more than I ever was

To make them reconsider their decision.

We cannot tolerate injustice!


Oph. Ham,

We all agree the time is out of joint,

But why are we obliged to set it right?


Ham. You talk like someone over thirty; who

Will do it if we don't? The only issue

Is whether we should try by peaceful means

Of fair persuasion to effect our end,

Or bring th'Administration to its knees

With crippling blows 'gainst its security.

We plant a bomb, we occupy an office,

And soon or later, they capitulate.

Which do we think would be the wiser course?


Guild. It seems to me that we should first decide

Whether the reinstatement of old Faustus

Suffices, as a cause, for our involvement.

Perhaps his actions justify his firing.


Ham. A pox upon your indecision, sir!

The matter's very simple, as I see it.

We recognize the Church to be corrupt;

Heresy opposes to the Church;

Faustus they say has practiced heresy—

And therefore Faustus merits our support.

Such bootless arguing just wastes our time;

The only question is our course of action.

Since you are of no help, I must decide. (Pauses, holds head)


I feel a curious urge to draw apart,

Addressing certain words unto myself.

If you'll excuse me, I shall do so now.


Ros. I think, my lord, it's called soliloquizing.

In moderation it's a harmless thing—

But too much talking to yourself, they say,

Betokens psychological disorder.

So pray, don't let this grow into a habit.


(They withdraw to the side of the stage and sit there.

Hamlet strikes an attitude.)


Ham. To trash, or not to trash—that is the question.

Whether to aim at quiet revolution

By operating still within the system

Or to take arms against th' Establishment

For reasons of its gross inequities

And by opposing, hurt it. To trash, to sit-in—

Oh wow! and by defiant act, to end

The feelings of frustration that the young

Are heir to; truly 'tis a consummation

Devoutly to be wished. To demonstrate—

Perhaps to be arrested: there's the rub;

For in that fell arrest, what cops may come

To bloody up our heads with brutal clubs

Must give us pause; there's the respect

That makes calamity of confrontation.

For who would bear the stifling pressures of

This Late Mediaeval society

When he could, with a well-placed bomb or two,

Hasten the coming of the Renaissance—

Were it not that the Powers who oppose

The advent of a more enlightened age

Will ruthlessly put down such an attempt.

And thus the native hue of resolution

Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,

And enterprises of great pitch and moment

With this regard their currents turn awry

And lose the name of action . . .


Guild. Really, Ham,

You ramble over-long, and to no end.

If you intend to act, for God's sake do it!


Ham. Your words strike to my soul—I said that once.

You're right; procrastination is a curse.

I'll go at once and rouse my followers,

And ere the day is out, a hundred strong,

Confront the Chancellor with our demands.

And if they are not met—let them beware!

No one shall say that Hamlet cannot act!


(He rushes out. Others rise, Queen exits, chairs moved back.)


Ros. And so, my fair Ophelia (for we now

Must all revert unto our former roles,

The flashback being over) Hamlet went

And took decisive action, just this once,

And found himself arrested and expelled.


Oph. I understand—and ever since that time

He has been paralyzed by indecision

Through having learned, by harsh experience

The outcome of impetuosity.


Ros. One thing is very plain—that he is not

The kind of person you would want to marry.


Oph. He says unpleasant things to me, such as

That I should get me to a nunnery.

I've never even much liked Sunday school!


Ros. We must devise some plan to stop this match.


(Etc., as on p. 80 of W. S. Gilbert text.)


(Addition to ending, following Claudius's last speech on p. 89:)


Claud. So, Hamlet, get thee gone—and don't come back again!


Ham. I welcome your suggestion, and will go.

If what you say is true, then I shall make

A striking figure on their public stage.

It's plain I'm not appreciated here.

And when I tire of that, why, on again—

Unto a place that I have heard about

Called Harvard of the West. I'll change my name

To something foreign—let's say, Savio

And there indulge my taste for rhetoric.

Perhaps I can regain the mode of action,

For better or for worse. And so, farewell!

To Engle-land!


(Business of farewell, Hamlet exits dramatically, others strike pose,

lights out.)


The Playwright adds: For those with short memories: Harvard of the West is of course U.C. Berkeley. Mario Savio was the student who, at a key early moment in the Free Speech Movement, climbed onto a car and made a stirring address exhorting the crowd to go off and occupy the University offices.


End of today’s blog.

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