I just got the song from Hair in my head from considering this line. It is hardly silence. I mean, “Let the Sun Shine In” is an enjoyable song and being a part of that indie college production when I was 17 was one of the highlights of my performing life. But the song rather saps the depth from one of the most potent exit lines in theatre. Thanks a lot, hippies! (Side note: I come from hippies – any hippie disparagement from me is both fully loving and hard earned.) It would be nice to have something profound to say about such a powerful line but it really cannot be matched. I can barely even aspire to “Let the Sunshine In” nonetheless “The rest is silence.” I can walk proudly in a winter coat. I can be silent. I can let the sun shine in. What happens after Hamlet says “The rest is silence” is usually that he dies. Most productions have him say this and kick the bucket, either as he’s finishing the word “silence” or immediately after. To me that is as much to say that silence = death and for the AIDS crisis slogan, that was true. But I have a lot more respect for silence than that. Silence is potent. Silence contains a world of possibility. It does not have to equal death.
I’d like to see a production wherein Hamlet says his line and then just listens to the room for a minute, just experiences life for a moment before dying. I want him to reach out and touch Horatio, to experience his last moments through touch, through sight, through sound – to love the world for a moment before leaving it. I feel like that would be a beautiful way to go.