Let me see.

In almost every production I’ve ever seen, Hamlet reaches for the skull and takes it, as if it were an apple or a book. Certainly, most editions feature a stage direction that suggests he should take the skull. And if you want to get the iconic image of this play, you are going to have to put that skull in Hamlet’s hands.
But he doesn’t say, “Give it to me.”
He says “Let me see.”
And he might not so eagerly seize hold of the skull of someone he once knew. What if he just looked at it in the gravedigger’s hands at first?
What if there were an evolution of comfort with it? The culmination of which led to the “smelling so” bit.
I do think I may have seen a production or two which the gravedigger tosses the skull to Hamlet giving him no time to decide to take it.

And the dumb joke maker in me wants the clown to say, “Look with your eyes not with your hands!”

E’en that.

I wonder how far outside a court a jester was known.
Like, did he get gigs outside the castle?
Tonight:
one night only:
Yorick, the king’s jester delivers his comedy stylings at The Porpentine.
Rhenish half price.

Or was he confined to the court?
What I’m wondering is – was there some sense of celebrity around the king’s jester?
Is this moment a bit like showing off an object once possessed by Elizabeth Taylor?

This same skull, sir, was Yorick’s skull, the king’s jester.

This is the only use of the word “jester” in this play – and in the other plays, it is almost always used in a derogatory way about someone being spoken of. I wonder about how jesters were perceived when this play was current. Did Elizabeth have a jester? Or a fool? And if she did – was he called such?
Now, a jester tends to evoke a rather specific image – one in motley with bells on his floppy hat. But what about then? What did Shakespeare’s audience imagine when they learned of Yorick, the king’s jester?

A pestilence on him for a mad rogue!

It’s a little late for pestilence to get that guy. He’s dead. There’s not much damage a pestilence could do at this point.
Do mad rogues typically get cursed with pestilences? Pestilenci?
And how did he die?
Is it possible that this line isn’t, in fact, a curse or an exclamation, but an explanation for his cause of death?
Did Yorick somehow fall victim to a pestilence? Is it possible he was one of the first that fell victim to the plague that caused the pocky corpses? And was it, possibly, said that he was felled by it because he was a mad rogue?

Who do you think it was?

I love that the clown starts a guessing game with the Prince of Denmark about a skull. It is such a delightfully silly question. The odds of a layperson being able to identify a skull are really small. It’s a little like holding up any object, like a book, or a brush, or a shirt or a bowl and asking “Whose do you think it was?” You’re going to need some hints to guess that.

A whoreson mad fellow’s it was.

The gravedigger seems none too fond of Yorick. I wonder if he runs across the skull often. Like – if he digs it up and buries it again, just to torment his old acquaintance. I mean, you don’t call just anyone a whoreson mad fellow. Whoreson isn’t really the nicest thing to say. It suggests a rather contentious relationship. Is that just because of the flagon of Rhenish on his head? That just sounds like a frat prank. Or a schoolboy in the cafeteria cutting up with his friends, though what a group of schoolboys would be doing with a container of wine, I’m not sure. But really – this just sounds like an obnoxious boys will be boys situation. But it clearly got under the gravedigger’s skin and he has never forgotten it – even 23 years after the man’s death. I wouldn’t put it past him to treat his bones particularly irreverently.

I wonder if it’s a situation of Yorick punching down, a bit – like in order to get a laugh, he dumped wine over this young clown’s head and everyone laughed but they laughed at the young clown, not with him and he felt humiliated and pushed down -his dignity defiled in the company of royals.
Maybe he’d hoped to leave gravedigging and make the career change to fooling and Yorick took that possibility from him with a flagon of wine to the head.

This skull has lain in the earth three and twenty years.

If someone had been buried the year that I performed in Hamlet, in my first acting job, their skull would have lain in the earth the same amount of time as this skull, as Yorick’s skull. And I, myself, was not yet 23. If someone had been buried the year that I was born, they would have needed another year to lie in the earth to have lain in the earth as long as Yorick then.

I have now been an adult for longer than I was a youth. It is a curious feeling. And if I measure it all in Yorick’s earth-lying years – I have not yet reached two skulls, I’ll have to wait another two years for that.
But who will be buried this year and what will happen in the 23 years until a skull is unearthed?

Oh hells. It’s taken me so long to upload these things that I have now, in fact, reached two skulls. I am two Yorick skulls old. Time is such a jerk. It moves so fast.

Here’s a skull now.

Serious question: How does the gravedigger know this is Yorick’s skull? I’m pretty sure he doesn’t have a preternatural ability to look at a skull and picture the face that once rested on it. So – does this mean that he is digging up Yorick’s grave? He’s already unearthed several skulls. Are they all in the same grave? That doesn’t seem logical. Also – why are they digging up graves? Is there a shortage of cemetery space in Denmark?
Is this three graves next to each other so he can tell who is buried in which? And to know, too, how long Yorick’s skull has been there. Is he looking at a gravestone? Or does a fool not warrant a gravestone?

Why, sir, his hide is so tanned with his trade, that, he will keep out water a great while and your water is a sore decayer of your whoreson dead body.

It’s funny that we use the same word for leather treatment as we do for darkening the pigment of skin. Is that accidental or on purpose? Do we say someone is tan because the color is tan (as I previously assumed) or because a piece of leather darkens when it is a tanned? It would appear so. And it connects, too, to the old saying of someone threatening to “tan your hide.” It is probably quite useful to remember that we are not so far from the animals whose skins we tan. It is probably useful, too, to think of tanning from the sun as close to that process of curing leathers. We need all the encouragement we can get to avoid skin cancer.