They have letters for him.

Why more than one letter? We know that one of them is from Hamlet – in which he declares he is set naked in the kingdom. But who would the other be from? One of the pirates? Rosencrantz and Guildenstern? One of the sailors with a crush on the King?
Now – I recognize that letters may be standing in for a letter. Or perhaps they’re referring to the letters in the words. In the end, there’s a letter for the king and a letter for the queen that gets given to him as well. Perhaps I am needlessly generating a mystery. But…in the end the sailors seem to have A LETTER for the King. Not letters…


If your name be Horatio as I am let to know it is.

There are those who are sticklers for grammatical rules of thumb, for rules that mustn’t be broken. I don’t know though. The sailor who says “as I am let to know that it is” is suggesting the mystery behind his line. It’s a way to say something about Hamlet without saying it. If he were trying to follow the writing rules, he’d say, “I’ve heard your name is Horatio” which would be more efficient but less interesting.

It comes from the ambassador that was Bound for England.

It’s funny how looking at a line out of context can sometimes obscure it. In this case, I looked at it and thought, “Who is the ambassador to England? Was there someone else with Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern? Who survived the pirate attack?” But, of course, the ambassador is Hamlet himself. The sailor is obscuring his identity a tiny bit, probably as a safety precaution.

I mean this whole scene is a bit of cloak and dagger in the middle of a revenge story. There’s no reason, if Hamlet is already returned to Elsinore, that he shouldn’t come talk to Horatio himself – or if showing up where Horatio is is too risky – to have Horatio appear at Hamlet’s hiding place. But this scene creates an atmosphere of secrecy and layers of obfuscation that actually heightens the drama. Many contemporary rules of drama would suggest that hearing this information directly from Hamlet would be more dramatic. But it’s a great deal more of a spy story with this scene.

There’s a letter for you, sir;

While I miss the days of letters, I somehow rarely manage to channel that missing into writing letters. I have one dear friend with whom I exchange letters. But months pass between them. I started my letter to M in November and it is now February. A world has transformed since then. But that is the beauty of letters. They are communications but also objects. They exist in this double space of ethereal communication and permanent object.

One thing I noticed in receiving letters from M is that I treat them very differently than receiving an email. Emails, I skim. Letters, I save until the right moment wherein I can sit quietly in a comfortable place and read and savor – even the bad news. I remember not just the letter but the spot where I read it, the quality of the light and the feel of the air. Now letters are such a rarity – such an event.
But I remember a time when letters were more ubiquitous. My best friend in 7th grade moved to a town an hour away and we would write every few days.
When we went out of town, we’d send letters and postcards home. I wrote letters with the boys I liked…sending them from near and far. But even though there were more letters then, I still think they were special. I have memories, some 30 years past, of reading letters on my bed or in the garden. The letter was an event, an object and a message.