I mean. I don’t include all the stage directions in this project but with a stage direction like this one…I could not resist.

I don’t know whether this particular phrasing comes from the folio or one of the quartos or even an editor from centuries later but it is so charmingly succinct. It is not: Gertrude dies or She dies.

Just: Dies.


And all on its own like that it starts to look funny and I suddenly want to pronounce it in Latin – as in Dies Irae – and then I start singing the “Dies Irae” section of The Magnificat I know and it’s all over.

Leaps into the grave.

This repetition of the stage direction feels less necessary than the first. This one makes me wonder about the source for the stage direction. Is this Shakespeare directing Hamlet? Or one of the Folio actors recalling what the staging was?
Or is it an editor recalling productions he’s seen over the years?

I’m not entirely convinced that Hamlet needs to leap into Ophelia’s grave for this fight to happen. Just showing his face is challenging enough to Laertes. Announcing his presence to a man who has already declared that he wants treble woe to fall on his head is enough of a challenge. Does he need to ALSO get into that tiny space with him? I’m not sure. It’s kind of awful to jump into a grave with your dead girlfriend to fight with her brother who is mourning her loss.
But Hamlet isn’t always nice.

Leaps into the grave.

When I teach Shakespeare, I rarely acknowledge or engage with stage directions. They are most likely to be editor’s additions and don’t tend to help us engage with Shakespeare’s language much. That’s also the reason I mostly leave them out of this project.
But…in this case…this is such a juicy stage direction, it’s making me think about ways to utilize stage directions in general in my teaching.
There are some that are just so evocative – that say so much in a simple sentence. If you knew nothing about Hamlet but the fact that a character leaps into the grave, you actually know a great deal about the play.
If you knew nothing about A Winter’s Tale but that a character Exits pursued by a bear, you know something very intriguing about the play. I think I may be inventing an exercise for my upcoming workshops as I write this.

Throws up another skull.

Boy, this guy has a serious condition if he keeps throwing up skulls. Maybe he is part owl? Owls will throw up the bones of their prey in little balls of organic matter. They spit up the skulls of mice and smaller birds and voles and snakes and so on.

I don’t get the sense, though, that they’d eat more than one at a time – that there would be a torrent of small animal skulls. But I don’t know, of course, I don’t know.

Throws up a skull.

Throws up a skull.
I mean if ever a line was made for a gif – it’s this.
I want the gravedigger to vomit a skull.
I mean – that’s the thing with these stage directions. Only a handful were written by Shakespeare himself – or the original printers of the plays.
Is this one? I would be surprised if it was but…as it is…
Just picture someone vomiting a skull. It’s clearly not what’s happening here. It’s just that an editor has felt that it may not be obvious to the reader what Hamlet is referring to and so invents a stage direction that brings the skull into it.
But here we see the way language can confuse. S/he means that a skull comes out of the grave in some way, either in the hand of the gravedigger or on his shovel or flying out in a spray of dirt. But instead it’s possible to see this in exactly the wrong way as a puking gravedigger. Throwing up bones like an owl does.