Not from his mouth, Had it the ability of life to thank you.

I am intrigued by the use of the pronoun here. Horatio is clearly referring to the king even though the ambassador has not specifically mentioned him – but “his mouth” seems like a kind of casual reference to a king – even a dead one.

A more formal way to say it would seem to be not from the king’s mouth. But it’s not that. It leaves room for misinterpreting. “His mouth” could, for a moment, be any of the three dead men. Any of them. The next line tells us which mouth Horatio is referring to but even then it might not be clarified for the ambassador and Fortinbras. We know because we know – but the newly arrived characters might still be in the dark. They won’t get the facts from his mouth.

Where should we have our thanks?

Maybe ambassadors get paid by the foreign powers they serve? Like – he travels to places delivering the news of favors performed by his government and the kings of those places nod and say “Thanks so much” and hand over a sack of money. Maybe that’s why this English ambassador is behaving so insensitively – because he’s worried he won’t get paid now that the king is dead. He’s wondering where to get his thanks because he’s wondering how he’s going to feed his kids.

Maybe. Probably not. That would be a super weird way to do it.

The ears are senseless that should give us hearing, To tell him his commandment is fulfill’d That Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead.

Who does the first ambassador think needs to hear this news? I mean – let’s say I had some news to deliver to, say, Meryl Streep. I turn up at Meryl’s place and she, along with her entire family are dead on the ground. And instead of processing what is in front of me, I say, “Meryl’s ears are no longer working so I can’t tell her the news about her dog’s leukemia – that her dog has been put down. Who do I talk to about that?”

Meanwhile, the only people left at Meryl’s house are her daughter’s college friend and her personal assistant who surely can only gesture to the carnage before them. I mean, shame about the dog’s leukemia – but have you looked around you?

And our affairs from England come too late:

The ambassador from England is kind of a dick. I mean. He turns up and there’s a room full of dead bodies and he’s worried about his affairs?

I mean. You’re looking at three bleeding bodies and one poisoned queen and you’re looking for thanks for the decapitation of two people?

Aren’t ambassadors supposed to be good at international relations?

The English Ambassador is not.

The sight is dismal.

And now, another episode of:

The Unnecessary Dramaturg

We open in the dramaturg’s office.

He’s got an office. It’s not clear why.

Also, it’s a he, of course.

Shakespeare is sitting across from the Dramaturg.

DRAMATURG: Listen, Billy, we’re almost there. I’ve only got a couple of notes here for the end of the play. And the first is, why, in the last few minutes of the play are you introducing a whole new character? I mean, the theatre doesn’t have an endless budget for actors and the audience doesn’t need to meet anyone new at this point. Hamlet has died, after all. He’s the guy we care about. What do we need this First Ambassador for? And why is he the First Ambassador when there appears to be no Second? It’s a lot to ask of the audience this late in the game, Bill. Whole new character? You can’t have Fortinbras bring in a letter with the news of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s execution? Or, actually – do we need to know about any of that? It all feels gratuitous, doesn’t it? Or maybe it’s just me. It could be just me.

O proud death, What feast is toward in thine eternal cell, That thou so many princes at a shot So bloodily hast struck?

The conceit here is that Death is having a party at his place and invited all these royals to be there. Unfortunately, the only way to get to Death’s place is to die so Death did all this just to boost his guest list?  I mean how many princes do you need at a feast?

The thing is, though, I doubt that princes are the most fun to have over. Most of them tend to be a little bit too buttoned up or if they’re not buttoned up, they’re probably super rebellious and out of control. So, if I were Death, I’m not sure I’d be bringing Princes to my feasts. I’d much rather have a bunch of artists. Maybe some circus performers, stand-up comedians and some sculptors. They’d be a lot more fun at a party. Or just, like, someone who does a regular old job but is Mr. or Ms. Party Person.

Not that I’m advocating for Death to go on an artist murdering spree or a massacre of the fun people. Maybe Princes are a better idea. Yeah, yeah, feast with Princes.

This quarry cries on havoc.

Uh – Fortinbras? This is a super weird thing to say.

Is it a cultural thing? Is Fortinbras talking this way because he’s Norweigan?

Did the Norweigans have the same reputation they do now for being unusually blunt talkers?

I mean – quarry implies the spoils of a hunt – that is, dead animals, prey who have been slaughtered. There may even be a sense of entrails exposed and just a general sense of dehumanized bodies. The spoils of a hunt.

Which is just a pretty intense way to refer to a scene of people who have all just murdered each other.

Havoc is chaos, for sure. And etymology online suggests that Havoc comes from the phrase “Cry Havoc!” which was the signal to troops to start pillaging and very probably raping, as well.
So…sure – the spoils of the hunt are the ones crying havoc. I’m curious about why they are calling ON havoc. Is it the non-native English speaker’s usual confusion around prepositions? Or is that these slaughtered animals are crying on TOP of havoc? That there are layers of slaughter on top of chaos?

Or maybe the “cries on” suggests a goading. The animals encourage further chaos. I feel like this is the interpretation that I would find most playable if I had to play Fortinbras. This grisly scene pushes us toward further confusion. But…still – quarry is such a weird word to use in this moment.

If aught of woe or wonder, cease your search.

This line could, curiously, pass as a carny barker’s patter. It feels like an invitation to a sideshow or a hawker’s spiel to get you in to see a circus or a show. It could be a performer on the High Street in Edinburgh calling out to passing punters.

What is it ye would see? If aught of woe or wonder, cease your search. This show’s got everything, death, tragedy, romance, royalty, sword fights.

Here’s a flyer.

We’re on at 7 at the Pleasance.

What is it ye would see?

Despite this being a ye olde play (and I use that in its most ridiculous ye merrie olde England sense) one does not actually see much “ye” in Shakespeare. My sense is that it is used here as something like y’all, that is, a general collective you. Did it have a sense of extreme formality for Shakespeare?

This is just such an interesting moment for it suddenly to appear. Here is Horatio, thrust into the diplomatic spotlight, surrounded by dead bodies. If this was America and he was black, all of “Norway” and “England” would come in with their guns drawn. But it does not appear to be a concern here. They seem to have some idea of what they’re getting into when they come in but Horatio’s style of speech is very different with them than at any previous time in the play. This “ye” feels like it comes out of nowhere. But then, because it doesn’t show up that much in Shakespeare, I’m not so familiar with its implications. My other association with it feels like it’s connected to Dante’s inferno. Abandon all hope ye who enter here!

Is that what Horatio is evoking? Did Shakespeare read Dante? Did his audience? Were there reverberations of these ambassadors and royalty entering hell? Horatio switches back to “you” in the very next sentence so it is only a brief moment in this ye world and I would like to know more about it.

Where is this sight?

Ok – who tipped Fortinbras off? How did word get out to this war-noise making folk so very quickly? Did someone rush out when shit started to hit the fan, as it were? Or are there people stationed at the door who heard it all and maybe recommended that you not go in there if you know what’s good for you because there sure is a lot of murdering and dying inside there.

In a contemporary production, the kind wherein they just can’t resist including cell phones because they can’t imagine a world without them, Osric would definitely be texting with the English ambassador the whole time.