Fortinbras seems to have sussed out the situation pretty quickly. What did he do? Just looked around – clocked a dead king, a dead queen and a dead prince and quickly did the math. He looked at this array of dead people and suddenly there’s no question in his mind that he’s the king of all this now. None of this “election” business required. He hears that there’s a story to tell and he’s like, “Great. Let’s hear it.” And then, “Also, I’m the king here now.”
Let us haste to hear it, And call the noblest to the audience.
Who’s left? Maybe it’s Claudius and Gertrude’s noblest friends that Claudius keeps threatening to call on but then never does?
There’s a way where it feels like anyone who is anyone in this play is already here and probably dead. But Fortinbras suggests there are more nobles to draw close. Or maybe he’s brought some along with him. Maybe it’s the Norwegian nobles he means.
All this can I Truly deliver.
A folk song.
A classically inspired play.
A puppet show.
A theatrical event.
An exploration of an idea.
A blog post.
An evening of songs.
An enthusiastic dance.
A short story.
A Feldenkrais lesson.
A Shakespeare lesson plan.
A bunch of nonsense.
An improvised mask performance.
A mask workhop.
A clown workshop.
A breakfast burrito.
So shall you hear Of carnal, bloody and unnatural acts, Of accidental judgments, casual slaughters, Of deaths put on by cunning and forced cause, And, in this upshot, purposes mistook Fall’n on the investor’s heads.
Horatio chooses to emphasize some odd parts of this story for this bit. Like, if someone asked me what happened in Hamlet, I would list none of these things. It makes it sound as if there’s been nothing but death this whole time – which is not true. There’s just been a lot of it in the last act and it has ended with a stage full of dead people.
Why does Horatio frame it this way? Does he think it will make these particular guys listen more? Is he emphasizing the unnatural acts because he thinks these guys need a reason to stick around?
They know there’s been some death. The evidence is in front of them. Most people would want to hear how those deaths came to be – not a list of all the previous deaths.
It is oddly excessive. Especially for a guy with a stoic reputation.
It feels like someone turning up at the sinking of the Titanic and being told, “O have we had a lot of drownings! So many drownings. There were people who went down with the ship. People who fell overboard. People whose lifeboats were leaky. Probably there were even people who drowned in the sea before they even got on the boat. So many drownings! I have got so many to tell you about!”
And let me speak to the yet unknowing world How these things came about:
And yet, we the audience are NOT the yet unknowing world. We are part of the knowing world. We just watched this play and everything Horatio is offering up, we have already seen. There is a kind of circularity to the play. At the beginning, we WERE part of the unknowing world. We had not yet seen what led to the deaths of these people. We were so unknowing, we did not even know they would die. In a way, this invocation of the unknowing world is an invocation of our earlier selves.
I know some hot shot director has started his production with the bodies on the stage and Fortinbras and the English ambassador coming in like – oh, whoa, what happened here and Horatio tells them, I’ll tell you the story and then the whole thing starts from the beginning. I’ve never seen it done – but I feel very confident that someone has tried it. Whether it worked or not is another question, I’m sure but I’d bet a lot of money on SOMEONE trying it.
But since, so jump upon this bloody question, You from the Polack wars, and you from England, Are here arrived, give order that these bodies High on a stage be placed to the view;
Horatio’s really getting a handle on this political language. Is he angling for a gig with one of these guys? This is very formal and very political speech making. He’s potentially learned this at the elbows of royals and in their absence, he steps into the void and starts giving orders.
After all, to whom does he owe allegiance?
Spiritually to Hamlet. But we are given no indication of his nationality. I think we can fairly safely say it is neither England nor Norway or he wouldn’t be so bold as to give these guys instructions. As one of the sole survivors of this Danish tragedy, he becomes a virtual Dane and its highest ranking one at that.
He never gave commandment for their death.
I wonder if this is meant to rankle the ambassador. After all, the guy came in, saw a tragedy and asked for thanks. If the thing he wants thanks for was not actually desired – his whole purpose there is thwarted. He does not speak again so it is possible that this serves Horatio’s possible purpose in saying it and that is shutting the ambassador the hell up.
I don’t think Horatio means to implicate Hamlet. I think he just wants the English ambassador to check himself. A major crime scene is not the time for asking for or receiving thanks or reporting executions. Just as a general rule.
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?